Connecticut Mayoral Candidate Is Hoping Voters Can Look Beyond His Participation In Jan. 6

(Photo: TPM Illustration/ criminal complaint against Gene DiGiovanni)
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The chaos of Jan. 6 has spawned several political candidates and right wing influencers who have sought to capitalize on their roles in the attempt to reverse the 2020 election. Gino DiGiovanni Jr. is different. The Republican mayoral candidate in the city of Derby, Connecticut was one of the Trump supporters who surged into the U.S. Capitol that day and he’s facing multiple federal charges. However, rather than embracing MAGA infamy or martyrdom, DiGiovanni has sought a degree of distance from the dead ender movement that erupted in the wake of former President Trump’s loss. 

“I’m not an election denier, number one. Number two … I went to D.C. to watch the president speak for his last time,” DiGiovanni said in a conversation with TPM on Wednesday. “Joe Biden’s obviously the president. … I’m not a conspiracy or whatever tinfoil hat guy. I’m just  a regular guy. I’m not an election denier or any of that.”

According to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI last month, DiGiovanni was inside the Capitol building for approximately 25 minutes on Jan. 6, 2021 starting at 2:20 pm. He was charged with entering and remaining in a restricted building, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building, disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and picketing in a Capitol building. The complaint does not describe DiGiovanni engaging in any acts of violence or vandalism. DiGiovanni was arrested in Connecticut on Aug. 15 and has requested a speedy trial. 

Unlike some of the more high-profile Jan. 6 defendants, DiGiovanni is not being accused of leading the efforts to break into the Capitol, fighting with the law enforcement officers who tried to secure the building, or orchestrating the efforts to block the certification of the election that was taking place inside. His case is notable because he launched a political career after entering the building during the violence and he is continuing his campaign for mayor despite the charges. 

DiGiovanni is hoping voters will be able to see past his role in the riot that left multiple people dead and over 100 police officers injured. 

“That one day shouldn’t define anybody. Well, let me rephrase that, because obviously there’s people that have been arrested for beating people up and doing things. I mean, I understand things that are getting charged,” DiGiovanni said. “I’m saying for my unique case, I didn’t go there for … nefarious purposes. … You can’t just say that I’m this evil person. … There’s nothing in my record, my history that would say … that one day should define me.”

As he has made his case, DiGiovanni has painted himself as more of a bystander who was swept up in the crowd than an active participant. DiGiovanni claimed he planned to travel to Washington that day for his wife, but she bowed out due to ongoing cancer treatments. According to DiGiovanni, he had no “agenda” other than seeing Trump and he was unaware of the “Stop The Steal” rallies protesting the election that were being held in conjunction with the former president’s speech. 

“People say, ‘How could you have gone to an insurrection?’ And I say to them, ‘I didn’t go to an insurrection,’” DiGiovanni explained. “It’s like me saying to you, ‘Hey, did you take your wife, or your family, and your kids whatever to a Sunday matinee and all of a sudden there’s a drastic event. … You went to a Sunday matinee. People don’t get it.’”

DiGiovanni said he drove down to Washington from Connecticut early that morning. He was with the crowds on the National Mall for Trump’s speech. DiGiovanni said he did not hear Trump’s comments about marching to the Capitol.

“We just all started. It just kind of all shifted at once,” DiGiovanni said of the audience. “Trump’s speech was finishing up and the crowd started moving, so I just went with the crowd to be honest with you and walked down there.”

Security footage shows DiGiovanni walking through doors of the Capitol that were being held open. He said a police officer was “holding the door,” but that is not visible in the video. Other aspects of DiGiovanni’s story strain credulity. He insisted the FBI only accused him of being in the building for “seven minutes” while the criminal complaint cites him as having gone inside for nearly a half hour. 

“With all due respect, if I was going to overthrow the government, I think anyone, no matter what, would need more than seven minutes to do that,” DiGiovanni said.  

DiGiovanni also suggested all of the violence took place hours after he was in the building. 

“Hindsight’s 20/20. I started looking at all these cases and stuff and it happened so much later than when I was there,” DiGiovanni said. “The cops all got—I don’t know if they got beat up or what it was—but it happened in the six o’clock timeframe. I didn’t know any of that.”

