On Oct. 3, Wesleyan Democrats (WesDems) invited State Senator Danté Bartolomeo to speak to a group of students about her platform and experience as a senator, as well as her current race against Republican Len Suzio. The talk lasted 45 minutes and took place at Harriman Hall at 7 p.m.
WesDems President Simon Korn ’17 organized the event.
“Between her role in the higher education committee, her proximity to campus, and her close re-election campaign, which is a microcosm of several statewide issues, Senator Bartolomeo was the perfect person to introduce the WesDems to local politics,” Korn wrote in an email to The Argus.
At the event, Bartolomeo began her speech with an introduction to her experience as a state senator, including her path to politics. Bartolomeo explained that her original degree from Colby College was in psychology, and before becoming a senator, she found herself in a job not directly related to either political science or psychology. She later spent some time as a stay-at-home mom, but it was through her role on a diverse range of community boards that she found herself running against then-incumbent Suzio in 2012. She narrowly beat him by less than 300 votes. She ran again in 2014 and won by a similarly small margin.
Bartolomeo spoke about her achievements as a state senator over the previous few years, highlighting her role as Co-Chair of the Committee on Children, where she has worked to provide support for children with behavioral, mental, or emotional health issues. She also mentioned her role as Co-Chair of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee, through which she has worked to increase college affordability.
Bartolomeo equated her race against Suzio to the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, with herself as Clinton and Suzio as Trump.
When asked about her thoughts on budgetary matters, specifically how to get more money in the pockets of the middle class, she responded with an answer that tied into her experience as a promoter of higher education.
“What I think that we need to do is we need to really commit more funding to the higher education system for the training and the educating of our work force for these future jobs,” Bartolomeo said. “That’s the way and that’s how, in my opinion, we would make the most difference. We have people telling us ‘We have jobs, we just don’t have people who are skilled at the level they need to be to have these jobs.’ Or things are changing, more bioscience and more advanced manufacturing…we’re being told the high-tech STEM jobs are going to need more people than we are currently graduating.”
Bartolomeo discussed options for increasing night life and public transportation in Connecticut to transform regions into thriving business and cultural spots. This, she explained, was another way to increase revenue in the state, and one that could also be promoted on the scale of local politics.
She explained that there have been attempts to get money out of local politics by setting a minimum amount of donations that a candidate needs in order to receive a $90,000 grant from the state. However, according to Bartolomeo, this isn’t enough.
“That was all supposedly to equalize the playing field, but there’s also an allowance for what we call ‘independent expenditures,’ and that is a union, a group, a company, a person, anybody can spend money on my race as long as they’re doing it independently from coordinating with me.”
Bartolomeo explained that in this race, a lot of money has been spent on her opponent. Connecticut Republicans only need four more seats to take a majority in the State Senate, which is why they’re spending over $50,000 on this race.
Bartolomeo also took the opportunity to take a swing at her opponent, Suzio, by pointing out his past business decisions.
“[My opponent] took $500,000 of payments and deposits from people because he had a log home business, but he didn’t deliver on the homes before he closed, and they didn’t ever get a penny of that money back,” Bartolomeo said. “He had this tax bill of $300,000 that he walked away from. He sold the land for one dollar; I have the receipt where he signed it. And now other people are trying to clean it up.”
She used this story in conjecture with campaign spending, citing the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s support of him despite his poor record.
“The reality is, I feel like I could put my business record against his anyway,” Bartolomeo said.
After more discussion of education and income, as well as the Community Health Center in Middletown, Bartolomeo commented on the political climate and the ways political races have become so negative.
“It’s become more and more personal and ugly, I guess, since I’ve been doing it,” Bartolomeo said.“And I really think that our current presidential election is hurting us in that regard because it kind of makes it seem like it’s all good, you can attack someone, you can lie about someone, you can beat the heck out of them, and that’s okay.”
Students’ reactions to the event were generally positive.
“It was interesting to hear a representative from Connecticut speak, as I really don’t know about Connecticut’s issues, since I’m from Virginia,” Tristan Genetta ’20 said. “She primarily talked about the economy, which I was surprised about, but it’s an important matter.”
Another student appreciated hearing about the local aspect of politics in a political climate focused on the presidential election.
“I thought it was really interesting hearing a local politician speak about the issues that face the community,” Jake Multer ’20 said. “I also thought it was interesting hearing about the front line of politics, and how on the local level different issues are worked out, how disagreements between fellow party members worked out.”
Student Livia Wallick ’20 agreed.
“It was really great to get to interact with the local politician, especially a female politician, because the issues that she’s working on directly affect Wesleyan,” Wallick said. “She approved a $10,000 grant for Wesleyan’s community partnerships for the Center for the Arts earlier this summer, so she’s really been an advocate for Wesleyan’s role in the Middletown community.”
Wallick also noted how difficult it is to be a female politician in this environment and expressed her respect for Bartolomeo in that regard as well.
“The language surrounding female politicians and their campaigns is incredibly problematic, and she’s had to experience a lot of that from her opponent,” Wallick said.
Korn, too, considered the event a success.
“Her visit really went better than I could have hoped,” Korn said.“I was really happy to see how much she wanted to interact with all the students in the audience, take their questions, and address their concerns. I think she got people more interested in getting involved with local politics, which was my goal for the whole event.”