HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 10 p.m.) In the leadup to the Democratic Party’s nominating convention, race and ethnicity have become an issue in the gubernatorial campaign and beyond.
Everything changed this week when Ned Lamont, a white man from Greenwich, faced criticism for choosing Susan Bysiewicz, a white woman from Middletown, as his running mate.
That put a greater emphasis on the need for the party to find more diversity on the rest of its underticket for the constitutional offices.
Typically, diversity for the Democratic Party has meant re-nominating Denise Nappier, who is African American, to run for state treasurer. However, for the first time in 20 years Nappier isn’t running for re-election.
The good news for Democrats is that three of the four candidates running for treasurer are people of color, though only one — Shawn Wooden — is African American. Dita Bhargava is Indian — her parents immigrated from India when she was a child. Arunan Arulampalam is the son of refugees — his parents fled Sri Lanka in 1983 at the start of the civil war there. John Blankley is white.
There is talk that some Democrats are looking to avoid acrimony and possibly win back the support of the black community by making sure Wooden, a former Hartford city council president, walks away with the endorsement without a primary.
A spokeswoman for Lamont said he doesn’t plan on making an endorsement in the race prior to the convention.
“Democratic voters should be allowed to judge the merits of the candidates for themselves,” Bhargava said. “Picking candidates through a backroom deal hurts the ability of voters to be heard.”
She pointed out that she’s the only immigrant woman running for statewide office.
“From the beginning our simple ask was that delegates and voters choose who is best for the state treasurer office,” Arulampalam said Thursday.
He said their message has resonated with a lot of people and “I hope the delegates will choose the person they want to see serve in the treasurer’s office.”
Wooden’s campaign said the reason they’re picking up delegate support is his track record.
”Shawn Wooden is the right pick for state treasurer because of his diverse investment experience, progressive values, and vision for the future,” Brett Broesder, a spokesperson for the Wooden campaign said. ”An attorney for 20 years who leads his law firm’s public pension practice, Shawn’s the only candidate who has a track record of protecting working families and is ready to tackle the job on day one. That’s why Democratic delegates are favoring him.”
Bhargava has 20 years of experience in investment management — one of the primary functions of the treasurer’s office.
Arulampalam is an attorney with Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, where he advises banks and financial institutions on debt and equity financing.
Wooden has been an attorney for over 20 years at Day Pitney where he leads the firm’s public pension practice.
Blankley is chairman of a computer consulting and systems integration company. He ran for state Senate in 2016.
The State Treasurer’s Office oversees $34 billion in net assets.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp endorsed Wooden in January.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin has also endorsed Wooden, even though the Hartford delegates seem to be split between Arulampalam and Wooden.
In the Democratic Party, the delegate counts are highest in the three largest cities. New Haven has 97 delegates, Bridgeport has 90, and Hartford has 78 delegates.
Bhargava has support from a wide variety of delegates in various towns, but doesn’t necessarily have a bloc of voters. She said she’s comfortable with her delegate count heading into the convention weekend.
To gain ballot access, candidates need 15 percent, which would be 300 delegates if all the delegates show up for the convention.
Vincent Mauro Jr., head of New Haven’s Democratic Town Committee, said he doesn’t believe there’s any sort of coordination regarding his delegates when it comes to the race for treasurer.
“It’s all over the board,” Mauro said.
On the Republican side, Sen. Art Linares of Westbrook, who fell 14 votes shy of the Republican Party’s endorsement last weekend, said Thursday that he would primary Thad Gray of Salisbury, who secured the endorsement.