Mike Williams, who has advised President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, written two books on international relations and earned a doctoral degree, said now that he’s running for Congress he has a better understanding of “the actual impact of policies on people.”
“I’m talking to the person who has been out of work for 18 months, and it hits home,” said Williams, 31, of New Preston, who is one of four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the open seat in the Fifth District.
“I’m a people person, but I had been doing a lot of writing and research,” he said regarding his work for candidates, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the State Department. “Being a candidate is great because it plays into the more gregarious part of my personality.”
“I think as a candidate I’m also learning how to write better policy, since I’m getting feedback directly from people,” Williams said in an interview at his Waterbury headquarters. “When you’re the policy adviser you don’t have to directly interact with the public.”
Williams, who teaches international relations at Wesleyan University, said he had been planning to work as an adviser on a campaign, but after speaking to voters in the district he decided to run for the seat himself. “There seemed to be some concern about the electability of the candidates in the field and I knew I could offer policies that appealed to a broad segment of voters,” he said.
“It went from something I hadn’t thought about too much to something I wanted to do,” said Williams, who grew up in Southington and whose parents were both professors at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
The other Democratic contenders are former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty of Cheshire, public relations consultant Dan Roberti of Kent and state House Speaker Chris Donovan of Meriden.
Ten years ago as a University of Delaware undergraduate, Williams worked as an intern for Biden, who gave him “the best advice I ever got” by recommending that he do his graduate studies abroad. He earned a master’s degree from Humboldt University in Germany and a doctoral degree from the London School of Economics.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, he advised Obama on international security policy.
Since becoming a candidate in May, Williams said he reached his target by raising $101,000 during the most recent quarter and hopes to double that figure during the current quarter. However, he is well behind Roberti, who through the most recent reporting period led the field with $557,000.
He said he is building a grassroots organization that is similar to the one that three-term Democratic incumbent Chris Murphy of Cheshire assembled in 2006 when he defeated 12-term Republican Nancy Johnson in the sprawling district, which covers most of northwestern Connecticut. Murphy is now running for the U.S. Senate seat that Joe Lieberman is vacating.
“Chris Murphy was the pioneer in traveling through the district and knocking on doors, and we want to run that kind of campaign,” he said.
Williams said he and about 15 volunteers are already canvassing neighborhoods and he recently held a virtual town hall meeting through Facebook.
He also has a group of policy advisers that includes Les Francis, a deputy White House chief of staff to former President Jimmy Carter, and Lionel Johnson, a deputy treasury secretary to former President Bill Clinton.
Williams said most voters are concerned about the slow economic recovery.
“I don’t think the country appreciates the magnitude of the damage that was inflicted on our economy and the global nature of this crisis,” he said regarding the near collapse of some of the major financial institutions three years ago.
“It’s going to be hard to get back to where we were, because that was an artificial high as a result of the subprime mortgage bubble,” Williams said. “The issue now is what do you do about homes that are worth more than they were mortgaged for?”
“People are focused on paying down debt,” Williams said. “That means that there are fewer purchases of consumer goods, which slows the recovery. But having consumers saving more money is a good thing because once we have a full recovery that recovery will be more stable.”
He alleged that his opponents, especially Donovan as a member of the General Assembly and Esty as a former member of the legislature, have too often been “hostile toward businesses.”
“Connecticut is rapidly becoming a state that people use to live in,” Williams said. “In the 1960’s, Connecticut had more corporate headquarters than any state in the country.”
He said he believes that Fifth District can attract high technology jobs since it has “a skilled work force” with graduates from colleges and the state technical high schools.
Democrats are optimistic that they can keep control of the district, which was consolidated a decade ago when Connecticut went from six down to five congressional districts.
“The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was active in the district with [former U.S. Rep.] Jim Maloney in 2002 and with Chris Murphy in 2006, and they’re going to be active this time,” said state Deputy House Speaker Robert Godfrey of Danbury, who supports Donovan.
“I think the Democrats have an advantage in the Fifth District because the Republican candidate is going to take the Tea Party approach that government is dead and it doesn’t need to take care of the elderly or provide opportunities for anyone,” he said.