Tartell of Wilton contends for 125th district
Connecticut has a leadership problem and Ross Tartell believes he can help fill that gap.
A longtime civic volunteer who is now serving on the Wilton Fire Commission, Tartell won the Democratic nomination on May 16 to challenge Republican incumbent Tom O’Dea to represent the 125th legislative district. The district encompasses portions of Wilton and New Canaan.
“My entire career has been focused on helping individuals and organizations succeed,” he told The Bulletin in an interview May 17. Tartell, who holds a Ph.D. in social psychology and an MBA in management, is a senior associate with the OPG Conference Center where he specializes in learning and development, executive coaching, and change management.
“If you look at what is happening in Hartford, their policies aren’t all that bad. Their execution, their performance, is abysmal,” he said. “Partly that comes from the governor, partly it is a function of the polarization you see in Hartford, and what I bring to the party is a capacity to understand what’s going on, analyze the issues, and then build partnerships and teams and collaboration that then finds a way forward to resolve the problems that we face. That has been my career and that is my history. And that is what Hartford needs.”
As far as state spending is concerned, Tartell said, “they’re spending without a plan.”
“The state has not grown in population essentially since 2000. They need to look at what gives the state — and I’m going to be a little MBA-ish here — a differential competitive advantage versus the other states and make the investments there,” he said.
“Clearly they’ve got to invest in transportation. What have they done? They’ve cut the living daylights out of it. That’s a management-leadership issue. It’s not a money issue.
“They need to invest in the right type of education, because education is one of the things that lifts people out of poverty, and gives them and equips them with the knowledge and skills so that they can do the jobs we actually have, the good jobs we have.”
“Without having people with the right knowledge and skills, you don’t have economic activity because they go elsewhere.”
Aetna and GE did not leave for low-tax states, he pointed out. “They left for a specific reason and partly they were mismanaged out of the state.”
Investing in good medical care should also be a priority, he said. “Good medical care has an impact that is wider than anybody believes. …Healthy people hold jobs. Good medical care deals with the mental health issues that we face in society today.
“In 2016 almost 1,000 people died from opiate overdoses in Connecticut,” he said. “It got worse in 2017. That’s a terrible, terrible waste of talent and human life. Fewer would die if they had good mental health care.
“We have the issue of guns and society. Two-thirds of the people who die because they are on the wrong end of a gun committed suicide. Fewer would die if they had good medical care.
“I’m pleased to say that the Democrats ensured that insurance in Connecticut covered major categories of disease,” he continued. “The Republicans, my opponent, really like the slimmed-down versions of medical insurance you get out of Washington now. They don’t cover anything. You feel covered until you have to pay for something.”
Tartell brought up the issue of tolls. “It’s a wedge issue,” he said. “What the Republicans ensured would happen is that we could not bring the bill to the table that would do the research that would say do we do tolls, do we not do tolls. How do we do tolls? We’re the only state in the Northeast that has no tolls on its roads. That’s ridiculous.
“Hartford did not bring the bill to the table that would give us the data to make a good decision. If I’m in Hartford I would work to bring that bill to the table,” he said.
“What differentiates me from almost anyone else in politics is leading from the center, a focus on non-partisan approaches that deal with the reality of the issues we face. I did it in long-range planning, I do it in my business.”
While Wilton and New Canaan are similar and their issues overlap, they play out differently, Tartell said.
One of the issues facing both is “how do we stay top-tier in these towns. How do we maintain the level of excellence both towns have. … People move to these towns because of the schools. The schools are under pressure, there’s tremendous cost pressures, tremendous quality pressures, there’s tremendous issues with the changes in our society and how they play out on teachers and students and administration.”
One of the issues for both towns is “how do you keep those schools as some of the best in the United States?”
With his background in education, both as a student and professionally, Tartell said, “I understand education really well and that helps me focus on that and support the quality of schools in our towns and Connecticut.”
Also important is the creation of a safe society. “Our world is changing, you’ve got the level of opiates, you’ve got the level of guns, you’ve got a whole range of things and one of the things I really understood once I became a fire commissioner is all the different things to making our towns great places to live. People move to these towns because they’re safe.”
Use of town resources is also a common issue. As a member of a building committee, Tartell is working to rebuild Wilton’s secondary firehouse. The town is also looking at alterations to its police station and town hall campus. Utilization of its town buildings is also something New Canaan is focused on.
All of these issues relate to state funding and state funding for local budgets “is terrible.” Tartell said.
Two-thirds of the 125th district is made up by New Canaan, with Wilton filling the remaining third. Tartell acknowledges that about half of New Canaanites are Republicans and his opponent has lived there for years.
“If we stay business as usual, we know the outcome, he said. My challenge is to meet people and listen to what they have to say.” Tartell said he plans to knock on 6,000 doors.
“These are transformational times that we live in. My skill set is right for this time,” he said. “We need someone who spent a career building, collaborating, and leading teams. It’s not a legal environment anymore. It’s about creating something that’s better.”
Tartell’s business background includes stints at GE Capital and Pfizer before founding his own consulting business. He is also an adjunct professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He holds a B.A. from Hofstra University and his MBA is from Columbia Business School. He also has a master’s in education and Ph.D. in social psychology from Teachers College. He and his wife Karen have lived in Wilton since 1989.
Richard Creeth is Tartell’s campaign treasurer. Sitting in on the interview he added, “I’ve known Ross a lot of years. We’ve got someone with ethics, integrity, honesty, intelligence that’s going to apply those skills in Hartford and we surely need all of those skills.”