Bhargava good fit for state treasurer's race

If you were a Democratic leader in Connecticut and went into your political laboratory to try to mix together all the right ingredients to find a candidate to succeed Denise L. Nappier as treasurer, and keep that office in the party’s hands, you’d come up with someone like Dita Bhargava.

Conveniently, Bhargava, 45, is running for the office. Before she gets a shot in the general election, she will probably have to win a primary, that is unless Bhargava or somone else can wrap things up at the convention, which is unlikely.

Bhargava has the background for the job. With a career that includes jobs with Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Bear Stearns, Dillon Read Capital Management and Citadel Investment Group, Bhargava is well versed in investing, risk management and managing pension funds.

Her last position in finance was with RBS in Stamford, which she left in December 2015.

While that experience should attract the pragmatic voter who wants an experienced hand managing the state’s investments, it is what she did after making her fortune that should get the attention of fired-up progressives, who could play a big role in this first post-Trump state election.

After leaving RBS, Bhargava co-founded two nonprofit organizations that advocate for family friendly policies in the workplace, including paid family leave, and helping women and girls escape the poverty that limits their opportunities.

These interests, said Bhargava, stem from her own story. She was born and raised in Canada, the daughter of parents who had emigrated from India. When her mom escaped a bad marriage, she was left raising Dita and her two sisters on a meager income.

“She engrained in me three things: get a good education to provide economic liberty; strive to reach your full potential; and don’t forget your humble roots,” said Bhargava.

While offering assurances that, “At the end of the day we want best return,” Bhargava said she would seek to use the state’s large investments “to guide corporations to exhibit good social citizenship.”

Translation: To get them to adopt some favored progressive policies, like paid family leave. She pointed to recent corporate decisions on limiting or ending the sale of guns as examples that corporations can drive change for the better.

“I always like to look at social issues through an economic lens,” she said.

"Better" is in the eye of the beholder, of course. Expect any Republican opponent to attack this policy perspective.

At age 15, to begin saving money for college, Bhargava became a bank teller. She continued moving up the ranks of banking finance while attending McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, one of the few women pursuing an Electrical Engineering degree.

“Engineers can do anything, once they have that degree,” she said of her post-graduate shift into investment. Training as an engineer, she said, gave her the quantitative skills required for modern finance.

In 1995 she relocated to New York City, with members of her family soon following. In 2004 she became a U.S. citizen. After marriage, she relocated to Connecticut in 2007. Her husband, Dan Pelletier, and their son and daughter live in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich.

So at a time when the Trump-led Republican Party has taken on an anti-immigrant bent, check off immigrant success story among Bhargava’s political assets.

Keeping young professionals in Connecticut is critical to growing the tax base and building fiscal stability, she said. If elected, Bhargava would push for a program to encourage state college graduates to begin their careers here. If a graduate committed to remaining and working in Connecticut for at least five years, their college loan, or some portion of it, would be paid by a partnering business, with the legislature providing business tax credits as an incentive.

A former vice chair of the state Democratic Party, Bhargava has substantial connections in the party. John Blankley of Greenwich, a former shipping and energy executive, is also seeking the party nomination, as are former Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden and Arunan Arulampalam, a Hartford attorney.

Candidates on the Republican side are state Sen. Art Linares, R-Westbrook, and another former investment executive, Thad Gray of Lakeville.

Unlike Nappier, who, after becoming the first woman and first African-American to serve as treasurer, settled into the position for 20 years, Bhargava appears to have higher political ambitions. When her campaign first called about an interview, Bhargava was exploring a run for governor. She switched to the treasurer’s race when Nappier, 66, announced her pending retirement.

In 2018, the treasurer’s race is a better fit for her. Even the ambitious need stepping stones.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.

Editor's note: This column was updated to correct family backgound information on the candidate.

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