GOP 5TH District campaign goes negative as convention nears

Washington – On the eve of the Connecticut GOP convention, two Republican candidates hoping to replace Rep. Elizabeth Esty in Congress are embroiled in accusations of dodgy business dealings and criminal records.

The campaign of Clay Cope, first selectman of Sherman, fired the first shot last week. It circulated a six-year-old Courthouse News Service story that said a company owned by rival Bill Stevens of Newtown was involved in an attempt to hide assets when a wind power company called Generation Resource Holding Co. filed for bankruptcy.

Stevens’ supporters fired back on Monday with an email to convention delegates that accused Cope of having an arrest record.

The Cope campaign called that accusation a false “smear.” Cope said the arrest record belonged to a brother who used Clay Cope’s name as one of several aliases.

“It is inexcusable – and especially unfair to voters trying to make an informed decision – when candidates like Bill Stevens become so desperate to win an election that they knowingly spread untruths about an opponent,” Clay Cope said. “There is no place for such vile smear tactics and character assassination in politics. Bill Stevens should be ashamed.”

The Cope campaign also released copies of a Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal History Search that showed that younger brother Tim Cope had been convicted of burglary and possession of marijuana and used the name Clay Cope among other aliases.

Meanwhile, Stevens said the complaint from a trustee in the bankruptcy case against his company is still making its way through the courts and he could not comment on it in any detail. He said his company has not committed any wrongdoing and called the lawsuit a “part of doing business” that frequently result from bankruptcy cases.

“Obviously we’re defending ourselves (in the lawsuit),” Stevens said.

As far as the accusation that Clay Cope has a criminal record, Stevens said he brought the matter up to the Cope campaign last week and says it should have disclosed the information.

He said he is not qualified to determine whether the arrest record belongs to Clay Cope or his brother Tim, because “I’m not a criminal history expert.” But he said the arrest record should be made public.

“They are digging up civil litigation from my past and distributing it,” Stevens said. “But (the arrest allegations) did not come from my campaign, that’s a big difference.” He said he could not control the actions of his supporters.

George Linkletter, spokesman for the Cope campaign said, “I didn’t think we needed to disclose it because Clay has no criminal record.”

“(Stevens) basically dismissed that he did not have a criminal record,” Linkletter said.

Cope, Stevens and a third Republican candidate, John Pistone, need at least 15 percent of the support of the delegates at the Connecticut Republican convention Monday night to continue their campaign.

If more than one candidate receives that level of support, they each earn the right to face each other in a primary election on Aug. 9.

Esty, who has held the 5th District seat since 2013, is expected to be officially named the Democratic candidate at her party’s district convention tonight. 

Correction: A previous version of this story said that Tim Cope, younger brother of candidate Clay Cope, was deceased. Clay Cope said in a May 9 statement he had last seen his brother more than 30 years ago and did not now know where he is or what might have happened to him.

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