Treasurer Shawn Wooden

With one month until the Democratic nominating convention, Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden said Thursday he is not seeking a second term, creating a third open seat among the six constitutional statewide offices.

Wooden, 52, a former pension lawyer with Day Pitney and former Hartford city councilman, said he decided to step away from politics with one son in college and another fast behind.

“It’s the hokey stuff, but real stuff,”  he said in a telephone interview Thursday morning. “I’m not saying I’m done with public life forever. I’m just saying I’m not running for reelection for treasurer right now.”

In a prepared statement released by his office a short time later, Wooden echoed that theme, saying “public service often comes with a price.”

“As a father, I’ve sacrificed countless hours, missing everything from basketball games and track meets to family dinners,” he said. “As the proud father of two young Black boys, I know that, today, the best thing I can do is put my own ambitions aside and put them first. “

He is seeking no other office this year, but left the door open for a return, saying “my hope is to continue my public service in the future.” 

His decision sets off a scramble to find and line up support behind a potential successor.

Since the nomination and election of Treasurer Gerald A. Lamb in 1962 as the first Black statewide office holder, Democrats have nominated only Black politicians for the post, part of an effort at ticket balancing.

With primaries becoming a more common path to nominations, ticket balancing has become more complicated than the days when conventions held sway.

State Rep. Harry Arora, R-Greenwich, is the only Republican candidate currently running for the office.

Wooden has only served one term as treasurer, but when he ran in 2018 he won with 55% of the statewide vote. He has had successes, while also struggling with staff turnover.

During his three years in the office, Wooden has helped to manage the state’s efforts to pay down its substantial debt obligations, including long term liabilities like its under underfunded pension and health care plans.

It was that work that Gov. Ned Lamont, a fellow Democrat, noted on Thursday. Lamont, who is running for reelection this year, praised Wooden for helping to initiate a “financial turnaround in Connecticut.”

“Treasurer Wooden has been a great partner to my administration in helping get Connecticut’s fiscal house in order, stabilizing our financial future, borrowing in a responsible manner that reduces spending, and making consistent payments to decrease our state’s long-term fiscal obligations,” Lamont said in a statement.

Wooden chose to highlight a much longer list of work that he undertook as treasurer: divesting state funds from gun manufacturing companies, restructuring teacher pensions, refinancing state bonds to save money, overseeing the state’s first credit upgrade in years and starting a baby bond program from scratch.

The press release Wooden issued Thursday didn’t mention his oversight of the state’s unclaimed property fund, which collects uncashed checks, forgotten insurance policies and other missing assets and returns those funds to residents.

The Connecticut Mirror published a story earlier this year that showed the program returned less than 37% of the money it captured in the past two decades, and hid smaller assets from public view.

In response, Wooden moved to overhaul parts of the program. His office now requires all unclaimed property, no matter the value, to be listed in an online database that people can use to find their missing assets.

The program also dropped the requirement that every claim for an uncashed check or missing security deposit be notarized. He also helped to sponsor legislation this year that could allow the state to automatically return unclaimed money to its rightful owners.

Wooden said he would continue to focus on that type of work until he leaves public office later this year.

“I intend to continue to focus on the important work of this office with the same passion I had when I took the oath of office,” he said.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.