Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is steering clear of the battle between longtime incumbent John Olsen and former House Speaker Chris Donovan for the presidency of the state AFL-CIO.
Olsen, who turns 63 in March, says he is not sure if he will seek reelection when his current term runs out in September. At the same time, Donovan’s supporters have been pushing for him to seek the presidency of the labor umbrella organization with more than 200,000 members.
“I don’t know much about it other than what I saw” on the front page of The Hartford Courant, Malloy told reporters Thursday outside his state Capitol office. “Not my fight. Unions get to decide who their leadership is going to be. I’ve worked with both gentlemen. It’s not my deal.”
Olsen is noncommital on his future, but he said he has never backed away from a fight. He declined to criticize Donovan and said that any member of the AFL-CIO has the right to challenge him.
“From my standpoint, I’ve always welcomed a democratic process and fair and open elections,’’ Olsen told The Courant in a story published Thursday. “I haven’t announced anything I’m doing yet, either. You don’t generally announce these candidacies that far in advance. I’ve never announced in January that I’m running. I’m serving right now. There’s nine months left in this term. It’s early for anybody to be saying what they’re doing.’’
With 25 years to his credit in a business known for its turnover, Olsen is the longest-serving state AFL-CIO president in the country. He says he is also the longest-serving president in Connecticut history.
Donovan, 59, has kept a relatively low profile recently, and some legislators are not sure what he will do in his post-Speaker life. But Rep. Peter Tercyak, a longtime union supporter who is now the co-chairman of the legislature’s labor committee, said that word is spreading among union members about Donovan possibly taking over the state’s umbrella union organization.
“There are a lot of people who would like him to do that,’’ Tercyak said Wednesday at the state Capitol in Hartford. “Public service is important to Chris, and if there are enough members of the AFL-CIO to elect him president, I think he’s be great if that’s where the body wants to go.’’
Donovan, who has rarely talked to reporters since his campaign finance director and campaign manager were arrested by the FBI during his Congressional campaign last summer, did not return three telephone messages to his home and cell phone. He has not been charged in the federal criminal case, which is still under investigation.
Insiders say that Donovan has spread the word that if the unions want him as their leader, they need to organize and rally support. Donovan is not trying to rally support by calling every firefighters’ union local.
A political fundraising scandal in Donovan’s campaign led to eight arrests in a complicated scheme that was designed to block legislation that would increase taxes on roll-your-own tobacco. The legislation was blocked, but it later passed in a special session after the Donovan scandal became public.
Three of the eight arrested have pleaded guilty in the case. The first was Raymond Soucy, a former treasurer of AFSCME Local 387 who wore a wire and became a cooperating witness in the case. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a public official. The second was David Moffa, a former union president and member of AFSCME Local 387 who pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to cause a false campaign finance report to be filed with federal authorities. Moffa admitted in court that he gave a check for $2,500 to the Donovan campaign, but the money was provided by others.
But Olsen has a long track record of fending off challengers that include several during his tenure as president and an upset victory over an incumbent in the pipefitters union back in 1978. Olsen keeps coming back, and his supporters say he should not be counted out.
“I’ve been referred to as a dinosaur 15 years ago,’’ Olsen said. “I said, ‘I may be prehistoric, but I’m not extinct.’ I’m like the sharks and cockroaches. I’m still here.’’