Wooden’s surprise decision sparks flurry among Democrats for state treasurer race

Connecticut Treasurer Shawn Wooden said Thursday he would not seek a second term, a surprise announcement that sparked a frenzy of maneuvering and speculation among Democrats about his successor a month from the nominating convention. party.

Within hours of his announcement, at least three Democrats had expressed interest or said they would consider running for office, including Dita Bhargava, a former hedge fund manager from Greenwich and Arunan Arulampalam, a lawyer and civic activist in Hartford, all two applied for the position in 2018.

Hartford City Treasurer Adam Cloud also said Thursday that he was “seriously considering” an offer.

Wooden was expected to run for re-election, even by political insiders following developments closely.

“As a father, I sacrificed countless hours, missing everything from basketball games and track meets to family dinners,” Wooden said in a written statement released by his office Thursday morning. “With one of my sons going to college soon and the other right behind him, I’ve decided not to run for Treasurer again.”

There are now three open seats for the six statewide constitutional offices. Wooden and Secretary of State Denise Merrill are not running for office, and former comptroller Kevin Lembo resigned for health reasons in December.

Democrats openly talk about wanting a diverse ticket that balances gender, race and ethnicity. Wooden, who is black – and spoke on Thursday about his role as the father of black teenagers – was considered the cornerstone of this post.

For more than 50 years, the Democratic candidate for state treasurer has been an African American, mostly from Hartford city politics – including Wooden and his predecessor, Denise Nappier, who held the powerful role to oversee pension funds and state debt for 20 years.

A former Hartford City Council president and pensions advocate for Day Pitney, Wooden, 52, was elected in 2018 and was sworn in on January 9, 2019. He is the only black elected state treasurer currently serving in the country, notes his biography.

Immediate interest in the seat

In addition to Bhargava, Cloud and Arulampalam, a flurry of other names floated among Democratic circles on Thursday, including Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation who served as the Democratic Party delegate for President Joe Biden in 2020; and Karen Dubois-Walton, head of New Haven’s Housing Authority, who challenged incumbent Democratic Mayor Justin Elicker last year.

Republican State Rep. Harry Arora, who represents Greenwich, was the only declared candidate for state treasurer on Thursday afternoon. Arora thanked Wooden for his service in a statement Thursday and said if elected, “I intend to set out a long-term financial strategy for Connecticut and work hard to increase our pension returns. ‘State by improving asset allocation and reducing fees.’

Cloud, 52, said he was “seriously considering” running and received “numerous calls” on Thursday expressing support for his candidacy if he decides to seek the job.

“I think I can bring a lot of value to this office based on my experience,” Cloud said. “Of course I have to consult with my family, which I plan to do soon.”

Cloud, who is black, said he has been married to his wife Nicole for 23 years and has three children, a 19-year-old who is a college freshman and two 17-year-olds who are going to university. He cited his experience on Wall Street and in his current job in which he said he grew the city’s pension fund assets from $840 million to more than $1 billion despite tough economic times. difficult.

Arulampalam, 36, received 42% support from delegates to the 2018 convention, easily qualifying for the primary, but withdrew, saying at the time he did not want to racially divide a party in which many many leaders wanted a black candidate on the ticket.

Shortly after quitting the race, Arumlampalam, the son of refugees from Sri Lanka, called for greater diversity in the Democratic Party – beyond the balance at the top of the ballots.

The corporate finance attorney was later named the state Department’s Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Protection and is now CEO of Hartford Land Bank, a nonprofit working on housing and development issues . Arulampalam discussed with fellow Democrats a possible future Hartford mayoral bid, especially if Mayor Luke Bronin does not seek a third 4-year term in 2023.

“I was as surprised as everyone to hear Shawn’s announcement and appreciate his public service,” Arulampalam said Thursday when asked if he would seek the seat of treasurer. “I’ve had calls and texts from a lot of people I respect. The responsible thing to do is to seriously consider it.

Arulampalam is the son-in-law of Eversource executive Greg Butler who is married to former State House GOP leader Themis Klarides, a Republican candidate for the US Senate.

Bhargava, 49, who was elected vice-chairman of the state’s Democratic Central Committee in January 2017, resigned later that year to explore a gubernatorial bid before deciding to seek the Democratic nomination for treasurer. She said in a text message on Thursday that she was “humbled and overwhelmed by the number of phone calls I’ve received encouraging me to run.”

“I’m thinking about it and will make a decision very soon,” she said.

Bhargava grew up in Canada; his mother had emigrated from India.

She also thanked Wooden for his service and said she was surprised and disappointed to learn he was not seeking re-election.

A possible future race

Rodney Butler, the recently re-elected president of Mashantucket, said in a written statement Thursday that he had also been contacted about the seat, but said he was unlikely to leave his current position.

“As a friend, I’m proud of Shawn for the incredible work he’s done for the state of Connecticut and I’m sure his contributions won’t stop there,” Butler said. As a former treasurer myself, I am flattered to be mentioned in the company of such a talented pool of public servants as a potential candidate.

The Mashantuckets operate the Foxwoods Resort Casino, which just opened a casino in Puerto Rico. The state also recently legalized online casino gambling and sports betting – a move the state’s two casino-owning tribes had long called for.

“I continue to be honored by the opportunities I have been given serving the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation as president and what we have been able to accomplish,” said Butler, who is 45. “The tribe is my first priority.”

Dubois-Walton of New Haven, 54, was also the subject of conversation Thursday. She dropped out of the mayoral race just before the city’s Democratic municipal convention.

She did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday about her possible interest in running for state treasurer.

Wooden was born and raised in Hartford. He attended school through a desegregation bus program, according to his biography. He attended Trinity College on a scholarship, where he once recalled sneaking into the cafeteria because he couldn’t eat there.

“The odds of a child from the north end of Hartford ending up in a casket are far greater than the odds of that child ending up on a stage like this on a night like this,” Wooden said in 2018, after receiving the Democratic nomination. .

He left open the possibility of running for public office again, saying in his statement on Thursday “my hope is to continue my public service in the future.”

In his statement, Wooden highlighted the state’s divestment from civilian arms manufacturing, the restructuring of the teachers’ pension fund, and the improvement in the state’s credit rating during his tenure.

He also noted that the state had paid off its pension fund debt “on an accelerated basis, saved taxpayers millions of dollars through bond repayments, and passed the first nationwide baby bond program aimed at children of poverty”.

More recently, Wooden’s office had announced efforts to divest the state pension fund of Russian assets following the invasion of Ukraine.

In a written statement, Governor Ned Lamont said Wooden “has been a great partner to my administration in helping to get Connecticut’s finances in order, stabilizing our fiscal future, borrowing responsibly that lowers spending and making consistent payments to reduce our long-term state tax obligations.

Hearst writer Peter Yankowski and columnist Dan Haar contributed to this story.

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