Courtesy of Erick Russell

This November, for the first time in over 15 years, a New Havener will be on the general election ballot for a statewide office in Connecticut. 

After winning a heated Democratic primary on Aug. 9, Erick Russell is looking to serve as state treasurer, with hopes to use the position to close the racial and generational wealth gap and advocate for the working class in the Nutmeg State. If elected, Russell would be the first Black and LGBTQ+ official serving in a statewide role in the United States.

Russell was not the only New Haven Democrat running for state office this year; the recent primary was stocked with familiar names. Karen Dubois-Walton, executive director of New Haven’s housing authority Elm City Communities, was one of two other candidates vying for the state treasurer job. Although defeated by Rep. Stephanie Thomas from Norwalk, the city’s health director Maritza Bond was also in the running for secretary of the state. 

“Being in New Haven, with Karen Dubois-Walton running, there were dynamics in the city, but that is the beauty of this democratic process,” Russell said. “We were able to have robust conversations around issues and vision for the office, we had incredible candidates running, which was great for our primary and our state.”

Russell received over 51 percent of the city vote, according to the New Haven Independent, with 39 percent going to Dubois-Walton and 9 percent to Greenwich’s Dita Bhargava. Statewide, Russell was the top pick of 58 percent of voters.

This November, he will face off against Harry Arora, a Republican representative from Greenwich who ran unopposed in the primary. 

Although the most recent New Haven candidate on a statewide ballot was John DeStefano in the 2006 race for governor, the last successful statewide candidate from New Haven was over 20 more years before that — Hank Parker, a treasurer who left office in 1986.

Russell grew up in New Haven, working at a small convenience store that his parents had opened up on Congress Avenue. He recalled watching his parents “struggle to make ends meet,” as they made sacrifices for his wellbeing and education.

“Since then, I’ve really been committed to making sure that I’m following my commitment to helping communities like the one I grew up in, and really keeping working people at the center of everything that I’ve done,” Russell said.

The first in his family to graduate college, Russell later became a partner at the law firm Pullman & Comely, where he assists municipalities and state agencies across Connecticut with complex financing for developments like housing, schools and childcare facilities. He still lives in New Haven with his husband.

Russell’s experience as an attorney, and as former vice chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party, motivated him to run for state treasurer, he said. The treasurer manages all of Connecticut’s finances, including debt, pensions and worker’s compensation funds.

“It’s a critical role in that it’s ultimately about helping to move the fiscal health of our state forward and really looking out for our pensioners, our state and municipal employees and teachers and retirees who have paid into our pension fund and are counting on those resources being there for them,” Russell said. 

In the position, Russell hopes to encourage a “long-term investment in working people” through financial literacy training and the expansion of the baby bonds program, which creates a trust for low-income children.

He also would create the “Connecticut Safe Harbor Fund,” which would provide financial resources to those traveling from other states in order to access abortion care.

During the campaign process, Russell garnered strong support from labor groups such as UNITE HERE and United Auto Workers. He cited New Haven Rising and the LGBTQ Victory Fund as other crucial bases. 

In the wake of her primary loss to Russell, Karen Dubois-Walton told the News that she plans to remain in her roles with Elm City Communities and the Connecticut Board of Education. 

“I’m continuing my work fighting to create opportunities for families,” she wrote. “This is both through my work on equitable affordable housing in New Haven and statewide and through my work in public education in my role as Chair of the [Connecticut State Board of Education].”

In a message on her former campaign website, Dubois-Walton urged voters to put their support behind Erick Russell. 

“With all we have fought for, we need to ensure a Democratic victory in November and I know Erick will fight for our issues,” she wrote.

Secretary of the state race comes close to home

Although Mayor Justin Elicker, local union leaders and many members of the Board of Alders put their support behind Maritza Bond’s campaign for secretary of the state, the health director only captured 46 percent of the vote in her home city. According to the New Haven Independent, Thomas won 53 percent of the citywide vote. 

In an email to the News, Bond confirmed that she will “continue to serve the city within [her] capacity as health director.”

In the Republican primary for secretary of the state, a role with duties including overseeing fair elections and regulating businesses, Branford Republican and party-endorsed candidate Dominic Rapini won against Rep. Terrie Wood from Darien. 

If she takes the lead over Rapini in the upcoming elections, Thomas hopes to use the state office to encourage voter education. 

“Civic education and civic engagement is one of the best ways we can counter distrust of government, voter apathy and also voter frustration,” she told the News in April. “People will trust what they understand better than taking our word for it.”

Serving in the Connecticut House of Representatives since 2021 as vice chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, Thomas also has a background in nonprofit and small business consulting.

Entering the race later than other candidates, Thomas said she at first saw the Democratic nomination as a “long shot.” Her team has traveled over 12,000 miles campaigning across the state, she said, relying on primarily grassroots support. 

Now, with over 75 percent of the total state Democratic vote, she feels that she is “in a really good place moving into November.”

Thomas emphasized that New Haveners should prepare to get out to the polls, noting that voter turnout often drops during a midterm election.

“I feel that secretary of the state, not to mention all of the other constitutional officers, are really important positions,” Thomas concluded. “We’re there for four years. So I would just want people to know that they should do their research, ask questions, try to meet the candidates and then make an informed vote.” 

This year’s statewide elections will take place on Nov. 8. 

Sylvan Lebrun is a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor, and covered City Hall and nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in Comparative Literature.