Chris Mattei has been trying to raise his profile since leaving the U.S. attorney's office. WFSB
Chris Mattei has been trying to raise his profile since leaving the U.S. attorney’s office. WFSB
Chris Mattei has been trying to raise his profile since leaving the U.S. attorney’s office. WFSB

Chris Mattei, a former federal prosecutor who helped send former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland back to prison, opened an exploratory campaign Wednesday, becoming the second Democrat in 24 hours to begin testing his viability in the open race for governor in 2018.

With a subtle nod to the anti-Trump resistance now energizing Democrats, Mattei cast himself as a career public servant, a prosecutor of “corrupt public officials, Wall Street financiers, investment advisors and gun traffickers” ready for a campaign of citizen engagement.

“This is a time for citizenship,” Mattei said in an announcement video. “And, what I believe is that if we are to resist what’s happening in Washington, that work starts right here.”

Mattei joins Jonathan Harris, a former state senator, top Democratic Party official and commissioner of consumer protection, in filing exploratory papers Wednesday. Harris announced his plans Tuesday evening after stepping down as commissioner.

It was no surprise that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, decided against seeking a third term, but his announcement last week was earlier than expected, leaving some better-known Democrats unprepared to take the first formal steps toward entering what is likely to be a crowded race in both parties.

Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, a Democrat, opened an exploratory committee in January. Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo is expected to soon follow, with state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. among the list of other potential Democratic candidates.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Attorney General George Jepsen have not ruled out running for the Democratic nomination. Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim, who returned to office in 2015, recently asked the State Elections Enforcement Commission if his felony conviction would bar him from the state’s public financing program should he run.

By entering politics via a statewide race, the 38-year-old Mattei is following a difficult path typically taken only by wealthy self-funders. He will test the appeal of an outsider to Democratic delegates in a time when Republicans will work to tie Democratic candidates to the unpopular Malloy.

“What we need now more than ever is a people’s campaign built by us for us in every city and town in this state,” Mattei said. “If we are willing to work for it, we can build a just and growing economy. We can create jobs that last and pay a decent wage. We can create an open and effective government that puts the interests of average, working families at the center of every decision we make.”

Mattei, who is married and the father of three, lives in Hartford. Since leaving the U.S. attorney’s office as the chief of its financial fraud and public corruption unit in 2015, he has been in private practice with Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder.

In 2014, he helped convict Rowland of conspiring with Lisa Wilson-Foley, a congressional candidate, and her husband, Brian Foley, to violate campaign finance laws.

Another corruption case may have left him with enemies in Democratic circles: He helped oversee an investigation that derailed the 2012 congressional campaign of former state House Speaker Chris Donovan, D-Meriden.

Donovan’s campaign manager pleaded guilty and another top aide was convicted at trial on charges related to a conspiracy to bribe Donovan with illegal campaign contributions.

Donovan was not charged and was never shown to have knowledge of the scheme.

A half-dozen Republicans have formed exploratory or candidate committees.

Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, has raised $138,944 since forming a candidate committee in December. Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti formed a candidate committee two weeks ago.

Republicans with exploratory committees include: Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, making his third attempt; Tim Herbst, the Trumbull first selectman and 2014 nominee for state treasurer; Peter Lumaj, the 2014 nominee for secretary of the state; and Steve Obstinik, the 2012 nominee for Congress in the 4th District.

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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