Ken Bernhard has ended his campaign for State Senate, from the 26th District.
The attorney — active in many civic causes, at the local and international levels — is a former Republican State Representative. He switched his party affiliation several years ago. He was running as a Democratic to succeed retiring Senator Will Haskell.
“It appears that my past affiliation with the Republican party is viewed by many in the DTC as an insurmountable obstacle to securing the Democratic nomination in May. I do not wish to undermine the strength and unity of our party by engaging in a contentious primary challenge.
“It is my sincere hope that my campaign has brought focus and attention to some of the important issues facing Connecticut, and that it generated productive discussions on how best to deal with them.
“As I return to my active law practice and continue to serve the public in my work with non-profit humanitarian organizations, I want to express my gratitude to my many friends and supporters — on both sides of the aisle — for their confidence, encouragement, and generous campaign contributions.
“I wish Ceci Maher the best of luck in her campaign and urge all voters in the 26th District to support her on November 8.”
Maher, a Wilton resident long active in many Westport-based organizations, is the lone Democrat still running. Westporter Michael Gordon — a former Board of Education chair — entered the race, but left due to time constraints with his full-time job and family.
Ceci Maher has announced her candidacy for the 26th State Senate District. She joins fellow Democrat Ken Bernhard, in bids to succeed retiring Senator Will Haskell. She says:
I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I have received. I know that this energy and enthusiasm comes from a history of service; I have earned the trust and respect of our communities.
I’m running because I have experience that matters and I care deeply about the 26th district. I have a solid background in budget management and understand the economic struggles we all face. While CEO of Sandy Hook Promise, I worked every day to support gun violence prevention in schools and communities.
Fourteen years of leading Person-to-Person taught me how much we can achieve, when we work together. I am deeply committed to women’s rights, and increasing voter access.
I’ve spent nearly all my life in Fairfield County. I grew up in Stamford, worked in New Canaan and Darien, volunteered in Westport, and raised my family first in Norwalk and later in Wilton, where I call home.
In Westport I am on the advisory board of Westport Pride, and handled fundraising for the Pride event last June. I also volunteered with the ReSisters, including GOTV efforts, traveling with them to Pennsylvania to register college students to vote, and worked on additional voter registration efforts. Years ago I was president of the Junior League, and we had members from Westport.
In a lifetime of living in our community, I’ve met people from all walks of life – and I’ve seen that we share so much in common, no matter who we are and what city or town we live in. Our neighbors are fundamentally good and decent. We care about our families, our towns, and one another. We turn out to help in natural disasters and we show up to support our neighbors in times of need.
In 20 years of leading nonprofits, volunteering, and holding local public office, I’ve had the chance to on some of the most important issues our communities face, from educational opportunity to access to food and housing.
It’s been a tough few years for so many of us, from the pandemic to the economy to national politics. But I remain optimistic about our future because I know we can work together and make progress on our community’s most important issues.
And I look forward to listening to and hearing from voters to understand what matters most to them.”
Like many people during the pandemic, Will Haskell found himself with unaccustomed time on his hands.
Unlike many people, his job involved constant meetings, every day and night, so he had even more free time than most. Haskell is a State Senator.
Like many people, he decided to try his hand at writing.
Unlike many people, he actually completed what he set out to do. And unlike nearly everyone else, he turned his project into an actual, real book.
100,000 First Bosses: My Unlikely Path as a 22-Year-Old Lawmaker will be published officially yesterday. And not by any vanity press, either. This is a legit, Simon & Schuster book.
It’s one more chapter (ho ho) in the remarkable story of the Staples High School graduate/still-youngest-member-of-the-Connecticut General Assembly’s life.
Haskell was a Georgetown University senior when he decided to run for the 36-member Senate. He enlisted his roommate as campaign manager. He gathered a hard-working group of committed volunteers, from even younger than himself (14 years old!) to those older than his grandparents (they remember FDR!).
Four years ago, new college graduate Will Haskell became State Senator Will Haskell. He unseated an incumbent who had been in office longer than he’d been alive.
Now he wants to inspire his peers — and the next generation — to do the same.
100,000 First Bosses is not a “how-to” book. “I’m not qualified to write that,” Haskell says. “Every campaign is different.”
