His would-be constituents include former Gov. John G. Rowland, but Mike Clark is one Republican congressional candidate unlikely to get a boost on Rowland’s drive-time radio show: Clark was one of the FBI agents who helped land Rowland in prison.
Clark said he sees his FBI career, his subsequent election to the town council in Farmington, and now his run for the open 5th Congressional District seat as a call to public service, a gee-whiz description he knows will prompt eye-rolls among some politicians.
“It sounds hokey, but it’s true,” Clark said. “Thirty years ago, I took an FBI oath to serve and defend the Constitution. Part of it is a call to public service. You just enjoy it. You love your country and you want to serve your country.”
He’s never been invited on Rowland’s show on WTIC-AM, but Clark said he would probably go if asked. The studio is in Farmington, so Rowland already is a constituent, in a sense.
Clark announced his candidacy in late March. Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy plans to run for U.S. Senate, making the 5th District a rare, competitive open seat and the district with the most potential to swing Republican.
As a supervisory FBI agent, Clark investigated corruption in state and municipal government, including the ethical violations that led to Rowland’s resignation and eventual guilty plea to federal corruption charges. He also investigated white collar crime, health care fraud, economic crimes and terrorism.
Now, Clark is seeking the same congressional seat Rowland won in 1984 at age 27, beccoming the nation’s youngest congressman and a rising star. Clark doesn’t dwell on the connection.
“It’s ironic, that’s for sure,” Clark said. “Irony aside, I just see it as the 5th Congressional District, and that there’s work to be done.”
But his law-enforcement career could leave him at odds with some notable Republicans in the 5th District. Not only did he investigate Rowland, who grew up in Waterbury, but he arrested the city’s former mayor, Joe Santopietro, and helped send him to prison on corruption charges.
Clark said people often ask him about the investigations and if he thinks his FBI career will affect his electability among Republicans. He minimizes the potential for his career costing him votes, and he notes he has seen Rowland and Santopietro. The interactions were cordial, he said.
“They’ve served their time, and now the page is turned,” Clark said. “If someone wants to vote against me for bringing integrity to government, let them.”
Clark described himself as a Republican with cross-party appeal, noting he enjoyed a good working relationship with Democrats on Farmington’s town council, where he served as chairman for the past six years.
John Vibert, a Democratic council member, said he respects Clark’s outreach, but he’s interested to see how his proposals will appeal to both sides on a federal level. Vibert said a majority Republican Town Council gave Clark an advantage he wouldn’t have in a deeply partisan Congress.
“If he does make it to Congress, it will be an unusual feat for him to do it on the next level,” Vibert said.
As a candidate for Congress, Clark will face hot-button social issues that seldom come up in town council races, like gay marriage, abortion and immigration reform ,and fiscal challenges such as the sustainability of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
He said he supports abortion rights, an issue that he may find challenging when trying to win over staunch social conservatives.
Clark said his law enforcement career allowed him to witness first-hand the results of illegal abortions and abortions performed by untrained individuals. Clark remains conservative on most other social issues, favoring the Second Amendment, entitlement reform, the death penalty and more secure borders to prevent illegal immigration.
Clark said he hopes to bring Farmington’s fiscal discipline to the federal government, but Vibert said fiscal success in a town like Farmington is measured on a simpler scale: maintaining decent services and a low tax rate, bolstered by a large industrial base.
Since retiring from the FBI seven years ago, Clark spent has managed investigations and security for United Technologies Corporation, a multi-national corporation that develops and manufactures high-technology products such as aircraft engines, military crafts and elevators. UTC includes companies like Otis, Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky Aircrafts.
Running for higher office means leaving a town where he spent six years as Farmington’s highest elected official. Farmington residents reelected him twice as town council chairman, with increasing margins of victory each time.
“I’m starting to get nostalgic about everything,” he said. “Everything I do, like this next budget we’re working on, it’s like, jeez, this is the last time I’m doing this.”
Clark’s law-enforcement career makes him an unusual candidate for political office, but he says that uncovering corruption does not top his to-do list as a congressional candidate.
“This is not an anti-corruption crusade,” he said. “But my years in the FBI will stand as a part of who I am.”
He said he will promote business growth if elected. For example, Clark said encouraging the elimination of federal tax increases and lowering federal payroll taxes will preserve jobs and assist in the hiring process for businesses.
The reservations he expressed about President Barack Obama’s health care reform focused on the hurried process, as much as the substance.
“As a parent, you always tell your children that ‘nothing good happens after midnight,'” Clark said. “The same applies to legislation. Government works best when two parties work together for the common good. The health care legislation is a good example of a one-party dominant force that rammed this down our throats.”
For now, Clark said he spends time fundraising, working part-time at UTC and Otis Elevator and teaching criminal justice at the University of New Haven. He hopes to report a solid initial showing, knowing that financial resources are an early test of political credibility.
“We’re shooting for a six figure number,” he said.