EAST HARTFORD–It is a sign of the times, the newest wrinkle in congressional constituent services, the latest angle on the only issue that matters today: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, whose own employment is assured through 2016, staged a job fair Wednesday.
With the passage of jobs legislation unlikely, Blumenthal is joining the small number of members of Congress who are adding direct employment aid to the holy trinity of traditional constituent issues: Social Security, Medicare and veterans affairs.
“At a time when passing legislation is becoming so difficult, this kind of hands-on work is so important and satisfying,” said Blumenthal, who practiced a hyper-local brand of retail politics in 20 years as state attorney general.
Blumenthal, who was mentored by Daniel Patrick Moynihan at Harvard and went to law school with Bill Clinton at Yale, is finally on the national stage, but his debut came a month before his 65th birthday. He does not intend to change his focus as a politician.
After two decades of endlessly, even obsessively making and renewing the acquaintance of the Connecticut electorate, Blumenthal unapologetically says his approach to the “greatest deliberative body in the world” is the same as his daily mantra as a state attorney general.
“Everybody on my staff has heard me say it, from my chief of staff down to the interns: The most important thing we do is fight for individual people,” Blumenthal said. “I am the senator from Connecticut. I am not a national senator. I’m not going to be running for president. This is what I do.”
And what he did on Wednesday morning was greet several hundred jobless residents at the Hartford Plaza Hotel in East Hartford, where the parking was free and plentiful, even if the conference room was tight. Nearly 50 employers and service organizations waited inside.
His state director, Rich Kehoe, said the senator’s staff got the idea from Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware. That tiny state’s delegation has hosted three job fairs. It cost only $2,000 to stage the fair, paid out of Blumenthal’s office budget, plus significant staff time.
“I think it’s a terrific idea,” said U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-1st District, who later addressed the crowd, struggling vainly to talk over the buzz of dozens of conversations between job-seekers and employers.
Larson’s attempt to jazz the room with a political-rally applause line–“It’s time to put America back to work!”–was tepidly received. And Blumenthal quickly gave up on trying to capture their attention.
“I’d rather you be talking to employers than listening to me,” Blumenthal said, smiling. “Today is about you.”
The job-seekers were diverse. Dressed in a dark suit, Luis Morales of East Hartfrod made the rounds, only to discover that he was a bit premature in his job search.
“I’m a little bit mad about it. All the jobs, you have to be 18 years old,” Morales said.
He is 16.
Susan Pace of Meriden, jobless since January after working in retail for 25 years, said the job fair was her fourth.
“My hat’s off to Sen. Blumenthal,” she said.
It did not strike her as unusual that a U.S. senator now was part of her job search.
“We’re the people that put him in office,” she said, smiling.
She complimented the organizers for finding a broad range of companies.
Comcast was there looking to fill 100 jobs. Hartford CPL Co-op, a supplier of Dunkin Donuts, advertised third-shift truck driving jobs that started at $13 per hour
Other participants included General Dynamics, the corporate parent of the submarine builder, Electric Boat. ING, Travelers and General Electric had tables, as did Yale-New Haven Hospital and TicketNetwork, one of growing companies chosen by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for his “First Five” economic aid program.
Comcast and TicketNetwork had crowds throughout the morning.
“If one person gets a job because of this event, it will have been worth it,” Blumenthal said. “If it works here, we’ll take it out on the road.”