CT Treasurer Denise Nappier Will Not Run Again After 20 Years; Candidates Lining Up

Longtime state treasurer Denise L. Nappier announced Wednesday that she will not seek re-election this year after 20 years in office — setting off a scramble by candidates for an open seat at the treasury for the first time in two decades.

Nappier, 66, spent 35 minutes at a press conference to outline her accomplishments in a long career that saw the state pension fund increase to an all-time high of more than $34 billion, up from less than $19 billion when she first took office in January 1999. When her term ends next year, Nappier will be the longest-serving treasurer in modern Connecticut history — dating back nearly 200 years.

With the stock market exploding, Nappier announced her plans at a time when Wall Street has been consistently breaking records and investment portfolios have swelled.

“Everyone likes to leave on top,’’ Nappier told reporters in a large conference room. “Who wouldn’t want to leave on top as opposed to leaving on the bottom? I reached the conclusion that it’s time. It’s time.’’

But Nappier refused to describe her departure as a retirement.

“I’m too young to retire,’’ said Nappier, who turns 67 in June and earns $110,000 per year. “I can’t afford to retire. My pocketbook can’t afford it, and neither can my brain. I intend to take some rest, and then get back out there and hit the pavement and try to make a difference once again in the lives of people.’’

A longtime Hartford resident, Nappier won her first statewide election in November 1998 by defeating incumbent Republican Treasurer Paul J. Silvester, who later served time in federal prison in a corruption scandal.

The Courant reported Wednesday that Nappier had been making telephone calls over the last few days to tell Democrats that she was not running.

Some Democratic insiders predicted four years ago that Nappier would not seek reelection after she defeated Republican Timothy Herbst by fewer than 19,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast — at a time when the Democrats traditionally handily win the state constitutional offices. She endured a tough campaign with constant criticisms by Herbst for her refusal to debate him and publicly defend her record.

Nappier said she had considered not running during the 2010 campaign after the Wall Street crash that bottomed out in March 2009 following the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank and major losses at other firms. But she decided to remain on the job and won two more elections.

A longtime Hartford resident who was mentioned for the first time in the newspaper when she was born as an identical triplet, Nappier was the only candidate to defeat an incumbent in a statewide race in Connecticut when she first took office. She made history as the nation's first African-American woman elected as a state treasurer and the only woman elected treasurer in Connecticut history.

Potential successors

Insiders are already talking about potential successors to Nappier, including former Hartford city council president Shawn T. Wooden, a prominent local Democratic attorney who lives several blocks from Nappier in the city’s West End.

“I told him he should do what he thought best,’’ Nappier said of Wooden. “It was recent that I heard he was running.’’

After a news conference in the treasurer’s office, Nappier declined to endorse any candidate with four months before the state party convention.

“It’s too early,’’ she said. “I’m not endorsing anyone.’’

In similar fashion, Wooden declined to say if he is running.

“Today is about Denise and recognizing her service,’’ Wooden told The Courant. “In the coming days, I will share more details about my interest in serving the people of Connecticut.’’

Arunan Arulampalam, a Hartford attorney who is already exploring a run for treasurer, hailed Nappier for “cleaning up the mess left by her predecessor, protecting our pension plans and taking a national lead on tighter regulations on financial institutions and corporate governance.’’

As the son of refugees from Sri Lanka, Arulampalam works for the law firm of Updike, Kelly and Spellacy and serves on the Hartford Public Library board.

Greenwich business entrepreneur John Blankley, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature in 2012 and 2016, has also filed an exploratory committee.

Accomplishments

During Nappier’s tenure, the Connecticut Higher Education Trust that includes money for college education has grown to more than $3.3 billion in assets under more than 140,000 accounts, compared to $18.5 million in assets in 4,000 accounts.

She also played a role in the legislature’s passage of the landmark gift card law that eliminates expiration dates on any gift card sold in Connecticut — the first state in the nation to reach that goal.

During the hard-fought 2014 campaign, Nappier was repeatedly blasted by Herbst and Republican candidate Bob Eick for her performance.

"My opponent and his cronies say that I'm doing nothing, and that is a cynical distortion of my record,'' Nappier said at the time. "I work 24-7. I have for 15-plus years. Anybody who knows me knows that if you go past treasury, Nappier's car is always there. … I don't want anyone to work the way that I work.''

One of the biggest issues facing the state is the unfunded liability of the state’s pension system. Both the legislature and various governors failed to place enough money into the pension fund for years — causing a gigantic liability.

Even though it did not get major publicity at the time, Nappier said that she repeatedly sounded the alarm bell about the unfunded pension liability for more than 15 years when she was testifying in front of legislative committees.

“It’s been out there,’’ Nappier said. “We didn’t get a lot of coverage because no one thought it was a problem. … When you don’t take care of a bill, it eventually catches up with you. It’s like not paying your mortgage.’’


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