A genuine two-party state legislative race may be shaping up on New Haven’s east side, as Republican John Cirello announced that he will seek his party’s nomination to run for state representative from the 97th Assembly District.
Cirello (pictured) made the announcement Thursday morning on the 10th floor of 900 Chapel St. at the close of a regular meeting of the Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee, on which he sits.
Click on the video to watch his announcement.
A Democrat, Robert Megna, has held the 97th District seat since 2000. Just as Democrats have held every New Haven state legislative seat since then, with nary a serious challenge, if any, from a Republican. The 97th District roughly covers the portion of the city east of the Quinnipiac River up to the North Haven and East Haven town lines.
It was unclear Thursday afternoon if Megna will seek reelection. He ducked calls from the Independent seeking an answer.
Cirello, a 44-year-old criminal defense attorney and civil litigator with a private practice on Temple Street, challenged Megna in 2006. Since then he has dived into civic commitments. Wednesday evening found him at a city schools’ science fair awards presentation; he’s active in the PTO of his two kids’ school, Nathan Hale. Thursday morning found him at the Chamber committee, of which he’s a member. This weekend he’ll again help organize an annual kids’ soapbox derby in Morris Cove. He has served on New Haven’s Civil Service Commission and moderated numerous elections. (He’s pictured overseeing a March 2012 recount.)
Cirello grew up in New Jersey, and came of age as a Reagan Republican. He said he has been “frustrated” with the national GOP’s “crazy” rightward turn. He identified himself as a “very moderate Republican.” He’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage. He voted for Barack Obama for president; he was always a John McCain fan, he said, before McCain “started running for president and got crazy and appointed Sarah Palin” as his running mate. He said he would seek to serve as a fiscal watchdog in Hartford, looking out for irresponsible spending. He plans to seek public financing for his campaign.
He said he’s running on his bio as an active, engaged citizen: “I have kids in the school system. I have a business in the city. I’m on the Chamber of Commerce. My wife works at Yale.” He’s also running because he believes New Haven needs representatives from two parties, he said. “What’s democracy without a choice for everybody?”
Republican Town Chairman Richter Elser backs Cirello’s candidacy. “Hopefully he can use some of the experience form the campaign he ran eight years ago to have a successful campaign this time around,” Elser said of Cirello. “He’s involved locally in the community. He’s interested in what’s going on. I think he’d be a good representative.”
The 97th District was New Haven Republicans’ last redoubt: Republican Chris DePino held the seat until Megna knocked him out of it in the 2000 election, when Al Gore and Joe Lieberman topped the Democratic ticket. Megna (pictured at the Capitol) works as an insurance adjuster in his day job.
In response to superstorms that battered the east side of town, Megna backed legislation to help homeowners get flood insurance and to hold down the cost. He co-chairs the legislature’s Insurance and Real Estate Committee. Read about some of his other legislation here and here.
Megna was reached by phone around 11:30 a.m. Thursday and asked if he will seek reelection. He said he was “busy” and would be available to chat after noon. He then failed to return phone calls throughout the afternoon.
“I anticipate Bob running,” New Haven Democratic Town Chairman Vincent Mauro Jr. said.