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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Connecticut Democrats battle over qualifications in 3-way primary for state treasurer – Hartford Courant

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HARTFORD — Regardless of working largely out of the general public highlight, the Connecticut treasurer is usually seen because the second strongest particular person in state authorities.

Whereas managing a $44 billion pension fund, the treasurer is tasked as the only real fiduciary to make it possible for the pensions for state workers and public college academics are correctly invested through the booms and busts on Wall Avenue.

With the incumbent treasurer, Shawn Wood, not searching for reelection, three Democrats are actually battling for the place within the Aug. 9 major.

Former gubernatorial candidate and hedge fund supervisor Dita Bhargava of Greenwich is making her second run for the workplace following a loss within the August 2018 major to Wood. As a former vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Occasion, Bhargava is operating in opposition to one other former social gathering vice chairman, legal professional Erick A. Russell of New Haven, and Karen Dubois-Walton, a Yale graduate who serves as New Haven’s public housing authority chief and chairwoman of the state board of training.

Russell, seen as a 33-year-old rising star within the Democratic Occasion, gained the social gathering’s conference nod with 47% of the delegates in Could as the opposite candidates declined to power a second spherical of voting.

One of many key points within the race is the {qualifications} of the candidates, who’ve three completely different backgrounds however all say they’re ready by means of their careers and life experiences.

With greater than 25 years of world portfolio administration expertise on Wall Avenue and now operating her personal hedge fund, Bhargava stated she is clearly one of the best certified candidate.

“You wouldn’t go to a barber to get a root canal,’’ Bhargava stated in an interview. “The underside line is in case you’re signing as much as handle the state’s investments, then it’s best to have funding administration expertise. And I’m the one candidate who has managed billions of {dollars} of shopper cash. That’s what this requires. … I’m assured that I’m prepared on Day One.’’

All three have certified for $484,000 in marketing campaign funds underneath the state’s public financing program — that means they are going to have the identical amount of cash to spend in a scramble through the marketing campaign’s remaining two weeks.

They every have tv commercials operating, together with on MSNBC, which is favored by many Democrats and liberals who’re prone to vote in a major. The winner will run in opposition to Republican state Rep. Harry Arora, a longtime dealer, within the November election.

A primary-time candidate who graduated from UConn regulation college, Russell works as a public finance legal professional and companion at Pullman and Comley, a significant Bridgeport-based regulation agency with almost 100 attorneys. He represents cities and cities, state companies, and the state itself in financing infrastructure initiatives, similar to housing, public colleges, and little one care amenities, amongst others.

“A variety of that work is instantly by means of the treasurer’s workplace,’’ Russell stated in an interview. “So I’ve direct expertise in working by means of the workplace that can actually enable me to step into this position on Day One.’’

Russell has captured probably the most high-profile endorsements within the race.

He has been endorsed by a number of the prime Democrats within the state, together with U.S. Rep. John B. Larson of East Hartford, Home Speaker Matt Ritter of Hartford, Home majority chief Jason Rojas of East Hartford, and former lieutenant governor Nancy Wyman. On the municipal stage, Russell is being supported by mayors Luke Bronin of Hartford, Joe Ganim of Bridgeport, Neil O’Leary of Waterbury, and Shari Cantor of West Hartford, amongst others.

General, 18 state legislators have endorsed him, which is essential as a result of the legislators are operating for reelection this 12 months and have networks of dedicated volunteers who assist them get out the vote. The record additionally consists of two former state treasurers, Joe Suggs of Bloomfield and Denise Nappier, the primary Black girl elected as state treasurer in American historical past.

Moreover elected officers, Russell has been endorsed by Area 9A of the United Auto Staff, a key supporter that comes armed with volunteers who’re prepared to affix cellphone banks and knock on doorways.

If elected, Russell and his supporters say he could be the primary overtly homosexual African American statewide elected official within the nation. That designation got here from the Victory Fund, a nationwide group that has been working for the previous 30 years to elect LGBTQ candidates throughout the nation.

As a scholar of former state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor on the College of New Haven, Russell went to the state Capitol for the primary time to be taught in regards to the loss of life penalty and public service.

Because the son of an interracial couple whose now 80-year-old father met his mom in Germany when he was stationed there as a paratrooper within the navy, Russell grew up in New Haven and tells the story about working in his household’s comfort retailer on Congress Avenue.

“It was a tricky space on the time, they usually labored across the clock to make ends meet,’’ Russell stated. “That was my lens into neighborhood in a number of methods. My dad and mom weren’t political in any respect, however we noticed the wrestle of working households within the metropolis. It was by means of their sacrifice that I used to be the primary particular person in my household to graduate from faculty after which regulation college. I’m ensuring I’m giving again to communities just like the one I grew up in.’’

Bhargava captured consideration for the usually low-profile treasurer’s race by broadcasting a provocative business about abortion as a collection of bare-shouldered ladies appeared on the display.

“Folks would possibly ask why a candidate for state treasurer is concentrated on this problem. It’s a good query,’’ Bhargava stated. “I’m targeted on it as a result of the state treasurer has the facility to have an effect on company habits by the investments it makes. Or doesn’t make.’’

