Farmington — Mike Clark, the retired FBI agent who led the corruption investigation of former Gov. John Rowland, ended a campaign for Rowland’s old congressional seat Wednesday, concluding he had neither the money nor delegate support to wage a primary.
His withdrawal two days before the GOP convention narrows the field to four, including an old friend of Rowland’s, Lisa Wilson-Foley. And it ends any chance of what could have been compelling talk radio: an interview with his old quarry, who now is the afternoon drive-time radio host on WTIC AM.
Clark said he crossed paths only once with Rowland during the campaign: Both were guests at a hospital fundraising dinner in Waterbury, where Rowland sat with Wilson-Foley and her husband and former state Sen. Lou DeLuca and his wife. Clark said he asked Rowland about coming on the show.
“I told him it would be great ratings,” Clark said.
He never got the call.
As measured by press attention, Rowland did give Clark a high point: At Clark’s insistence, Wilson-Foley’s campaign released a contract that showed her husband Brian, who runs a health-care company, had committed $30,000 to Rowland for business consulting while the ex-governor was volunteering for Wilson-Foley’s campaign.
But those moments were too few. Clark, who was elected to the Farmington Town Council after retiring from the FBI, never broke out of the pack by either of the two important political metrics: money and delegate support.
So, Clark stood on the lawn outside his campaign headquarters Wednesday, watching the early commuters speed home on Farmington Avenue, waiting for a small circle of supporters to gather behind him and a smaller circle of reporters to assemble in front of him.
The sole television cameraman asked if he would be using a podium.
“If I could afford a podium, I’d still be in the race,” Clark said.
The news already had been reported: Clark was quitting, and he was endorsing Andrew Roraback, who stood off to the side to give Clark his last moments as a candidate.
Political campaigns end in many ways: The successful ones on election night in crowded, sweaty halls with boisterous crowds. The slightly less successful ones also make it to election night, ending before subdued crowds that magically melt away.
Clark’s last speech as a candidate came before an audience of a dozen people, including Jerry Labriola, the state GOP chairman.
“I want to congratulate you, Mike, for your strong effort and the great campaign you ran, putting it on the line, running for higher office,” Labriola said. “Mike has made a great impression of a lot of people. I feel he has a very bright future in our party.”
Clark had a nice story to tell: He was the FBI agent who pursued public corruption cases in Connecticut, investigating a Republican governor and a former GOP state chairman, then winning election to the local town council — as a Republican.
The former chairman is Richard Foley, whose conviction was overturned on appeal, cutting short his stay in a federal prison camp. Foley is supporting Roraback.
The governor, of course, was Rowland, the last true GOP success story in Connecticut. Rowland was a state representative in his early 20s, a congressman at 27, a governor at 37 and a federal felon at 47.
Clark said his past pursuit of Republican politicians was not an obvious hindrance. Even in Waterbury, where Rowland still is popular, he said he was politely received.
His shortcomings as a candidate were less about old resentments than his inability to make his numbers. Money is the key early metric of poltical races. Clark had a great first quarter, raising $121,531 in April, May and June of last year.
His contributors included old FBI friends, ex-prosecutors like Austin McGuigan and former U.S. Attorney Stan Twardy, colleagues from Otis Elevator, which hired him after he retired from the bureau, and some of the new friends he made in Farmington politics, including David O’Leary, who was Rowland’s first chief of staff as governor.
But over the rest of his time as a candidate, he raised only another $80,000, not counting that $100,000 he recently loaned his campaign in case he decided to continue as a candidate. A brother died in August, taking him off the trail for a time. And Tropical Storm Irene and the fall nor’easter made his last months as the chairman of the Town Council a bit busy.
He ends his campaign with $89,000 cash on hand.
Clark said he was warned the first quarter raising money is the easiest: Everyone has a list of friends and contacts happy to cut that first check for $250, but the subsequent efforts are a grind.
“I can remember Sam Caliguiri warning me: ‘You’ll want to do anything else but raise money. You’ll want to stamp envelopes. You’ll want to go to the dentist.’ He was right,” Clark said. Caliguiri was the GOP nominee in 2010.
The last number he failed to meet was 48: Of the 294 delegates who will meet Friday at the Connecticut Convention Center to endorse a candidate, Clark needed 48 to automatically qualify for a primary.
Clark never said Wednesday how far short he fell on that last metric. He said only that delegates look for viability, and that means money.
Pressed further about delegate counts, Clark smiled and pointed to Roraback.
“It’s his count now,” Clark said. “I’ll refer that one to him.”
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