April 19, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 1:00 AM EST
This is a conversation between two Kens. One Ken is Kenneth Curran, the campaign manager for the Perez for Mayor '07 re-election effort. The other Ken is me.
We two Kens sat down Friday, April 6, 2007 at Tisane's in Hartford to discuss the past, present and future.
We two Kens have our similarities. We both grew up in Litchfield County: Ken C. in Bethlehem, me, I grew up down the street in Watertown. We both went to Holy Cross High School in Waterbury: Ken C. graduated in 1993, I was class of 1990.
Our paths diverged there, although we added energy to the same fire in 2006, when I worked for Ned Lamont's campaign for a short time, and Ken C. was working for Joe Lieberman.
We two Kens crossed paths again through Ken Curran's fiancé, Katie, who I attend law school with, and sat next to in a class last semester. Katie and I compared notes on various campaign activities. When she told me Ken would be working with Perez, I knew an interview was a must.
We two Kens enjoyed this conversation, and I hope everyone out there in internet-land does, too.
How did you get involved in politics?
I was on the DTC at 18 or 19, grew up in an Irish Catholic household, I wanted to go against my father to cause dissent. I became a Democrat at age of 7 to cause arguments. I always had the interest in public service and civics.
When I came back from Kings College in Wilkes-Barre in 1998, I was a young idealist. I wanted to change the world, so I ran against Lou DeLuca, eyebrows and all.
What did that campaign teach you?
I learned a lot in that campaign – how hard campaigns were, the value of personal contact, and I learned that there are a lot of voters who take voting seriously, and they want to be informed, and sadly, I also learned the value of fundraising.
So how did you get involved with former Congressman Jim Maloney?
Some of my towns overlapped with Maloney in 1998, that was where he beat Mark Nielsen by a razor thin margin, he won by the least amount of any incumbent that year. We would be at same committee meetings, same events.
After I was unable to be the first dem elected in the 32 district in decades, Jim hired me to be his Connecticut finance director in January 1999. He sat me down and said this is going to be a top target race, I need someone to do fundraising for me full time.
I asked him "How much are you looking to raise?" A couple million, he said. For target congressional races, you need to start from January of the off year. This year Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy are doing the same.
In the 2000 race, he beat Nielsen by 10 points. Then Connecticut didn't have enough population to create 6 districts, and the lobster claw came into existence.
The gerrymandering of the Fifth makes it look an enzyme or something. At the Lamont campaign, when I was first congressional district coordinator, we re-gerrymandered it for internal organization purposes to make it easier.
It was a different atmosphere. We ran against Nancy Johnson. She was on the Ways and Means committee. My employment there went through Dec. 2002.
What is the life of a campaign finance worker like?
There's contributor maintenance, prospecting, getting Bill Clinton to come into town for you. You set up call time for the candidate. Admittedly, it is not rocket science. It is heavy on organizational and relationship building.
What do you take out of all your time with Maloney?
I take out of that going to see a hardworking member of Congress. He really made it a point to see the district and get input from the district. Jim Maloney showed a profile in courage in voting against the Iraq war, that was a big one for me as well.
The pollsters were saying you should vote for it, I was the staff member doing the "Don't attack Iraq" chants in the conference calls. That vote by Jim may have surprised some people. I thought it was a profile in courage, and of course I have been proven right.
I leave Maloney, I chill out for a little while, and I do fundraising for the Joe Lieberman for president campaign, which was about a year.
It seems a little inconsistent then, for me, to be against the war in 2002 and go work for one of the Senate's biggest warhawks?
To this day I disagree with Lieberman on that war. However, I am a big domestic policy guy, and I have enjoyed Lieberman's consistency with middle tax and working class issues. And I really wanted to work for a presidential campaign just to see what it was like.
Did you get to travel a lot?
We did go to New Hampshire a lot. Mostly it was fundraising here in Connecticut.
How does working on a presidential campaign impact your outlook of local races?
I don't know that working on a presidential campaign impacts my outlook of local races. Local issues have always been more interesting to me than national issues. With Jim, we got involved in a lot of local races. We worked on party building.
So what did you do after Lieberman's campaign?
From 2004-06, I worked at a Head Start program with Jim Maloney. He started a community development corporation. Jim was a vista volunteer in Gary, IN. He met someone in Gary from the Redding/Danbury area who asked Jim to run their CAP agency – that's how he got to Danbury – from Boston.
Jim's agency was a Head Start program that had lost its sponsorship. We had an interim sponsorship. There was bad communication, it was in rough shape. Jim went in to try to fix it, I went in to fix it with him. I was a compliance officer, examining the thousands of federal compliance issues.
That must have been difficult, because President Bush has flat funded all domestic discretionary expenditures like Head Start for the past few years.
It's even worse, because there were actually one percent cuts that were retroactive.
What was the best thing about working in Head Start?
My favorite thing in head start, I was the only male, and I got to deliver supplies to classrooms.
In the Head Start classrooms, one of the most beautiful things to see is diversity, young children don't know anything different from black or white or tan. I'd get to play Candyland. I'd get stuck in Gooey Gumdrop Land. A lot of kids yearn for male influence.
You do a lot of work with young people, like I saw online that you coach baseball in Little League in Bethlehem.
I coach for the guy who coached me. I came back from college, we were on the Park and Rec committee together. He said he needed a coach, I've been coaching with him for 9 or 10 years on the Bethlehem Baseball Giants. It's Little League, so they're 8-12 years old, mostly 11-12 year olds.
I'd rather quit my job than quit coaching little league. I was also the town Easter Bunny at the Easter Egg hunt.
So let's fast forward and talk about Lieberman 2006. What did you do on that campaign?
