A lawyer and political activist who took on Connecticut’s last two governors as well as the coach of the UConn Huskies is heading to New Haven—to take the helm of a clean-elections fund that took on the mayor.
The lawyer/activist is Ken Krayeske (pictured). New Haven’s Democracy Fund—the body responsible for approving matching dollars for the campaigns of mayoral candidates who agree to abide by fund-raising limits—just hired him to serve as its new executive director beginning July 1.
Krayeske replaces Robert Wechsler. He will receive $70 per hour for up to $25,000 a year as the fund’s only paid staffer. He’ll be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the fund, including handling questions and preparing for board meetings.
Besides administering the fund, Krayeske vowed to spread the word about its mission so more people participate.
“I’m thrilled. I’m so excited to be in a position to push campaign finance forward,” Krayeske said. “It’s already established [in New Haven]. I want to build it.”
The chief of staff for the DeStefano administration, which has left three of the Democracy Fund’s seven board seats vacant, let it be known that he was less enthusiastic about Krayeske’s appointment.
“This is my opinion: Just think about the Fund and what you want to get out of it,” the chief of staff, Sean Matteson, said he told a Fund board member when he heard about the pending appointment. “Being a strong advocate’s fine. My opinion is: You want to select somebody who is going to represent the board and not going to use it to grandstand on.”
Krayeske has run for Congress and served as state party chair for the Connecticut Greens. He is currently pursuing a legal complaint against WTIC-AM for putting former Governor-turned-right-wing shock jock John Rowland on the air without disclosing his work for a Congressional candidate. Krayeske sued the state police in 2007 after they arrested him for photographing then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell at the inaugural parade. Krayeske, a journalist at the time, was on a police hit-list of activists to monitor closely. In 2009, Krayeske got UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun to explode at him at a press conference by asking about his salary. (Click on the play arrow to watch.)
From Appointer To Target
Krayeske takes the job at a time when the fund, the first of its kind in Connecticut, has clashed with the DeStefano administration, which picks its board members.
Mayor John DeStefano originally supported the creation of the fund along with two leading aldermen in 2006. The goal was to limit the influence of special interests, keep down the costs of campaigning for office, and allow more kinds of people to seek elected office. The system offers a $17,000 grant plus matching money to candidates who raise a minimum of donations—at least $10 each from 200 local voters. A candidate who raises just $2,000 can obtain up to $21,000 if her opponent has raised at least $5,000. DeStefano then voluntarily took on those limits and participated in the clean-elections process for two campaigns.
Then, in 2011, when he faced his first serious potential threat to his mayoralty for the first time in a decade, DeStefano switched gears, ditched the fund, hit up city contractors and employees for the maximum amount of dollars allowed under state law, and outspent his rival 14-1. DeStefano spent $494,017.33, or $86.43 per vote to get win a four-way Democratic Primary. The second-place finisher, Jeffrey Kerekes, spent $33,585.86, or $11.60 per vote. The originally DeStefano-supported Democracy Fund was created to avoid that kind of incumbent-biased imbalance. DeStefano proceeded to raise over $700,000 in total by the time of the general election; Kerekes (who ran again in the general) picked up another $11,000 to add to his total.
And the Democracy Fund board drew his ire by fining his campaign $500 for a late filing. The Fund subsequently debated at length whether to investigate his campaign for a late 2009 filing. (The board took not action after a deadlocked 2-2 vote.) In addition the Fund criticized him for “flying in the face of” the spirit of the clean elections law by moving cash into a political action committee to support aldermanic candidates.
In ditching the system amid a competitive campaign system last year, DeStefano blasted the Democracy Fund’s “conduct” as “baffling,” and consumed with “bureaucratic nonsense.”
Fast forward to 2012. The terms of two Fund appointees, Caleb Kleppner and Richard Abbatiello, expire next month. The DeStefano administration—which gets to nominate all the Fund’s members—has yet to submit names of replacements to the Board of Aldermen for approval.
Kleppner and Abbatiello have agreed to remain on the Fund’s board until replacements are chosen. But three other seats are vacant. So all four Fund members must show up at a meeting for a quorum.
Kleppner said he believes the problem lies not with City Hall, but with a dearth of citizens stepping up to volunteer to serve on boards. Still, he said, it would make more sense not to have a mayor—whose campaigns interact with the clean-elections group—appoint all its members. As “a matter of principle.”
“Regardless of the mayor’s intent, there’s a perception that if he appoints everyone, they must be beholden to him.”
Chief of Staff Matteson said he sees no perception problem. He noted that aldermen must approve appointments.
“In some ways it works like the Supreme Court. You make the appointment. Folks go on there and folks make their own choices and decisions,” Matteson said.
“They are a very independent group. That’s a good thing. I think they do a pretty good job. It’s been no secret that there are some folks that had some disagreements with them in the campaign. But all in all I think they’re residents who serve and choose to engage and participate.”
Two people have asked to serve on the Fund, one a Democrat, one a Green, according to Matteson. He said the administration is forwarding their names to the Board of Aldermen’s Aldermanic Affairs Committee. That forwarding didn’t happen in time for this week’s meeting of the committee. So the earliest the committee can consider the appointments is in July; then the full Board of Aldermen would need to hold two more meetings before approving them.
Part of the point of hiring Krayeske, a passionate advocate of clean elections, was to get more people excited about participating, said Anna Mariotti, the Democracy Fund’s board chair.
“With someone like Ken and an energized board, we can engage people,” she said. “He’s going to be really great. We’re going to take the Democracy Fund to the next level.”