Three lawmakers wage quiet campaigns to succeed Cafero

Three lawmakers are waging quiet campaigns to succeed House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, on the assumption he will not seek re-election to the General Assembly this fall after 22 years as a legislator, the last eight as the top Republican.

Members of the GOP caucus, which holds 52 of the 151 seats in the House, say they are being lobbied for support for Cafero’s job by two Naugatuck Valley lawmakers, Themis Klarides of Derby and Jason Perillo of Shelton, and Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford.

Cafero, 56, who decided last year to pass on running for governor in 2014, declined to confirm in an interview Thursday that this is his last year in the legislature but said he was not offended by the politicking to succeed him.

“That’s the circle of life in politics,” Cafero said. “People are going to look ahead, as they should.”

Candelora and Perillo both confirmed their campaigning, but each stressed it was conditional on Cafero not seeking another term and was not a bid to unseat him. Klarides could not be reached for comment.

“I’m not trying to be cute, but I still haven’t made up my mind,” Cafero said of his re-election plans. “By next month, it will be clear to everybody what I’m doing, one way or the other.”

The 2014 session of the General Assembly convenes Feb. 5, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will present his budget and outline his priorities for the year.

With Republicans holding no statewide office or congressional seat in Connecticut, Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, R-Farfield, have been the GOP’s two de facto spokesmen since Malloy succeeded M. Jodi Rell as governor in January 2011.

Cafero, a natural performer who has studied and taught public speaking, embraced the role of spokesman and strategist. He steered his caucus away from the social issues and brinksmanship that have come to define national Republican politics, weakening the GOP brand in New England.

Cafero is a minority in his own caucus, an urban Republican from Norwalk, a city of about 83,000 linked to New York by Metro-North and I-95. He commutes the other way, driving to Hartford for legislative and legal business. He is a non-equity partner at Brown Rudnick, a law firm that has a major lobbying business in several states, including Connecticut.

His personal politics are a mix of social moderation, business boosterism and fiscal conservatism. Cafero voted to legalize same-sex civil unions and, later, to codify in state law a court decision that legalized gay marriage. Last year, he voted for gun-control legislation after the Sandy Hook school massacre in the face of heated opposition from gun owners that are part of the GOP base.

Cafero sustained collateral damage from a campaign finance scandal that derailed the congressional campaign of then-House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, in 2012. The FBI recorded Ray Soucy, a union official involved in a scheme to kill tax legislation on behalf of the roll-your-own cigarette industry, trying to give Cafero $5,000 after a meeting at the Legislative Office Building.

Cafero refused the money, which he says he assumed was offered as a campaign contribution. He directed Soucy to meet off the Capitol grounds with an aide who oversaw a House GOP political action committee. The FBI told Cafero that he and his staff did nothing wrong, he said. Video of the exchange was played in U.S. District Court last year during the trial of Donovan's chief fundraiser, Rob Braddock Jr.

When he announced in June that he would not run for governor, Cafero said the incident played no role in his decision. Some legislators said Cafero had signaled then to some friends he would not seek re-election after 28 years of holding municipal and state office.

Candelora and Klarides are Cafero’s two top deputies. Perillo is one of 10 assistant Republican leaders.

Perillo and Candelora each spoke about building on Cafero’s record, not distancing themselves from it.

“Larry Cafero is the leader of our caucus and will continue to be the leader of our caucus,” Perillo said. “The man has done a phenomenal job.”

Candelora said the politicking is in no way a reflection of displeasure with Cafero’s leadership.

“I am very respectful of Larry,” Candelora said.

He acknowledged a certain awkwardness in politicking for a job that is not vacant, at least not publicly.

“This is an internal caucus conversation that should play out internally, not publicly,” Candelora said.

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