First, I was dealing with the convention delegates. Again, I thought it would be a productive exercise. I had a conversation with delegates from each town from each part of the state, saw different thought processes from each part of the state. I wasn't exposed to Pomfret. I'm from the Waterbury area.
I was dealing with organization – organized labor mostly – up until the primary. I knew a lot of labor folks from working with Jim for a lot of years, working in state Senate and Congress. I had known a lot of organized labor before then. It was all field organization for Lieberman in 2006.
What was the biggest challenge on that campaign?
The biggest challenge was the degree of the divide between each side. It certainly got personal. My fear was always that we were going to end up with a Democratic Party that was severely splintered and not able to function again. His fear was that we were going to end up with Reagan Democrats, which took a number of years to recover from.
We don't have that now?
I know that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi still consider him a Democrat. I don't what the definition is if you caucus, six or seven different ways. Leadership still calls him a Democrat. Certainly in terms of the war, he is not with Democratic dollars and priorities.
He has said some strong things about Alberto Gonzales. But he is a Democrat on labor reform, middle class tax issues and environment, so in some degrees he is independent.
What did you do after the campaign?
After November, I took some time, did some wedding planning. I was looking around at different opportunities and I was following the Mayor's race, the prelude to it. The mayor has a goood narrative and a good story to tell, and more importantly, I think Hartford does too. I think it is important that our urban centers work hard.
In my opinion, I thought the Mayor had the city moving in the right direction and I wanted to be part of that.
What is Eddie Perez's narrative?
His narrative is growing up on the streets, projects, being a gang member, getting out of that, doing the learning corridor and eventually becoming Mayor. I think it is a good example for some kids in our inner cities that don't see a way out. I saw a lot of that working in Head Start. It certainly is our duty to make sure every kid gets a chance.
Naaratives like that help do that.
What is Eddie's vision for Hartford?
The vision Eddie is trying communicate is that the city that works together to define its true self can define its success. That is a city where the American dream can be possible. If you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed.
When did you first meet Eddie?
I had met him – he and Chris Dodd did an event for Maloney in New Britain in ‘02. I hadn't known much about him. After the event I did some research on him. I though, this guy's got a good story to tell, and I kind of like that he was committed to solving the problems that the people of Hartford faced.
Ultimately we have heard a lot about the mayor now –seven or eight opponents, the reason I am here and the reason the mayor is running, it is not ulimately about Eddie or the other candidates, it is about families, neighborhoods, businesses and the overall progress of the city of Hartford. It was "What can we focus on in the years to come?"
I started about a week ago.
What is the biggest challenge Eddie Perez faces this campaign?
The challenge of any campaign is effectively reaching the voters. And certainly in all your urban centers the challenge is to make sure your accomplishment and vision get to them. In the months ahead that will be one of our biggest priorities and another of our biggest priorities will be having these open discussions with the voters of the city.
What is Eddie's biggest weakness?
I don't know if I have indicated his weakness – maybe the coverage in the 40-Year Plan. We will have to work on that.
Really, his weakness is the perception of his leadership style. I think as we go on the campaign, the mayor will be having a two-way discussion with the voters of Hartford. I think that through that, they'll see the mayor is genuine and his main interest is really the city as a whole.
How many votes does he need?
One more than the other guy.
For the campaign kickoff at Rawson school, how did you choose the school?
We are paying for the school. It is kind of like any other organization, we had to file an application. They do charge for it, and you have to provide an insurance certificate for it.
Rawson is in the Blue Hills section, it is one of the schools thru minority contracting was redone so it is a good symbol for the progress that the city has made. Also it is indicating that there is a lot of work to be done.
Did you get this job through the Lieberman-Perez connection with Matt Hennessey and Sherri Brown?
No, it was entirely different. My best man (Darek Donnelly) works for the mayor – and he has worked for the mayor and kind of mentioned me making the pitch . I made the pitch sat down and had a conversation with the mayor, and the rest they say is history.
What are your responsibilities?
Day to day organizational skills of the campaign. While I am the campaign manager, I work for everybody, I will be taking everyobody's ideas in to the campaign and making sure we stay on task.
Will you be doing fundraising and field, too?
I'm sure there will a field director and a finance director. Overall, my job is making sure the trains run on time.
The city's political scene is deeply divided. You have two members of the legislature who are running against Eddie. The rest of them, except for one, didn't show at his State of the City address. How do we fix this? How do we find common ground and unity?
I've had this conversation with a few people. I'm 31 now, soon to be 32. What I have learned is that you need to focus on what you have in common – it was for me to know that I had a difference with someone and not seek what we had in common. I think that unity will happen when they seek and recognize what they all have in common: the best interests of Hartford. You can certainly disagree on how to get there, but when you focus on that commonality, you can reach a solution.
I'm an eternal optimist.
His commitment to see the city succeed. I think he is in public service for all the right reasons, you talk to him, he really does care about seeing the city being in a better place for years from now than it is now.
I think he is working through goals – when it comes to schools – reconstituting schools that need to be increasing graduation rates, education, he is making a big effort to be there.
How do you involve young people in the campaign?
I'd like to see a bill registering 17-year-olds being able to vote in the primary – but that's legislative. I think we are going to reach out to the younger set and really involve them to reaching out to friends and family. Lamont did a good job of friends, family and neighbors. Young people can really do things that have a significant effect on their future.
Will you reach out to the contacts and funders you have met on previous campaigns?
I think contacts from previous campaign for fundraiser is to be determined. I will be reaching out to everyone I know and telling them how I see Perez as an asset to the city and state.
What about bringing in Joe Lieberman?
I haven't thought about bringing Joe in. I have thought about this race as a dialogue between citizens, voters of Hartford. I haven't thought about any outside influence yet.