Tony Nania to challenge Murphy for Congress



FALLS VILLAGE - It's not official yet, as far as announcements and such go, but a fundraising letter is out and a conversation with Tony Nania confirms he is running for the U.S. Congress in the 5th Congressional District.

The Republican has long considered a candidacy, but his attention to the matter up to now has primarily been a matter of saying "No" to the suggestions of his supporters.

Nania's commitment to running does not come from a passionate desire to campaign and step into the spotlight in Hartford. It's about his disappointment in the Republican leadership, his belief in democracy and a feeling that he is compelled to take on a difficult task he often won't enjoy, but for which he is highly qualified. It's about a sense of responsibility.

"I said 'No' for almost a year," Nania said. "I finally realized in looking over the district's problems that I was probably the best Republican candidate. As much as I'd rather do something else, I felt I had to run. Since I've made the decision, I'm very happy with the challenge."

Throwing his hat into the ring will force a September primary with state Sen. David Cappiello of Danbury. They will compete for a ballot slot to run against incumbent Dem. Chris Murphy, who defeated longtime incumbent Republican Nancy Johnson two years ago.

Nania plans to kick off his campaign Jan. 24 with a reception at Geer Village in North Canaan, hosted by a committee of supporters. Many are members of the Geer Board of Directors who were part of the news Nania made a year ago. They are many of the same people who fired him from his position as the Geer Corp. president.

"Back then, we agreed to disagree," Nania said, summing up the evolution of that managerial relationship after the completion of the Geer Village/YMCA senior housing complex in North Canaan. "As individuals, they are supporting me as a candidate. I think that conveys an important message."

It's almost an analogy for his approach to the Legislature. There will always be difference of opinions, he believes. The key is being able to be constructively debate beliefs.

Debate is key, not simply winning

The North Canaan native who now lives in Falls Village with his wife, Lynn, is no stranger to the workings of the government. He served three terms as state representative, from 1985 to 1991.

"I saw how difficult it could be to get things done when elected officials went beyond healthy debate to simply not letting the other guy win," Nania said.

Once a Democrat, who married into a family of staunch Democrats, Nania terms the problem "rancorous partisanship," but does not denounce the party system. He sees bigger problems in the trend toward unaffiliated candidates and voters.

"Democracy only works with public participation. If we're going to have candidates and legislators who truly represent the public, and if we want to be organized in how we select them, the party system is what works."

In his fundraising letter, Nania wrote, "We don't need to avoid candidates with strongly held beliefs, but we do need candidates who have the humility, humor, patience and resolve to work productively with those with whom they might fundamentally disagree, and candidates who also trust the voters enough to tell them the truth.

"I hope that I am such a candidate. You can decide for yourself."

From demolition worker to CEO

Many people know Nania as a local attorney, now retired. Many know he served as CEO on boards for Geer and NewMil Bankcorp. He has been the Canaan Fire District warden since 1978. They may remember he was judge of probate for the Canaan District from 1983-85. He has also been a high school English teacher, and a director of the Connecticut Development Authority and Colt Manufacturing Co., appointed to the latter to help the company avoid bankruptcy. Between earning a degree from Amherst College and graduating from law school, he ran Nania Bros., an excavation, demolition, concrete and paving contractor.

When asked about his early work experience, he enjoys talking about Big Fish Little Fish. He and a college buddy started the business in Cambridge, Mass., on a whim and a $50,000 loan. A year later, they had five stores and sizable profits.

Nania also came to the realization this was not what he wanted to do with his life and, despite the loss of a nice paycheck, allowed his partner to buy him out.

Nania's campaign issues - and goals, if he makes it to Congress - are the failing economy, the health-care crisis and energy independence. Education is also a closely watched issue for Nania, though it is addressed primarily by the state, he said.

Sticking to the issues

He promises no mudslinging on his end of the campaign.

"I don't for a minute think it will all be wonderful, but I think we can try to make it about the issues. Part of the problem with candidates is they don't trust the voters. They feel the voters are not listening unless they are trying to make the other guy look bad."

Nania's letter notes campaign costs to challenge an incumbent are about $2.5 million.

"Democracy is ridiculously expensive, but the alternative is worse," he said.

Individuals can contribute up to $2,300 for each campaign cycle, he said in his letter. The cycle includes the convention, primary and general election. Married couples can donate up to $4,600.

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