Courtesy of Susan Bysiewicz

Yale has long been known as a prime stomping ground for future presidents and members of Congress. But this year, Connecticut-raised Yale grads are hoping to enact change closer to home by running for the Connecticut General Assembly in the districts where they grew up.

Both John-Michael Parker ’10 — a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 101st district — and James Maroney ’96 — a former Democratic state representative running for state senate in the 14th district — have dedicated much of their careers to organizations promoting education after realizing its importance during their time at Yale.

“The biggest mistake I ever made in my life was graduating. In a perfect world, I’d still be at Yale,” Maroney said. “That’s part of the reason I do what I do, so that I can hopefully get others a similar experience.”

Parker grew up in Madison before attending Yale as a Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology major, although he also sang with the Baker’s Dozen and was active in the theater scene. After graduating, he moved to New York to become a teacher, but he soon realized how much the education system there differed from what he had experienced.

“It became clear to me after serving in New York City for about a year just how serious the educational inequality is that we see across our country, across our cities and across our state here in Connecticut,” Parker said.

Seeing this inequality inspired him to join the founding team, along with Andrew Mangino ’09 and Kanya Balakrishna ’09, of The Future Project — an educational nonprofit aimed at helping underserved high schoolers develop skills to pursue their passions.

After turning 30, Parker decided to return to his home state after spending several years heading the New York branch of The Future Project. Hoping to serve his community by addressing public policy issues, he chose to run for office in the 101st district, which encompasses Madison and parts of neighboring Durham.

His progressive platform, which promotes “common sense gun regulations” and investment in transportation and infrastructure, has not gone unnoticed by fellow Democrats. On Oct. 1, Parker and Maroney were two of 14 candidates in the state to receive an endorsement from former President Barack Obama.

Parker described getting the call about the endorsement as “a dream come true.”

“[Obama is] an embodiment of not only intelligence, but also of generosity and fairness and kindness,” Parker said. “He was always the model and the bar.”

He isn’t the only Yale alum on the ballot. Both Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket — gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont SOM ’80 and lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Susan Bysiewicz ’83 — boast degrees from the University, as well as Maroney.

Raised in Milford, Maroney competed on the track and cross country teams at Yale, before founding the college advising company First Choice College Placement, where he is the director of educational consulting. He attributed his desire to found his company to his fond memories of his time at Yale.

“My personal mission is to provide opportunities to other people, and a good education is the best opportunity you can give someone,” Maroney said, although he added that a good education does not necessarily mean a four-year college experience.

Maroney served as the Majority Leader of the Milford Board of Education as a State Representative from 2012–14, where he served on the Higher Education Committee. In addition to educational reforms, his platform calls for fostering a better environment for small businesses in the state and for better environmental policies.

Matt Blumenthal LAW ’15 — the Democratic candidate for the 147st district in Stamford and the son of Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D.-Conn. — served as a Marine Corps platoon commander in Afghanistan before attending Yale Law School. He now works as a trial lawyer and supervises a Yale law clinic.

Another Yale grad, however, is leaving office this year. U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty LAW ’85, D-Conn., announced in April that she will not seek re-election after the Washington Post revealed that she had covered up sexual harassment and abuse allegations against her former chief of staff, Tony Baker.

Esty learned in May 2016 that Baker had physically abused and threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend and Esty’s former staffer Anna Kain, but she did not fire Baker until three months later.

“Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace,” Esty said in a statement in April. “In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better.”

Yale grads running outside the state include Sen. Amy Klobuchar ’82, D-Minn., and Katie Porter ’96, who is running for Congress in California. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, Stacey Abrams LAW ’99, is the first-ever black woman to be a major party nominee for governor, which would also make her the first black female governor in the nation’s history if she wins.

Ninety-four percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 100 percent of U.S. Senators hold bachelor’s degrees.

Nathalie Bussemaker | nathalie.bussemaker@yale.edu