Mary Glassman, the six-term first selectman for Simsbury, Conn., a suburb of Hartford with about 24,000 residents, is the only woman in the race for governor, though she has not yet officially declared her candidacy. Born in New Britain, Conn., Glassman, a Democrat, was the first in her family to attend college and, among other things, was the chief of staff for former Lt. Gov. Kevin Sullivan and has been an advocate for Connecticut Voices for Children, a non-profit public service organization. As first selectman, Simsbury’s equivalent of mayor, Glassman made the town the site of an internationally renowned ice skating center and the summer home of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. In 2006, she ran for Lieutenant Governor on New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr.’s failed gubernatorial ticket. Glassman, mother of Amanda Glassman ’10, will be speaking today at Blue State Coffee on Wall Street about her vision for Connecticut.
Q. You’ve served in multiple branches of government, and you’ve been an activist for children. What motivates you to public service?
A. It’s a very personal commitment for me. My mother grew up in foster care because her parents got sick. I grew up in New Britain, a blue-collar, poor community. No one in my family had gone to college. My dad died when I was young and my mom was forced to raise my three brothers and me. And yet, me going to college was such a priority for my mom even though she couldn’t pay for it. I was able to go to public universities, and I graduated from University of Connecticut Law School, where I met my husband. I moved to Simsbury, and now I have a daughter graduating from Yale in a few months. So in just two generations, a mother who grew up in foster care can now watch her granddaughter graduate from one of the greatest schools in the country. That to me is the power of opportunity. My priority as governor would be to make sure everyone has that opportunity. That’s the reason I’m in public service. That’s what motivates me. Connecticut is the wealthiest state in the country, but it still has one of the poorest cities in the country. That means we’re not doing our job, and I want to fix that.
Q. Your daughter is now a senior in Yale College. What will it take to get graduating Yalies and other young people to want to stay in Connecticut?
A. If you look at Connecticut, we’re really well poised between Boston and New York, but the transportation infrastructure is inadequate. We’re missing opportunities. Without keeping young professionals in our state, we won’t have sustained job growth. We have to link up educational institutions with job growth — that means research opportunities, engaging major universities like Yale and UConn, providing more affordable housing to our young professionals and improving our transportation system for better access to New York and Boston. We haven’t made Connecticut a cool place to live. We need to get back to basics.
Q. How will you apply what you’ve learned as a first selectman in Simsbury to a state that is much more diverse?
A. Seventy percent of all the cities and towns in Connecticut are 30,000 people and less … Under my watch, Simsbury was ranked among the top 100 places to live by CNN Money Magazine, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation named it one of 2010’s “Distinctive Destinations,” one of only a dozen nationwide. That’s no accident. What we’ve done here in Simsbury is what we should be doing statewide. We’ve been innovative, we’ve promoted regional cooperation, and we’re fiscally well-managed.
I’m also the treasurer of the Capitol Region Council of Governments and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. I am a leader in regional government. When I was first elected first selectman in Simsbury, I became a very active proponent of regional cooperation. What I found both then and today is that Connecticut takes a very patchwork approach to governing. We have 169 towns doing things 169 ways. We don’t leverage our ability to compete as a region.
I’ve served in the State Capitol as well, working on budgets and pressing state issues. If you look at Connecticut’s previous Democratic governors, many of them also came from small towns. I think you can see that the job of governor is going to require someone who can make the tough decisions that mayors and selectmen make every day.
Q. What would your approach to job growth in Connecticut be?
A. It’s very simple: We need to have a strategy of fiscal discipline. We need to get our house in order. We face billions of dollars in debt. And we’re not going after federal dollars that are available to us. We need to take advantage of federal funding, and we need to create a more business-friendly environment.
Q. How do you respond to people who are surprised you’re not seeking a lesser statewide office?
A. What I decided was that the changes that need to be made can only be made from the governor’s office. Changes at the state level need to be made at the highest level. I ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and got the highest percentage of the vote than anyone else in the race. Given that success, I think running for governor is a natural step.
Q. How will you make yourself stand out among the big names and millionaires already in the race?
A. I don’t think that the people of Connecticut will make a decision on money alone. With the new public financing system [launched by the state in 2008], the people will have a choice of who they want to elect as governor. Public financing allows candidates like me — who have big ideas but not millions of dollars — to be able to qualify for the race. Under Connecticut law, if a candidate can get $250,000 in small contributions, they can run. It’s a powerful opportunity for the people of the state to make a real choice. As we saw in Massachusetts, it’s not always about who has the most money. This race is wide open.
Q. Why you?
A. Connecticut is certainly facing a difficult financial crisis. Tough decisions need to be made, and I’m the only candidate in the race with experience both as a municipal leader and in the executive branch. I understand how all the pieces fit together in state government. I don’t need to learn on the job.
Q. When do you expect to announce formally that you’ll be running?
A. Right now I’m in the exploratory stage, which allows me to receive donations in excess of $100. But I expect to declare my candidacy within the next few weeks.