Jack Fowler spent decades meeting top Republicans nationally — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and high-ranking Congressional leaders.
As publisher of National Review, Fowler worked closely with conservative icon William F. Buckley Jr., who founded the magazine and was known by many as the father of the conservative movement. With proximity to Buckley, Fowler met many of the leading Republican figures of the day.
Now 63, Fowler wants to head in a new direction: He is running in his hometown of Milford to be the next city clerk.
A Republican, Fowler is running for a lower-profile position than he held during 33 years at National Review, including 12 as publisher. But he is looking for a change of pace.
“I believe in localism,” Fowler told the Courant in an interview. “It’s one thing at National Review, and I was at a national level and buddies of this governor, this senator. But what matters most is the local community. … I have a happy warrior platform because I am a happy warrior. I’m looking forward to winning.”
Fowler had not originally intended to run for city clerk. But he went to a local Republican nominating convention and realized that no one was running for clerk. He decided to throw his hat into the ring for the job, which pays about $91,000 per year.
As a former Republican town chairman, Fowler has a long history in Milford, where his five children attended the local high school over a span of 16 consecutive years.
His opponent, two-term Democratic incumbent Karen Fortunati, said she is proud of her work in office over the past four years, saying it has been the highlight of her career.
The job involves overseeing birth certificates, dog licenses, land records, and death certificates — important items that are sometimes overlooked until they are needed.
“A lot of people don’t know where to go in terms of getting something addressed,” Fortunati said in an interview. “If you don’t know where to go, you call the office. It’s the business of life — the administrative, dry details of some really huge milestones in people’s lives — births, deaths, marriages, a new business, a new house, paying off the mortgage.”
She added, “We are the guardian of city records. That’s something that as a history lover, I take very seriously.”
Saying she is satisfied with her work in office, Fortunati said she is prepared for any outcome in November.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “If I lose, I definitely feel like the office is in a better place from my four-year tenure. … I will accept the will of Milford. I think I’ll be OK with whatever the verdict is. Looking back, there’s nothing I would do differently in terms of the job. I’ve given it my all.”
A previous member of the local board of aldermen who won election in 2017, Fortunati holds a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and a master’s degree from Trinity College in American Studies. As a prosecutor in New Jersey for five years before moving to Milford, she handled cases involving narcotics and juvenile crime.
Besides her legal work, Fortunati is also an author. She wrote a young adult novel, called “The Weight of Zero,” in 2016 that focused on a 17-year-old girl who struggled with bipolar disorder.
While her opponent had a prominent position with national figures, Fortunati said that she knows little about his background with National Review.
“No, I don’t know him,” Fortunati said. “I’ve been told that, but I don’t know too much about him.”
Raising money for National Review
While writing numerous articles through the years and still today, Fowler was also responsible for running the magazine and raising money. One of the key ways that was done was through cruises for the often-wealthy magazine subscribers.
Fowler eventually took about 40 cruises, including to Alaska in 2007 when the tour group met Gov. Sarah Palin before she became a household name as running mate with U.S. Sen. John McCain. Palin hosted a reception at the governor’s mansion for the cruise attendees that included political consultant Dick Morris of Connecticut and conservative Judge Robert Bork, a friend of Fowler who was a professor at Yale Law School and unsuccessful U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
The cruises started in 1994, and the first one included prospective House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, who became the powerful majority leader. Other attendees through the years included Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, former Republican National Committee chairman and governor Haley Barbour, and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, a former governor and presidential candidate.
“These were opportunities for our subscribers,” Fowler said. “National Review had a different kind of relationship with the subscribers. You can’t have a one-way relationship. We loved them. They loved us. They would love to go on the cruises.”
Despite his contacts in the party, Fowler said he has never met Donald J. Trump.
In 2016, National Review made headlines with an issue blasting Trump as a “menace to American conservatism.”
Saying that Trump lacked deep experience in foreign policy, the magazine said his views “are those of an averagely well-informed businessman.”
The editorial continued, “His refusal to back down from any gaffe, no matter how grotesque, suggests a healthy impertinence in the face of postmodern PC, although the insults he hurls at anyone who crosses him also speak to a pettiness and lack of basic civility.”
The editorial added that Trump is “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”
In response, Trump went to Twitter to describe the famed magazine as “a failing publication that has lost its way.”
“Very few people read the National Review because it only knows how to criticize, but not how to lead,” Trump tweeted.
After its “Against Trump” issue was published, National Review was dropped by the Republican National Committee as a partner in an upcoming presidential debate.
Known for its independence, the magazine is also known for sometimes taking unexpected views. After endorsing Ronald Reagan for president in 1976, 1980, and 1984, the magazine endorsed no one in 1992, 1996, 2004, 2012, and 2020. Buckley had once said they supported the most conservative candidate who had a chance of winning.
The editors endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, Mitt Romney in 2008, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016.
Regarding the Trump issue, Fowler said, “Did it work? No, it didn’t.”
After attending Fordham University in The Bronx and later graduating from Holy Cross in Massachusetts, Fowler eventually landed at the magazine, where he is still today as a contributing editor. He also hosts a podcast with Victor Davis Hanson, an author who is well known to viewers of Fox News. Fowler also works fulltime at AmPhil, a fundraising consultant for nonprofits. Jack Fowler was on the commission that had the memorial done to honor Milford’s native sons who were victims of Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack.[/caption]
Over the arc of his career, Fowler has watched a huge drop in advertising in the magazine business and saw iconic publications like Newsweek eventually stop printing. Many readers of both magazines and newspapers have moved online and onto their phones, which was not the case when he started at National Review in 1990.
He said he does not have a crystal ball on the future of the business where he has worked for his entire adult life.
“I have no advice for the long-term sustainability of print,” he said.
For now he is focusing on trying to become the next city clerk.
“I have a good job. I like my job,” Fowler said, looking ahead to the next one. “You give out dog licenses and marriage licenses. There are no cat licenses, by the way. … The land-use records are particularly important and more than a little heightened of late because they are the basis for scamming and abuse of people stealing deeds, and you get home and you realize you don’t own the house any more. … I intend on winning and intend on serving.”
Christopher Keating can be reached at email@example.com
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