- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2011

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) | Mike Clark was a young FBI agent when he came to this long-struggling western Connecticut city, chasing a corrupt mayor through the streets and hauling him off to prison.

Some of the state’s most promising and ambitious young Republicans built their careers here, only to have Mr. Clark and the FBI’s corruption squad take them down. He helped send two Waterbury mayors to prison, and supervised an investigation that sent Gov. John G. Rowland, a beloved figure in this city, to prison for 10 months for corruption.

Now Mr. Clark is headed back, without handcuffs, asking the Republican establishment to send him to Congress to the same seat that launched Rowland’s career. After years of working quietly behind the scenes, Mr. Clark is not a familiar face to some Republican leaders but is making the rounds to meet with them.

“I’ve got this unique perspective that I’m bringing to the table,” Mr. Clark said.

He is seeking the nomination for next year’s election in the 5th Congressional District, which includes wealthy Hartford suburbs and cities such as Waterbury and Danbury.

Mr. Clark said the public won’t have to worry about him taking bribes.

He faces plenty of competition, including House Speaker Christopher Donovan on the Democratic side and several fellow Republicans. Rep. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who holds the seat, is running for the Senate.

“I don’t see any real definite frontrunner at this point,” said Gary Rose, a politics professor at Sacred Heart University.

Mr. Clark, 56, would join two other FBI agents in Congress. His FBI background could help him, though it could pose concerns for some more-liberal voters worried about civil liberties and aggressive law enforcement, Mr. Rose said.

“The notion of law and order and being tough on crime, I think that plays out quite well among a lot of the ethnic working-class Republicans here in the 5th district,” he said.

Several voters interviewed in downtown Waterbury agreed.

“I think Connecticut would be lucky to have someone with his background in Congress,” said Dan Bowen, a 60-year-old used-book dealer. “The people in Waterbury are basically conservative. They want law and order and they want politicians held accountable.”

Anthony Carosielli, a 52-year-old plumber from Waterbury, expressed concerns about FBI agents. “Sometimes they’re too gung-ho,” he said. “They’re very straight-laced, non-bending individuals.”

Two decades ago, Mr. Clark chased former Waterbury Mayor Joseph Santopietro through the street to arrest him.

Santopietro, elected mayor at 26, said he had just left church and ran from Mr. Clark out of fear, not sure who was chasing him. Mr. Santopietro, who spent more than six years in prison for corruption, said Mr. Clark has the right to run for office.

“Good luck to him,” Mr. Santopietro said. “It’s a free society. He’s welcome to do that.”

Francis Donnarumma, Waterbury’s attorney at the time who was convicted of a tax charge and cooperated with government investigators, recalled Mr. Clark visited his home the day before his sentencing in a show of support.

“I found that to be out of the ordinary and really extraordinary in fact,” he said.

He said he was “thrilled” to learn Mr. Clark was running for Congress.