Connolly enters race for governor
EAST HARTFORD — After stepping down from his post as Connecticut’s Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, Sean Connolly stood in the parking lot of Augie and Rays with about 200 of his closest friends, former grade-school teachers and supporters to announce he’s exploring a run for governor.
“I’m Sean Connolly and I love Connecticut,” he said as he opened his first speech for his inaugural run for elected office.
A prosecutor and Brigade Legal Adviser with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. as well as in Kuwait and Iraq, Connolly served more than seven years on active duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is still a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
As an East Hartford native it was only natural for the 43-year-old to choose Augie and Ray’s Drive-In as the place where he would launch his campaign.
A staple of East Hartford politics the eatery serves up hot dogs and good conversation. The restaurant is separated by a chained link fence from Pratt & Whitney where he worked as a Global Ethics and Compliance Officer before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy nominated him in 2015 to head the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs.
Connolly, who now lives in Hebron with his wife and two sons, wove in pieces of his background and middle-class upbringing to demonstrate the opportunities that brought his father and grandfather to East Hartford.
“It was in Connecticut that my parents realized the American dream,” Connolly said.
He said he was also able to find opportunity in Connecticut, but he knows that’s getting harder and harder these days.
“Notwithstanding our successes at Veterans Affairs, Connecticut is struggling,” Connolly said. “Nowadays too many people believe that the opportunities my grandparents enjoyed, the opportunities that my parents found and the opportunity that my sisters, brothers and I benefit from all right here in Connecticut don’t exist anymore.”
He said the state’s economic growth is too slow, the population is declining, and “our taxes are higher than other states and we are not as competitive as our neighboring states. And people have lost faith in their government.”
He said together “we can do better.”
Connolly said after the announcement that his one big idea is to bring people together to solve the problems the state faces.
“There’s no magic bullet,” Connolly said. “But if we bring people to the table instead of just pointing fingers we can get to solutions.”
He said he doesn’t have all the answers, but he’s a leader who is able to put service over politics and special interests.
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, who was one of a handful of state lawmakers and other elected officials, said it’s too early to endorse anyone yet, but he likes that Connolly can mount a campaign as an outsider.
The military background is also attractive in a state where more voters are not registered with either party.
“I’ve never run for office before, but we need a different style of leadership to change direction,” Connolly said.
Malloy announced in March he wouldn’t be seeking a third-term.
Since that time five Democratic and 10 Republicans candidates have announced their intention to explore or run for governor.
Connolly, who said he’s using the state’s Citizens Election Program, will have to raise $250,000 in small donations before May to qualify for a state grant for his campaign.
It’s not an easy task. Especially, when his competition has been out there for months now talking to town committees and asking for donations.
Connolly, like all the candidates, will first have to compete with members of his party for the nomination and possibly the chance to primary.
The competition on the Democratic side, includes Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei and Dita Bhargava of Greenwich. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman has yet to say whether she will also seek the nomination.
Republican candidates exploring or declaring a run for governor include Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst; Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti; Dave Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general; Prasad Srinivasan, a state representative from Glastonbury; Westport businessman Steve Obsitnik; Peter Lumaj of Fairfield; Wilton state Sen. Toni Boucher; Michael Handler, the city of Stamford’s chief financial officer; hedge fund manager David Stemerman; Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton; and Bob Stefanowski, a Madison businessman and former UBS executive.