Fairfielder reboots Congress candidacy after town committee blowup
Published 7:11 am, Monday, May 12, 2014
Joe Bentivegna isn't going quietly.
In fact, the Fairfield eye doctor isn't going anywhere.
A little over 48 hours after withdrawing from the 4th Congressional District race -- his campaign derailed by a harangue with the head of the Fairfield Republican Town Committee -- Bentivegna declared himself back in the fold late Sunday night.
"There are too many people who want a clear choice at this convention for me to stay out any longer," Bentivegna wrote delegates to the state Republican convention by email.
"What is past is past and I'm not blaming anyone besides myself for what happened; however, I believe that this is a clear example of how our nominating process doesn't work and why we repetitively fail to find good candidates."
Bentivegna acknowledged calling Jamie Millington, chairman of the Fairfield Republican Town Committee, an expletive Thursday night during an endorsement session for Congress.
"At this point, I became upset and called him a corpulent (pig) f'er," Bentivegna told Hearst Connecticut Media Friday. "I have apologized for that."
Millington told Hearst that Bentivegna "went nuts" when he explained that delegates pledged to him could flip their allegiances to another candidate after the first round of voting at this week's convention.
"The whole room ended up going silent," Millington said. "I was so surprised that a congressional candidate would address the chairman of party and (endorsement session) that he just won with such profanity. I go, "This is disgraceful that you would even use that language here.' I said something like, `This is why you're not going to be a viable candidate.' "
The majority of RTC members -- Bentivegna put the number at 30 and Millington put it at 29 -- voted to endorse Bentivegna Thursday night. GOP favorite Dan Debicella, who was not present, claimed 24 votes.
Under the winner-take-all system used by Fairfield, the 17 delegates would presumptively cast their votes for Bentivegna at Friday's nominating convention.
Bentivegna needs 15 percent of the 221 total delegates to qualify for an August primary against Debicella, who is the frontrunner and was the GOP nominee in 2010 against Democratic incumbent Jim Himes.
Here is the text of Bentivegna's email to delegates:
It's been a crazy weekend for me and my campaign and I want to let you know everything that's occurred from my perspective so you can make the best judgement at the convention.
Last week I focused on winning the vote of the Fairfield RTC. The Fairfield RTC changed its rules this year to bind its delegates. With the support of Fairfield, I knew that I would have enough committed delegates to Primary. Working hard, calling texting and e-mailing each RTC member, I had memorized everyone's name in the room. The vote came out 30 to 24 in my favor. I was simply ecstatic as I knew there would be a Primary, which I would win, and then go on to defeat Jim Himes in the fall.
After the meeting my campaign manager, Tyler Carlisle, went up to Jamie Millington (the Fairfield RTC Chair who had dedicated himself to working against me) to confirm that the binding endorsement on the first ballot and to get it in writing. I shortly joined the conversation and Jamie informed me with a smirk that the Fairfield delegates would all be "switching" from me to Debicella. We quickly began shouting at each other and I called him a profanity, at which point he stormed out of the room screaming.
I personally reached out to him to apologize that evening, but the next morning I was contacted by Neil Vigdor from CT News. It was clear that both Millington and Debicella's campaign had gone to the press with this incident to torpedo my campaign. Second I was forwarded an email from Millington to the Fairfield RTC saying that the delegates from Fairfield would hold a caucus at the convention to discuss "recent events" and change the binding endorsement. This effectively meant that I was guaranteed to lose the support of Fairfield's 17 delegates as 14 of them had previously endorsed Debicella. I had only won the town committee vote because of the rank-and-file members who were not convention delegates.
Put together, this assured me that I would not win the 15% required to Primary. After speaking with Jeff Wright (4th district vice-chair) I decided that it would be best for the Party for me to suspend my campaign.
What happened next was astounding. As news spread of the incident I received an incredible show of support. E-mails started pouring in from those I knew were with me, those who were undecided, and even those I thought were against me. The point of all the messages was clear -- first that these people thought what had happened to me was beyond unacceptable, second that there was a large group that sincerely wanted me to be our nominee against Jim Himes in the fall. This was far beyond the support I had originally imagined I had.
There are too many people who want a clear choice at this convention for me to stay out any longer. What is past is past and I'm not blaming anyone besides myself for what happened; however, I believe that this is a clear example of how our nominating process doesn't work and why we repetitively fail to find good candidates.