That is not true. Protesters first brawled with police and broke down barricades before 1 p.m. Clashes were ongoing for over an hour by 2:20, the time DiGiovanni is accused of entering the building. As he was inside, the building went into lockdown. Protesters were climbing on the walls and had broken windows. Nevertheless, DiGiovanni insists he did not see any violence or vandalism. He stuck to that story in his conversation with TPM. 

“I already stated you know all that, you know, previously,” DiGiovanni said when asked if he was aware of the violent acts taking place around him.

The video footage shows DiGiovanni entering the building through a hallway where police officers were standing by and apparently allowing the overwhelming crowds to pass. According to the criminal complaint, he walked through the Rotunda and Statuary Hall while “documenting his experience with what appears to be a smart phone” before exiting the building. 

DiGiovanni referred all questions about his case to his lawyer, Martin Minnella. In a conversation with TPM, Minnella said his client plans to plead not guilty. 

“He’s a patriot. He was there expressing his views. He didn’t bring a weapon,” Minnella said of DiGiovanni. “He never intended to disrupt the election or disrupt nothing. There was no intent there. These are intent crimes. There was no intent to prevent Biden from being president.” 

Minnella echoed DiGiovanni’s assertion that his client was only in the Capitol for seven minutes rather than the 25 minutes cited in the criminal complaint. 

“Because it’s in a criminal complaint, that doesn’t mean it’s true,” Minnella said. “If they say 25 minutes or 25 hours, you think I can take their word?”

Minnella also repeated DiGiovanni’s assertion that police had held the door for him and said they had footage showing this. When asked to provide this, Minnella said he would need time to review “500 hours” of security tape.

“I haven’t had a chance to review discovery,” he said. 

Minnella also insisted DiGiovanni is being targeted by political rivals.

“There’s some fucking people that I have no respect for in the Republican Party—and I’m not going to name names—that have outdone everything they could,” Minnella said. “They’re all losers on top of it.  … They did everything to sabotage and I don’t want to name names right now, at the appropriate time I will. But believe me, these people have a lot of skeletons in their closet.” 

DiGiovanni, who owns a construction firm in Connecticut, began his political career after Jan. 6. He was elected to Derby’s board of aldermen in November 2021. Eleven months after his election, a local NBC affiliate identified DiGiovanni as having entered the Capitol on Jan. 6. At the time, DiGiovanni said he believed there were “some discrepancies” in Trump’s loss. That first report led to national headlines as DiGiovanni won the primary. According to the criminal complaint, DiGiovanni was initially identified based on “civilian online investigators,” his admissions to NBC, and the fact he was wearing a jacket bearing the name of his construction company when he entered the Capitol. 

The charges against him did not stop DiGiovanni from winning the Republican mayoral primary against incumbent Richard Dziekan earlier this month. His victory — which came by just 10 votes — was aided by an unexpected budget deficit that led to the city being put under a strict financial review during Dziekan’s tenure. Following the primary, Dziekan announced he intended to remain in the running as an unaffiliated candidate. DiGiovanni is also facing another unaffiliated hopeful and Joe DiMartino, the Democratic nominee. 

His opponents have, thus far, not made much of an issue of the federal case against DiGiovanni. Dziekan told the New York Times he believes DiGiovanni is a “great guy” despite his “judgment” having been “a little off” in that instance. DiMartino made similar comments to the newspaper.

“I don’t think it was a great move on his part,” DiMartino said of DiGiovanni, adding, “I’m not trying to really bash him.”

DiGiovanni needs voters in Derby’s general election to be similarly forgiving. 

It’s an interesting gamble in a place that isn’t particularly partisan. Biden beat Trump by 214 votes in the city in 2020. Last year, the unsuccessful Republican candidate in Connecticut’s gubernatorial election won in Derby by less than three percent. 

DiGiovanni has a long history in the city. He was a three-sport athlete in high school and has remained involved in youth sports including coaching a local Pop Warner team. DiGiovanni also has the support of the local Republican town committee. He is counting on his relationships to put him over the line in November. 

“The people in Derby have known me all my life. They know the type of person I am. They know the character that I carry,” DiGiovanni said. “Everybody wants to just talk about Jan. 6 all day every day and the voters know where I’m coming from.”

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