Jon Lender: A Fired Friend And His Leaked Texts Haunt Dan Drew's Gubernatorial Campaign

Middletown Mayor Dan Drew’s campaign for governor was unsettled by two events Oct. 18: state election-enforcement officials’ decision to investigate his gubernatorial fund-raising efforts, and the sudden resignation of Geoff Luxenberg as his chief of staff in city hall, less than three months after he was hired.

Drew’s public explanation of the situation — and how candid he was or wasn’t — is a prime example of how, in politics, it’s hard sometimes to tell what really happened until a few days pass and the details tumble out.

Among those details, in this case:

• Although Drew first said his top aide made the decision to quit, he acknowledged in recent days that he forced Luxenberg out of Middletown City Hall.

• And now some Luxenberg text messages, obtained by Government Watch and confirmed by Luxenberg as genuine, raise questions about Drew’s recent denial that Luxenberg made donations to Democrats around the state on his behalf, as the mayor seeks support for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Luxenberg became a political problem because of an Oct. 17 item on Courant columnist Kevin Rennie’s Daily Ructions blog. Rennie wrote that Luxenberg had donated more than $13,000 to Democratic committees and candidates around the state. The problem for Drew, one of several Democratic contenders for governor, was that Luxenberg — his friend and active political supporter since 2009 — listed a couple of his donations as being on behalf of “Team Dan Drew” or a similar entity.

The next morning, Oct. 18, Drew announced that Luxenberg had resigned, saying, “I think he felt it was time to move on.” Drew stuck to that on last Sunday’s WFSB-TV’s Face the State program, telling interviewer Susan Raff: “Geoff felt it was time to move on. He made the decision to resign. I accepted his resignation and I appreciate his service to the people of Middletown.

“The fact that he’s been writing checks to Democratic town committees and candidates around the state has nothing to do with me,” Drew said. “He has a right as a private citizen … to make contributions with his own money on his own time.”

Drew also said that he expected no problems as a result of the State Elections Enforcement Commission’s decision, also on Oct. 18, to investigate a complaint by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Herbst’s campaign manager that Drew attempted a “shakedown” when he sent gubernatorial campaign fundraising letters to Middletown city employees in September. Drew has apologized for the episode in which he obtained employees’ addresses from city hall, including police addresses protected from disclosure by law.

And that’s where the explanations stood, as of early this week. But then came the leak to The Courant of some Luxenberg texts — in which Luxenberg claimed that he was making campaign contributions at Drew’s request, contrary to Drew’s denials.

This moved Drew to intensify those denials and, finally, to say: “I never told him to do it. And this is why he’s no longer in my office.”

“When I realized the extent of the contributions he was making, and that my name was used … I asked him to resign from my office,” Drew said. “There was a media report” — Rennie’s — “that indicated my name was affiliated with some contributions,” he said, adding that he’d been “shocked” by the “very high dollar figure.”

Drew was asked if he now would quarrel with the term “firing” to describe Luxenberg’s exit, and he said no. Drew was also asked whether, thinking back on what he’d said initially, he believed he’d been fully candid with the public.

“Everything I said was candid,” Drew said. “He did make the decision to resign. He could have told me ‘no,’ and then I would have … had to say, ‘you’re fired,’” but instead he “freely” resigned when asked to.

“I don’t want to split hairs with you here,” he said. “You asked me if I’d quarrel with [calling it a firing]. I won’t quarrel with you over it, but there is a distinction between those two things. ... I didn’t say ‘you’re fired.’ I could have said ‘you’re fired,’ but I asked him to resign, and he offered his resignation.”

The Leaked Texts

Luxenberg, a former state representative from Manchester, worked in Drew’s mayoral campaigns over the years, and until recently he was part owner of The Vinci Group, a Manchester-based political consulting firm now working for Drew’s gubernatorial campaign. He sold out his share in Vinci to longtime partner Michael Farina as a condition of Drew putting him on the Middletown city payroll.

The long and close relationship between Drew and his ex-aide is part of what makes the recent text messages by Luxenberg intriguing.

Following are some of those leaked texts, sent by Luxenberg to an unidentified person associated with the campaign of a female candidate now running for municipal office.

On July 27 Luxenberg wrote:

• “I’ll meet her and give her a check”

• “Mayor Dan Drew asked me to hand deliver it”

• “It’s from me – I’m his new chief of staff”

• “However he wants to connect with her re CCDM too”

CCDM stands for Connecticut Conference of Democratic Mayors, which Drew is chairman of, and which makes campaign contributions to candidates for municipal office.

The texts continued on Aug. 2 with a discussion of when the check could be delivered:

• “How about Saturday the 19th?” wrote Luxenberg.

• “Sure, what time?” was the reply.

State campaign financing records show a $1,000 donation by Luxenberg on Aug. 19 — the date mentioned in the Luxenberg text — to the campaign committee of Melissa Katz Kane, a Democrat running for first selectman in Westport. He was identified as “Chief of Staff Mayor Dan Drew” in the “occupation” box on the form reporting the contribution.

Those records, on file with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, also show a $250 donation, dated Sept. 4, from the CCDM to the same Kane campaign committee, called “Melissa for Westport.”

Luxenberg wouldn’t confirm who he was texting with, although Kane said Friday that she assumed that any texts about the $1,000 donation would have been with her campaign manager at the time. Kane said Luxenberg delivered the check personally to her and a campaign aide after arranging it with her staff, but mentioned nothing to her about it being at Drew’s request.

Within two hours of this column’s posting on the courant.com website Friday, Kane’s campaign announced that it would return both the $1,000 Luxenberg donation and the $250 from the CCDM. “While the donations meet all state election law requirements, we are concerned by today's news reports,” Kane’s campaign committee said in an emailed statement. “We have made no commitments to gubernatorial candidates, and we remain focused on the municipal election only days away.”

Drew said he didn’t know anything about the texts, and had nothing to do with Luxenberg’s contribution to Kane’s campaign. He said he’s familiar with Kane, and had approved the $250 donation from the CCDM along with others who serve on the group’s board of directors — but said the donation wasn’t in concert with Luxenberg as indicated in the leaked texts.

Luxenberg responded to a text inquiry from Government Watch that listed his leaked texts and informed him that they were likely to be written about in The Courant.

"I regret that I wrote that - the truth is - Dan never told me to hand deliver a check to her and I shouldn't have mischaracterized it that way to anyone,” he wrote. “I provided my employer and occupation because that is a compliance requirement - but the donation I made was from my personal funds only. I was overly eager to support a fellow Democrat because I am and always will be passionate about the Democratic Party."

Why would Luxenberg say he was donating at Drew’s request if it was untrue? Why would a candidate need to hear that, and not just accept the legal donation of $1,000 from Luxenberg, all by himself?

Luxenberg wasn’t saying, and Drew said he didn’t know the answer. “What you read me from that text message was not true,” he said. “Geoff has always been a frequent and prolific Democratic donor and he has a right to donate his own personal funds … as he sees fit, but my name shouldn’t be associated with it. I am disappointed in him and I am disappointed that it occurred.”

Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at jlender@courant.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter @jonlender.


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