State treasurer candidate Dita Bhargava continued to shake up an otherwise prosaic Democratic primary race this week with a campaign commercial, in which she recounts the overdose death of her son before apparently being ousted from Purdue Pharma’s Stamford headquarters.
Bhargava, a former Wall Street trader, is one of three Democrats seeking to replace Treasurer Shawn Wooden, who declined to run for another term. She faces Erick Russell, an attorney who won the endorsement of party delegates at a convention in May, as well as Karen DuBois-Walton, head of New Haven’s housing authority.
Despite failing to capture the convention endorsement, Bhargava was the first Democrat in the race to qualify for a public campaign finance grant and has used it to fund two commercials ahead of the Aug. 9 primary election.
In a video released this week, Bhargava revisited a difficult subject: the 2018 death of her son, Alec Pelletier, from an accidental fentanyl overdose. In the video, Bhargava appears outside Purdue headquarters with a framed photo of her son above a caption reading “filmed without permission of Purdue Pharma.”
“They killed a million people,” she said, motioning at the Purdue building, “including our son, all to make more money.”
“I’ll use Connecticut’s money to fight back and hold big corporations accountable. You want our investments? No profiting from addiction or guns and most of all you must support a woman’s right to an abortion,” Bhargava said.
The 30-second video concludes with what appears to be a security officer, whose face had been blurred out, directing Bhargava away from the building as she says in voice over “I approve this message. They didn’t.”
Purdue Pharma responded in an emailed statement which noted, among other things, that the company would soon cease to exist if a reorganization plan is approved by a bankruptcy court. If approved, Purdue would be replaced by a new company, Knoa Pharma, which would “operate in a responsible and sustainable manner taking into account long-term public health interests relating to the opioid crisis,” the statement read.
“While we take issue with Ms. Bhargava’s statement about the Company, we respect that her feelings are deeply held,” the company said in a statement. “We have the deepest sympathy for those who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis, and we are focused on concluding our bankruptcy so we can deliver billions of dollars of value for victim compensation, opioid crisis abatement, and overdose rescue medicines.”
Meanwhile, a representative of the treasurer’s office did not respond to emailed questions regarding whether the state currently invests in Purdue Pharma or gun manufacturers.
The provocative video followed Bhargava’s first campaign ad, in which she promised to push companies benefiting from state investments to guarantee they provide their employees access to abortions. The video made headlines when Hulu, a streaming service owned by Disney, declined to air it and again when Hulu reversed that decision.
The ads have attracted a fair amount of attention to a race often sidelined by higher-profile contests like this year’s campaigns for governor and one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats.
But while Bhargava was the first Democrat to receive a campaign grant, DuBois-Walton and Russell have since qualified and commissioned campaign videos. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Harry Arora, a state representative and investment manager from Greenwich, qualified in June. Arora is not facing a primary opponent.
Russell unveiled his own commercial last week, which traces his background from “a working class kid, counting change at my parents’ store” through his current role as a partner at a law firm “helping cities manage their money and investments.”
“Now I’m running for state treasurer to put my experiences to work, create a more equitable Connecticut and keep our state fiscally strong,” Russell said in the video.
On Saturday, DuBois-Walton released a 30-second, biographical video, touting her academic background, which includes a Ph.D. from Boston University, and professional experience including a tenure as chief of staff to former New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.
“After I graduated from Yale, Wall Street was an option. Instead, I stayed on New Haven’s Elm Street to serve,” DuBois-Walton said in the video. “As your treasurer, I’ll keep working to make housing affordable and communities safe from gun violence.”