House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan has officially ended his scandal-plagued bid for Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, withdrawing his name from a minor-party line on the ballot, the secretary of the state’s office confirmed Thursday.
And the Connecticut Working Families Party, whose line on the ballot would have been Donovan’s only vehicle to keep his campaign alive, announced Thursday it would endorse the Democratic primary winner, former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire.
Donovan also issued a statement through the minor party to endorse Esty.
Immediately after losing the primary, Donovan didn’t dismiss the possibility of keeping his name on the ballot, saying only that he would take some time to decide his next step.
But on Thursday he announced his intentions in a two-sentence letter to Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill. “I hereby withdraw my name from the nomination … effective immediately,” Donovan wrote.
“As someone who has fought for working families my entire life, I know how much is at stake right now for people across our district,” Donovan said in a statement released by the Working Families Party. “That’s why I ran for Congress.”
The speaker was a labor organizer before his election to the state House 20 years ago and has arguably been labor’s staunchest ally over that period.
But his status as the clear early favorite crashed this summer after federal authorities indicted two of his highest-ranking campaign officials — among others — on charges that they conspired to hide contributions from businesses hoping to derail legislation that would change how state government taxes roll-your-own cigarette operations.
Donovan, 58, of Meriden, who has insisted repeatedly he was unaware of those efforts and never helped to hide contributions or agreed to trade political influence for campaign funding, has been quiet since the primary.
His political plunge culminated on Aug. 14 when Esty came from behind to win the Democratic primary over Donovan and Dan Roberti of Kent.
But while the minor party had indicated earlier this month that it would wait for Donovan to reach a decision before commenting on whether he should remain in the race, a big portion of the speaker’s labor base moved on.
The Connecticut AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor coalition, switched its endorsement to Esty on Aug. 22. And longtime coalition president, John W. Olsen, has said Donovan should leave the race, even though he and many others in labor still support the lawmaker personally.
“My opinion is there is no way for him to win. He would have just been a spoiler, and knowing him, that’s not in his nature,” Olsen said immediately after last week’s endorsement was announced.
The labor leader added that the scandal hit him and others like “a kick in the gut,” but the best chance for labor’s platform in the 5th District race now rests with Esty.
“Our endorsement wasn’t about opposing Esty. It was about supporting Donovan,” he said.
The Working Families Party took a similar position Thursday in backing Esty.
“Elizabeth Esty is in the best position to fight for working and middle class families going forward,” said Lindsay Farrell, executive director of the Connecticut Working Families Party. “If you want a government, and an economy, that works for middle class families in Connecticut, I encourage voters to support Elizabeth on the Working Families ballot line.”
“After meeting with Elizabeth, we’re confident that she will defend Social Security and Medicare and fight to raise the minimum wage,” said Julie Kushner, co-chairman of the Connecticut Working Families Party. “That’s why we’ve endorsed her, and that’s why we’ll fight to get her elected as the next member of Congress from the 5th District.”
Olsen had expressed concern last week that there could be some friction between the Working Families Party and Esty given her voting record during her two-year tenure as a state representative, and specifically from her vote against paid-sick-day legislation, a major initiative of the minor party. She said during the campaign that she would have voted for an amended paid-sick-leave bill that became law in 2011. She also supports federal paid-sick-leave legislation.
But Donovan defended Esty’s record in his statement, urging support for his former rival.
“Right now in Tampa, the Republicans are preparing to attack the right of working people to bargain collectively, they’re preparing to end a woman’s right to choose, and they’re preparing to get rid of the Medicare and Social Security benefits that seniors have earned,” he said. “It’s critical for the working families of the 5th District that we unite as Democrats behind Elizabeth Esty for Congress. Elizabeth is committed to the fight for working families. She has a record of advocating for middle-class jobs, women’s rights, and Medicare and Social Security. I am proud to endorse her and to stand with her to fight for the values that we share as Democrats.”
“I’m grateful to Chris Donovan and to the Connecticut Working Families Party for their endorsements and their support in this critical election for our families,” Esty said. “Chris has a strong and admirable record of public service as both a leader in our state and a life-long fighter for the rights of working families. I know he will continue to be a strong voice for the middle class.
“The Connecticut Working Families Party has been essential to ensuring that democracy works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected. In the post-Citizens United world, with a Republican Party seeking to end Medicare’s guarantee of health care coverage for seniors while protecting tax cuts for millionaires, that mission is more important than ever.”
Democratic State Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo said Thursday that the speaker’s decision wasn’t a surprise. “He’s always been a loyal Democrat and a good public servant,” she said. “We’re excited to have a unified team moving forward to victory in November.”
State Sen. Andrew W. Roraback of Goshen, the Republican nominee for the 5th District seat, also said Thursday that Donovan’s withdrawal wasn’t unexpected.
“It’s obvious that he would have no chance of succeeding,” he said, adding that after serving for years in the General Assembly with Donovan, “I don’t think there’s any one colleague who I disagreed with more often.”