Bhargava’s advert was initially blocked on the Hulu streaming service as a result of the corporate’s mum or dad, Disney, refused to broadcast commercials involving abortion. However the choice was quickly reversed, and Bhargava says it is going to serve for instance of how she would run the treasurer’s workplace.

“It’s a microcosm of what I envision my position as state treasurer could be,’’ Bhargava stated in an interview. “You’ve these relationships with these firms. You information firms to do the precise factor, after which they get rewarded with their funding. … I didn’t hesitate a second to name them out on it. Look, firms that do the precise factor ought to get rewarded with the enterprise, and that’s precisely the kind of relationship that I’ll maintain with the businesses that we spend money on as state treasurer.’’

After Bhargava’s abortion business was blocked by Hulu, Russell stepped ahead on the difficulty. He stated that his marketing campaign wouldn’t spend any cash on Hulu in solidarity on the abortion problem.

Whereas Russell has been backed by some marquee names, Bhargava has main endorsements from former Pepsi chief government officer Indra Nooyi, former Bridgeport mayor Invoice Finch, state senators Saud Anwar of South Windsor and Cathy Osten of Sprague, and Rep. Kerry Wooden, the co-chairwoman of the Home average caucus.

A former worker at Citigroup, Credit score Suisse and Citadel, a significant hedge fund, Bhargava says she has the expertise to grasp the monetary markets.

She stated retaining firms accountable is essential, mentioning the case of Stamford-based Purdue Pharma, which filed for chapter in 2019 following a nationwide controversy over its sale of the painkiller OxyContin.

“Purdue Pharma lied proper by means of their enamel, due to greed, in regards to the addictive nature of their drugs,’’ she stated. “We’ve a society that’s hooked on painkillers, and that results in extra deadly medication, and now fentanyl. This can be a actual downside. Why are they bankrupt? As a result of they lied, they had been grasping. That isn’t a great, long-term funding, and it’s an ideal instance of what occurs if you don’t work with firms to do the precise factor. That is our pensioners’ investments, and we don’t need these investments to be liable.’’

In New Haven, Dubois-Walton gained consideration final 12 months when she ran in opposition to incumbent Mayor Justin Elicker, however she dropped out of the race earlier than making an attempt to power a doubtlessly divisive major. She had blasted Elicker relating to excessive property taxes at a time of elevated state help, together with issues within the public colleges and the police division.

For the previous 15 years, she has served because the chief of town’s housing authority, a big company with an annual working finances of $140 million, $800 million in property, and 150 workers.

A former chief of workers to then-New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Dubois-Walton earned her grasp’s diploma and Ph.D. from Boston College on her solution to turning into a educated scientific psychologist. She was named 4 instances among the many “100 Most Influential Blacks in Connecticut” by the state NAACP.

Moreover operating the housing authority, she spends time as chairwoman of the state board of training and chairwoman of the board of the Melville Charitable Belief, a $155 million basis that’s devoted to ending homelessness.

Working the multifaceted treasurer’s workplace is an government administration management position that’s far past merely buying and selling shares and bonds, she stated.

“My concern is others take into consideration the job too narrowly,’’ Dubois-Walton stated in an interview. “I’m the one one who has managed within the public sector. In metropolis corridor and the housing authority, I’ve been the one managing public pensions, managing a capital funding program and portfolio, the one who has really designed capital investments from starting to finish. Constructing consensus, placing the deal collectively, working with monetary analysts, working with rankings companies, working with bond counsel, and getting the bonds offered.’’

She added, “You must have that have of understanding tips on how to choose the precise people, set the imaginative and prescient, and lead. I simply suppose I’m head and shoulders above anyone else. Take a look at what I’ve achieved in New Haven.’’

Regardless of her transient criticism of Elicker, Dubois-Walton has been endorsed by Elicker, DeStefano and former Mayor Toni Harp. As well as, she has been endorsed by Senate President Professional Tem Martin Looney — a longtime powerhouse in New Haven politics — and three Home members within the New Haven delegation. She can be supported by the union-backed Working Households Occasion, which is understood for organizing liberal volunteers in elections.

After her dad and mom died when she was 17 years outdated, she was helped as a result of her dad and mom had been public servants and paid into pension funds. These funds, she stated, allowed her and her sister to attend faculty.

Gov. Ned Lamont has repeatedly stayed away from endorsing anybody in a number of contested Democratic races, however he praised Dubois-Walton earlier this 12 months when he appointed her as chairwoman of the state college board.

“Karen has been an extremely lively member of the New Haven neighborhood all through her profession,’’ Lamont stated on the time, “notably targeted on eradicating limitations to honest housing amongst marginalized communities, reversing housing segregation patterns, and making enhancements in under-resourced neighborhoods.’’

When Dubois-Walton was collectively endorsed by DeStefano, Elicker, and Harp, the three New Haven mayors stated that they had by no means come collectively in fairly this fashion.

“Now in reality, that is the primary letter that the three of us have ever written collectively,’’ the mayors wrote. “However that’s what Karen does. Her management brings individuals collectively round the precise values, a way of hope and alternative — and the sheer exhausting work to get the job achieved. We all know. We all know Karen. And we all know that it issues, it actually issues, who our subsequent state treasurer is.’’

Christopher Keating could be reached at [email protected]

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