Jacqueline Smith: A third try for Boughton

December 4, 2016 GMT

Much to no one’s surprise, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is making a run again for governor of Connecticut. The former high school history teacher turned politician, with seven terms leading the city, announced Nov. 22 that he had formed an exploratory committee for the gubernatorial race in 2018.

The third time just may be the charm.

Boughton has learned valuable lessons since he first ran for governor in 2010, and ended up as Republican Tom Foley’s running mate for lieutenant governor. They came close to winning. And more lessons in 2014 when he teamed up with Heather Somers of Groton to pool resources and she left him in the dust to advance herself. And lost.

Lesson #1 — Get your name widely known. Boughton had served in Hartford as a state representative before becoming mayor in 2001, and his Danbury success story was compelling. This former hat manufacturing capital pivoted after the factories closed — unlike so many of Connecticut’s other industrial cities — and now boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. The seventh largest city in Connecticut, it regularly gets rated as one of the safest.

But who had heard much about Danbury east of the Connecticut River?

In his second run for governor, Boughton built networks with Republican Town Committees along the eastern border and was pleasantly surprised with welcoming support in places like Stonington.

More recently, he took to a larger stage as president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a nonpartisan organization that looks out for local interests. Of the 169 municipalities in the state, 162 are members. His term is ending with the election of new officers the week before Boughton’s exploratory committee announcement.

There was one way his name was known, however, and Boughton had to tone that down. A decade ago, the anti-illegal immigration stance in the city catapulted the mayor into the national, even international, spotlight. In an undercover ploy by immigration agents, 11 day-laborers who were undocumented residents were arrested. This led to marches down Main Street against, and for, the action. The “Danbury 11” sued and the city ended up settling for a small sum.

The atmosphere in the city has since grown more inclusive, and Boughton now points to the immigrate population as a catalyst for the city’s growth. Nonetheless, with the president-elect stirring up anti-immigration sentiment — “Build a wall,” a slogan that doesn’t play so well in Connecticut with sanctuary cities — Boughton is going to have to explain his evolving position. The opposing Democrats will see to that.

Lesson #2 — Start raising money early, very early. This lesson was painful. To receive matching funds, candidates for governor must raise $250,000 with individual donations no greater than $100. In 2014, Boughton made the strategic decision early to enlist Somers, whose political experience was on the Groton Town Council member, as his running mate, which enabled them to pool resources. A month before the nominating convention, they had raised $210,576 of which $155,000 came from Boughton’s campaign. They were a team.

But then at the convention Somers came in a strong second for lieutenant governor and five days later coldly ditched the man from Danbury who had helped her. She won the primary, but then as Tom Foley’s running mate lost the election. It was too late for Boughton to raise enough money to reach the Citizen Election Program threshold.

You better believe Boughton won’t let that scenario happen again. A week after publicly launching his exploratory committee, he hired a finance director, the experienced Lindsay Jacobs who most recently managed a six-figure PAC in Georgia. Starting this month she will manage fundraising operations for the campaign, building up to the 2018 election.

Lesson #3 — Enjoy what you’re doing. Actually, Boughton has known this all along. His easy rapport and at times self-deprecating humor make him approachable. On Twitter, some of his most engaged followers are high school students — too young to vote now, but wait a year.

Boughton is prepared for his third run for governor. The name of his exploratory group says it all — the Connecticut Comeback Committee.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jacqueline Smith at jsmith@newstimes.com or 203-731-3344.