Connecticut's largest labor organization on Wednesday voted to endorse former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty, the Democrat who defeated House Speaker Chris Donovan in the recent primary for the open 5th Congressional District seat
The endorsement was the latest blow to Donovan, a favorite of the unions, who has yet to say whether he will continue running in the 5th District race on the Working Families line. The minor party had cross-endorsed Donovan earlier this year.
Donovan's congressional bid has been under the cloud of a federal investigation into his campaign's financing practices, which resulted in two former campaign workers being arrested and charged with conspiring with others to hide the source of $27,500 in campaign contributions. The probe is continuing.
John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO and a former chairman of the Connecticut Democrats, blames the scandal for Donovan's loss on Aug. 14. He said the AFL-CIO's committee on political education felt it was necessary to move forward and back Esty because there's a need to mobilize and organize supporters in such an important race. He said more than two-thirds of the approximately 70 union leaders voted on Wednesday to endorse the Cheshire Democrat.
While Olsen said the group did not consider endorsing Donovan as a Working Families Party candidate, the decision to back Esty was not a reflection on their opinion of Donovan.
"I felt disappointed that the situation arose in the 5th District for Chris. It's sad," Olsen said. "I think that eventually the cloud will pass over and there will be some future for him. There is no one in there who doesn't think very highly of him. There's no one in there who thinks he's guilty of anything. We're all disappointed. We all had a kick in the gut when this happened."
Donovan's campaign manager declined to comment on the AFL-CIO endorsement. Donovan has been on vacation since the primary and unavailable for comment.
It's unclear when Donovan plans to announce whether he will keep running on the Working Families Party line. His supporters have voiced mixed opinions about whether he should continue.
Olsen, who has not spoken with Donovan since his primary defeat, believes he should pull out, saying "there is no path to victory" for Donovan if he keeps running.
Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the Connecticut Democrats, said she believes Donovan will ultimately end up endorsing Esty.
"Chris knows how important it is to have a Democratic Congress and staying in the race and running on the Working Family Party (line) can have an impact on the outcome of the race," she said.
Esty is facing state Sen. Andrew Roraback, a moderate Republican from Kent.
In a statement, Esty, who is more politically moderate than Donovan, acknowledged the importance of the AFL-CIO endorsement.
"It couldn't be more clear how much is at stake in this year's election. Workers' rights are under attack across the country," said Esty, adding she's looking forward to working with the Connecticut AFL-CIO "to fight for the fair paychecks, safe workplaces, reliable benefits, and collective bargaining rights" and work together "to protect the Social Security and Medicare benefits."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.