Interest in 5th District Senate seat heats up fast
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 6:45 p.m.
It didn’t take long for interest in the newly vacated 5th Senate District seat to heat up.
State Rep. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford, former chief of staff to the Senate Democratic Caucus, announced Wednesday he would run for the post being vacated by Beth Bye. Slap has represented West Hartford, Farmington and Avon in the House for the past two years.
Also Wednesday, state Rep.-elect Jillian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, said she is considering a possible bid for the 5th Senate District seat and expects to make a decision in the next few days.
Two other West Hartford Democrats who said they are weighing a run for Bye’s seat are Deputy Mayor Beth Kerrigan, and attorney Janee Woods Weber, director of organizational culture for the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Foundation. Weber served on an advisory panel studying women’s issues for Lamont’s transition team.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said Wednesday she was approached by several people who urged her to run, but ultimately decided not to do so. “I gave this a lot of thought,” she said. “It’s really important to me to stay committed to the town right now.”
Bye, also a West Hartford Democrat, was re-elected to a fifth term in the Senate in November. Instead, she will leave when her current term ends on Jan. 9 and join Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s administration as commissioner of the Office of Early Childhood.
Slap, 45, who spearheaded the 2018 push in the General Assembly for pay equity reform, said there are many other priorities he still wants to pursue.
“A sustainable budget and strengthening our economy — these have to be the top priorities for all of us,” said Slap.
Nonpartisan analysts say state finances, unless adjusted, are on pace to run 10 percent in deficit, about $1.7 billion, in the upcoming fiscal year. Much of that problem is tied to surging pension and other retirement benefit costs, programs that suffer from seven decades of inadequate funding.
Slap and Bye worked together over the past two years to build a bipartisan coalition that enacted a pay equity measure that prohibits employers from asking prospective hires about their pay history. Supporters argued that inquiries about wage history traditionally have been a tool used to maintain the gender gap.
Slap applauded Bye’s contribution to Connecticut during her eight years in the Senate and four in the House.
“With apologies to Red Sox fans, but this is like trying to replace (former Yankees’ all-star) Derek Jeter at shortstop,” he said. “She’s been a fabulous state senator. These are very big shoes to fill.”
Besides continuing to promote pay equity, Slap said he also would work in the Senate to expand access to early voting, reduce underage vaping, and combat age discrimination.
Slap this week ended a four-year stint as a vice president of marketing and communications for the University of Connecticut Foundation. In addition to representing the 19th House District, Slap also lectures on political science and the media at Yale University.
Gilchrest, 36, was elected this past year to her first term representing the 18th House district, first defeating incumbent Rep. Andrew Fleischmann of West Hartford in a Democratic primary and then outpolling Republican Mary Fay, a West Hartford town councilor, in the general election.
“I am interested, that’s the best way to say it,” Gilchrest told the CT Mirror. “People are reaching out to me to see if I’m going for it.”
And though this would be Gilchrest’s first term as a legislator, she is no stranger to state policy or to the Capitol.
Over the past decade Gilchrest has served as: director of health professional outreach at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence; senior policy analyst for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women; policy director at the Alliance to End Sexual Violence; and as executive director of NARAL Pro-choice CT.
Gilchrest, who will be teaching psychology and social welfare policy at St. Joseph’s University in West Hartford this spring, pointed out that women gained nunerous seats in the House and Senate during the November election and that she believes it’s crucial for “a progressive woman” to succeed Bye.
“We’ve made significant gains in this last election,” Gilchrest said. “I’d hate to see us slide back even one seat.”
Weber told the CT Mirror “I am strongly considering a run,” adding she also expects to make a final decision in the coming days.
“It stems from my love of the community,” Weber said. “Also I believe this seat represents a lot of things right now that are important to our community. Senator Bye has been an excellent leader and an excellent steward of power and resources for our community.”
Bye, who is gay, also helped to diversify the Connecticut Democratic Party and the state Senate, said Weber, who would — if elected — be one of the first African-American women elected to the Senate from a Connecticut suburb.
“I think that it is very important that we continue to promote diversity and to bolster the number of women in the Senate,” Weber said.
Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill is expected to schedule a special election for Bye’s seat later this month.
Unlike in a regular election, though, there is no option for a primary to settle the major parties’ nominations in a special election. That means the decision rests with party insiders from the four communities in the 5th Senate District.
West Hartford is the most heavily populated community in the 5th, which also includes Burlington, Farmington and western Bloomfield.
The 5th District seat is one of 23 seats in the 36-member Senate that Democrats won this past November. Democrats have held the 5th District for more than three decades. The last Republican to hold the job was Anne Streeter of West Hartford, in 1986.
The Lamont transition team announced Bye’s appointment Wednesday morning. As of mid-day, no Republicans had declared their candidacy for the 5th Senate District seat.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he expects the GOP will field a candidate, adding more details should be forthcoming in the next few weeks.
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