Yale politicians talk elections

Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 spoke to students in the Branford College common room Monday.
Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 spoke to students in the Branford College common room Monday. Photo by Alon Harish.

It was a veritable “who’s who” of city and state politicos at a Yale College Democrats-sponsored event held Monday evening in the Branford College common room.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz ’83 were on campus to speak for nearly two hours about their current campaigns and political goals. Blumenthal is running for Sen. Christopher Dodd’s U.S. Senate seat, which Dodd will be vacating at the end of his term in November, and Bysiewicz is running to replace Blumenthal as state attorney general.

Introduced by Yale Dems President Ben Stango ’11 as “our next senator,” Blumenthal grinned, calling himself “the underdog” despite a recent Quinnipiac University poll that suggests he has a wide lead over the other Democrats in the race.

Standing before an audience of about 50 people, Blumenthal explained his positions on a laundry list of issues, including financial regulatory reform, the war in Afghanistan, education and healthcare reform. He said he would bring to Washington the “independence” he is known for in Connecticut.

Asked how he would differ from Dodd, Blumenthal said he would push more forcefully for the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency as part of his financial reform platform. He added that, unlike Dodd, he would call for suspected terrorists like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, to be tried in military tribunals rather than in civilian courts.

Bysiewicz, who addressed the group after Blumenthal had left for another commitment, sat across from Stango as she discussed the problems in Connecticut that she would like to remedy as the state’s attorney general.

She said the state’s failure to control energy costs, narrow the racial achievement gap in education and adequately protect certain at-risk populations such as victims of domestic abuse led her to seek the attorney general’s office.

But while the candidates talked at length about their political careers and issues facing the state, they did not discuss the latest legal controversy with which Bysiewicz’s campaign is wrestling.

Blumenthal himself is currently investigating whether Bysiewicz improperly used a public e-mail database her office compiled for her attorney general campaign. Blumenthal began the investigation almost two weeks ago in response to a complaint filed in October 2009 by a Republican activist alleging that Bysiewicz was misusing state data for a political campaign.

It has been just over a year since Bysiewicz’s campaign obtained a list of addresses her office had been accumulating since 1999, her first year as secretary of the state, which the campaign has used to solicit contributions and support. In an interview Monday night, Bysiewicz, who as a candidate filed a Freedom of Information Act request to her own office, said there was nothing improper about her use of the information because it was available to the public.

“Many elected officials maintain constituent lists, and this one was available to anyone who requested it,” she said. “This was not an example of pay to play.”

Blumenthal did not comment on the investigation Monday night. But Bysiewicz said the investigation, which she said does not imply that Blumenthal believes she committed any wrongdoing, comes at a difficult time for Bysiewicz’s campaign. According to state law, the attorney general must have 10 years of “active” legal practice, and a number of Bysiewicz’s opponents have alleged she is ineligible because she does not have the requisite experience.

Blumenthal, in a 14-page opinion released two weeks ago, said Bysiewicz’s 11 years as secretary of the state may or may not count as “active” legal practice and that the matter could only be settled in court.

“I think we should let the voters decide,” Bysiewicz said at Monday’s event.

Also in attendance were Ward 1 Alderman Mike Jones ’11, Ward 9 Alderman and candidate for state representative Roland Lemar, State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield (D-New Haven) and former Ward 9 Alderman Gerry Garcia ’94 SOM ’01, who is running for secretary of the state.

Stango said the purpose of the event was to engage Yale students in state politics and to encourage them to volunteer in upcoming campaigns.

“The best way to get people to work for these campaigns is for them to meet the candidates in person,” Stango said.

In January, Bysiewicz abandoned her bid for governor to run for state attorney general.

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