Malloy Calls Felon's Candidacy 'Local Issue,' Favors 'Second Chances'

HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloydeclined Tuesday to take a position on Bridgeport Democrats' endorsement of a felon, former state Sen.Ernest E. Newton II, as a candidate for a state Senate seat – the same office that Newton was convicted in 2005 of using to solicit a $5,000 bribe. Newton served four years in federal prison.

Malloy called Newton's candidacy a "local issue," and said he believes in "second chances" for offenders.

He said Bridgeport voters should take into account "all factors," including "history," when they choose between Newton and two potential competitors in an Aug. 14 primary for the nomination. But that's about as far as he went.

Monday night, Newton won endorsement for his old Senate seat at a Democratic convention in Bridgeport, defeating two current Democratic legislators from that city: the incumbent senator, Edwin Gomes, and state Rep. Andres Ayala Jr., both of whom received enough delegate support to force an Aug. 14 primary.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch issued a statement saying that "when Ernie and I spoke recently I told him I do not think this is the best decision for him or the city."

But when Malloy was asked about Newton's endorsement in the state Capitol Tuesday, he was noncommittal.

"It's a local issue, first and foremost," Malloy said. "I did read about it. I would urge, as I would in every election, that voters take into consideration all of the abilities of the people that they have to choose from. It looks like there may be three names on the ballot. And so I think the people of Bridgeport have a decision to make.

"I have to say to you that I've long been an advocate of a second-chance society. As a prosecutor, as a governor, as a mayor I've advocated for second chances. But ultimately in the political arena that's a decision for the public to make."

But what about Newton's record as a convicted felon who served in prison? he was asked.

"He's not on the radio with a radio show," Malloy said — a jab at Republican former Gov. John G. Rowland. Rowland resigned as governor in mid-2004, pleaded guilty to corruption, and spent 10 months in federal prison before assuming his current role as an afternoon radio talk show host on WTIC 1080 AM.

Asked if he meant that ex-convicts shouldn't have radio shows, Malloy replied, "That's not what I said. … The thing about a radio show is you can decide not to listen — which I can assure you I do."

With regard to Newton, Malloy said: "I think ultimately people get to make a definitive decision in a primary that's going to occur pretty quickly. And, since I don't know what exactly will happen, how will this race will set up – whether it will be three candidates, two candidates or one candidate – I'll reserve judgment. … Again I urge the voters to take history, all of the factors, into the consideration and make a decision. … I'm not endorsing anyone today … because we don't know enough. I mean, the race isn't fully shaped."

"I think I've said enough," he said. "I've urged people to take all factors into consideration when they make a judgment in a primary vote. And that's as far as I'm going to go today."

"It's not the first time that people who have had legal difficulties offer themselves for office," Malloy said of Newton. "It's not the only profession that happens in. And ... I think the public has a balancing act. They have to decide whether … the person has paid a sufficient price, whether they've expressed sufficient remorse, whether they have the skill set necessary to do the job. … That's why we have elections, and I would urge all the voters to vote."

Newton was convicted of accepting a $5,000 bribe in return for securing $100,000 in state bonding funds for a Bridgeport job-training agency. He also was convicted of evading taxes and pilfering campaign contributions to pay for car repairs, personal cell phone calls, and other expenses.

Malloy hasn't always refrained from involving himself in local political races. When Democratic Shawn Wooden withdrew from the Hartford mayor's race last June 30 and said that he would instead run for city council, he said that Malloy had urged him to put his "differences aside" with Democratic incumbent Mayor Pedro Segarra.