The Wilton Democratic Town Committee welcomed four candidates for state government at its meeting on Tuesday evening, Feb. 6: Jonathan Harris and Ned Lamont, both seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, attorney general hopeful Chris Mattei, and Arunan Arulampalam, who is running for the Democratic nomination for state treasurer.
Harris, who spoke first, is an attorney. He is the former mayor of West Hartford, a former state senator, and former commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection. He spoke of the state’s economic assets and quality of life.
“What’s worse than some of the challenges we have is the negativity we’re facing,” he said. “We have a great state, we have great assets. We’re between two metropolises. Instead of trying to be like them as we often do, let’s connect better with infrastructure, with rail, with fiber optics and leverage that economic asset.”
Citing the state’s general good quality of life, physical and mental health advantages, and educated and skilled workforce, he said, “We have a lot of assets. If you just sit down and connect the dots we can do a lot better.”
He laid out three paths to the future:
- A state government that focuses on service delivery and alleviating the “toxic” relationship that has built up between Hartford and local governments.
- A change in economic development from one that is top-down to a more organic, bottom-up approach that focuses on smaller businesses more than major corporations.
- Approaching education, both academic and technical, in a way that addresses the jobs of tomorrow and creates “pipelines” to those jobs.
Lamont, who joined the race just last month, is a Greenwich businessman who lost a primary bid for governor to Dannel Malloy in 2010. A former Wilton resident, he is probably best known in Connecticut politics for defeating Sen. Joe Lieberman in a Democratic primary in 2006.
Lamont spoke of the need to unify the state. “We have not only Republican versus Democrat, but cities versus suburbs versus towns,” he said. “Our state is going through a world of hurt, both politically in Hartford and economically.”
He said he thought someone who is not a political insider had the best shot of winning the governor’s race. Referencing his race against Lieberman, Lamont said Democrats need a candidate who is “not afraid to stand up to the entrenched interests even of his own party.”
For the last eight years he has been teaching at Yale and Central Connecticut State and said that in doing so he has been working hard to bring together businesses and labor interests as well as cities and suburbs.
“They agreed we’re not training our people for the jobs that we need in the 21st Century — IT, coding, and even middle-skilled jobs. The business community — Electric Boat — said, ‘I’ve got to go to Rhode Island to fill these jobs.’ And labor said, ‘No, you don’t — we’re going to work with community colleges to make sure you have advanced manufacturing people right here in Connecticut.”
Lamont emphasized the need for good transportation, funding for which has become a “political football.” A high-speed rail between Hartford, New Haven and New York would be “transformative,” he said, but as for raising the gas tax, he thought that was a dead end.
“People [are] driving in their Teslas and cars that can go forever,” he said. The gas tax is “not going to fix the Mianus River Bridge.”
Mattei, who last year was exploring a run for governor, has switched to running for attorney general. He believes the office must be dedicated to taking on decisions made by the president.
“I do know right now that what we need in Connecticut is an attorney general capable of taking on the Trump administration at every turn” for what he believes has been legal overreach. He pointed out decisions on the travel ban and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). In the latter case, if Congress does not act, “it will be up to the attorney general in Connecticut and beyond to bring a lawsuit to protect those kids,” he said.
Arulampalam, a son of immigrants from Sri Lanka, is an attorney who specializes in financial matters, including debt and equity financing. He spoke of his hope for his children here.
“I think a lot about the state my kids are going to grow up in and how the state of Connecticut is going to look in 20 years,” he said. He and his neighbors wonder if their kids are going to come back to Connecticut after college to “live here and invest in Connecticut and build careers here and build homes here.”
If elected treasurer, he said, he would work with the governor and legislative leaders to deal with pension obligations.
In addition, he said, “there is a tremendous opportunity in the role of treasurer to be a voice for economic development, to serve as sort of chief economic officer for this state. To use the platform to be an advocate for our businesses, to be a bridge between the state and our businesses, to look at how we invest our money. We’ve got to maintain a strong rate of return and how we put that money to work for the people of Connecticut, and to look at that vote on the bond commission.
“We can’t throw money away each time a company threatens to leave our state,” he said.
“We need a treasurer who invests with values,” he said. A treasurer can leverage the state’s investment power to influence major corporations, he added.
The DTC’s next meeting will be on Wednesday, March 7, when it expects to hear from Sean Connolly, seeking the Democratic nod for governor, William Tong, seeking the position of attorney general, and Will Haskell, who hopes to run for the 26th District seat. Meetings begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Comstock Community Center.