Hannah Qu, Contributing Photographer

Two New Haven public officials have launched exploratory committees to replace Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill in the 2022 general election. 

In August, Westville Ward Alder Darryl Brackeen announced that he was exploring a bid for the position. On Wednesday afternoon, New Haven Director of Health Maritza Bond held a press event where she announced her own exploratory committee. The candidates, both Democrats, hope to build upon Merrill’s work on voting rights and economic opportunity.

“I know that anything is possible if you have the right team and the dedication to get it done,” Bond shared in her press release on Wednesday.

In his August press release, Brackeen noted the state’s growth thus far, but added that there was more work to be done to make Connecticut more inclusive.

“While we’ve made so much progress as a state, there is still so much more we can and must do to make Connecticut a stronger, fairer, and more inclusive democracy and economy for all,” Brackeen stated in the release.

Former New Haven Mayor Toni Harp has endorsed Bond, while current New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, State Representative Robyn Porter and Board of Alders Majority Leader Richard Furlow have endorsed Brackeen.

The secretary of the state is mainly responsible for processing files and legal records for businesses and elections within Connecticut. The officeholder may also use the high-profile position to push for legislation, especially election-related legislation. Merrill will be stepping down after 12 years in office and nearly three decades in public service. A Democrat from Mansfield, Merrill has pushed for universal absentee balloting and has centered much of her recent work around fighting election disinformation. She announced her decision not to seek a fourth term in January, citing her desire to see new ideas and people enter the office.

Maritza Bond

On Wednesday, Bond announced a committee to explore the possibility of succeeding Merrill. Her exploratory committee launch was held at Criscuolo Park with around 30 supporters present.

In her announcement, Bond emphasized her commitment to fighting for people of all racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. She said her main goals include serving the people of Connecticut, expanding voting rights and providing more economic opportunities. She noted that while her background is in public health, the field has many intersections with that of statewide elections.

“The pandemic has shown how public health and voting intersect, and how race, ethnic and economic disparities can have a great impact on both,” Bond said. “Like public health, when left unprotected, voting rights suffer most in communities of color and economic disparity.”

In response to a question about how she would balance a statewide campaign and her current post at the city’s Health Department, Bond said that the health care infrastructure she had built and the high vaccination rate in New Haven would be effective against COVID-19. She added that should she need to take a leave of absence from her campaign, she would create a transition plan well in advance.

Most supporters at the event were Bond’s former colleagues, friends and family members. They said they supported Bond for her energy, New Haven roots and experience in public service. They also praised her work as health director, saying that they felt safe during the pandemic and had easy access to vaccines.

Michael Licamele, who worked with Bond when she was Bridgeport’s health director, supports her because “she’s got the energy for this job and the executive experience which is definitely transferable to the Secretary of [the] State.”

Some supporters expressed opinions on what they would like to see Bond do in the position. John Brannelly of Fairfield said that he hopes Bond will oppose voting restrictions, which have taken place in other cities, and that the state would implement early voting. 

Bond confirmed to the News that she would continue Merrill’s vision of expanding voting accessibility and economic opportunities. However, when asked about what specific policies she plans to adopt, Bond did not provide a clear answer. She said that she will continue developing her platform in the coming months.

“Due to her history of outstanding public service, I have every confidence that Maritza Bond will be a State leader who will make sure that Connecticut is known for its access to the basic right of freedom in the Democratic Republic: the vote,” Harp wrote in a press release in support of Bond.

Darryl Brackeen 

Brackeen has focused on voting rights and economic justice since launching his exploratory committee in August. Since the summer, he has been on a statewide listening tour, talking to town clerks, community members and leaders and voter registrars.

Brackeen is in his fourth term as alder and has served since being elected in 2014. He currently chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. He has also worked as a nonprofit executive and a national surrogate and Connecticut state advisor for the Biden-Harris campaign.

“What I’ve learned is that people of the state are … open-minded despite what the insider political class may be setting up,” Brackeen said in an interview with the News.

In terms of voting, Brackeen said that Merrill has “paved the way for the next phase of where Connecticut can go and should go.” The next phase, in his view, is to make voting more accessible to active overseas military members and citizens with disabilities. He also hopes to tap into the 535,000 unregistered voters in the state.

Brackeen also claimed to be the “only working-class candidate” entering the field. He told the News that this informs his economic policies.

“The whole term of ‘working-class’ is based on [an] economic worldview in which I believe,” Brackeen said. “Unlike my fellow colleagues on this exploration, I simply can’t hide in the ivory towers of Hartford. I literally have been doing the hard work alongside the poll workers, alongside the voter registrar, alongside the city town clerks that I would be partnering with to improve the systems of our elections statewide.”

When questioned about the state of the race and Bond’s announcement on Wednesday, Brackeen stated that he welcomes “any and all individuals who feel like they have something to provide to the citizens of the state of Connecticut” into the race for secretary of the state. He has not yet officially announced his candidacy.

Jackie James, who served as a Ward 2 alder and Democratic Town Committee chairwoman, told the New Haven Register that she plans to launch a campaign for the position, but she has yet to file for an exploratory committee.

The 2022 Connecticut general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Clarification, Sept. 24: This article has been updated to clarify Brackeen spoke with community members and leaders on his statewide listening tour, and further context on his quote about being a working-class candidate.