What he does is pull the curtain back on his own experiences. He talks about the surprises and drudgery of knocking on doors; the lessons learned as he learned the ropes in Hartford; the successes he’s had, and the mistakes he’s made.
State Senator Will Haskell,
His book, he says, is “my thoughts on the weirdest first job someone could have right out of college.”
Most people have 1 or 2 bosses. Haskell is beholden to the 100,000 residents of State Senate District 26. It stretches from Westport to Bethel.
Throughout the book he emphasizes the perspective of a 20-something, still finding his way in a complex, troubled America, with tons of problems my generation has dumped on his.
Climate change, gun violence, college affordability — all those are very real issues to Haskell and his cohort. And they’re issues, he argues, that his generation can address and solve.
But to do that, he emphasizes, they must be in positions of power.
Haskell’s unique perspective — and his equally unique literary debut — was helped by someone his own age: his editor, Carolyn Kelly.
Like Haskell, she’s in her first job. In fact, this was her very first book.
It is a very 2020s tale. “She knows everything about my life. But we’ve never met,” Haskell marvels. We did everything online.”
Kelly taught him how to craft his story to appeal to “people who might be uninterested in politics. Lots of people don’t know who their state representative is, and have never been to their state capital.”
The State Capitol in Hartford is Will Haskell’s workplace. Have you been there?
He hopes his book will be read by them though, and spur them to think about running for office. Maybe they’ll encourage a colleague to do so.
Or a grandchild.
He had not thought of running for office either, back in the day. But when Barack Obama left office, he told the nation’s young (and “young at heart”) to push for progress from the grassroots up.
Haskell had no idea who his state senator was. He found out — and realized he did not agree with some of her positions.
The rest is history.
Gun violence is one of the issues State Senator Will Haskell has worked on.
Though much of the state — and nation — are polarized politically and socially, Haskell says that his 2 terms in the Senate have made him very optimistic. He realizes, he says, that one person can make an impact.
Through his book, he hopes to share that optimism.
Yet Haskell is leaving politics. He announced last month that he will not run for a 3rd term. Instead, he is heading to law school. (He’s also getting married, whenever the pandemic allows a large group to celebrate.)
In 100,000 Bosses‘ final chapter, Haskell writes about struggling with that decision. He frames it as a way to show that as important as political action is, one’s entire life does not have to be defined by it.
He also notes that just as he went to Hartford as a new, young voice, there’s now an opportunity for another new voice to follow his.
Haskell’s book is not like many politicians’, It does not read like a stump speech, nor does it paint an overly rosy picture of his profession.
He writes candidly of the difficulty of affording rent in his own district, and of watching a focus group pick him apart, one flaw after another.
Still, he says, “it was a blast to write. People took a chance on sending me to the Senate. Now I hope they’ll take a chance on buying and reading it.”
Spoken like a true author.
Not bad for a politician, either.
(Click here to order 100,000 First Bosses: My Unlikely Path as a 22-Year-Old Lawmaker.)
In the summer of 2016, Will Haskell worked for the Democratic National Committee. Assigned to the “voter protection team,” he researched states that were making it harder for certain citizens — like young people and minorities — to vote.
The 2014 Staples High School graduate wondered what was happening in his home state. To his surprise, he says, he discovered that his own state senator — Toni Boucher — spent “2 decades making it harder to vote.” For example, he says, she opposed early voting, and tried to block online registration.
Then he dug deeper. He saw she’d opposed paid family leave bills, equal pay for equal work, and said that certain gun restrictions put in place after Sandy Hook went too far. She has previously received an A- rating from the National Rifle Association.
“Actually, I think we haven’t gone far enough on gun regulations,” he says. “Our tough gun laws made Connecticut one of the safest states in the country. But there is so much more we can do, from regulating conceal-carry to cracking down on bad-apple gun suppliers.”
Will Haskell and Darcy Hicks (center), at a Westport rally last year supporting gun legislation.
Haskell wondered who had run against her. He found out she’s had minimal opposition for years.
He’s only 21. He still has a couple of months before he graduates from Georgetown University. He’s deferred enrollment in law school to run.
But he’s in it to win it.
Haskell spent last summer working in the state’s public defender office, learning about the criminal justice system and the cost of mass incarceration. At night he traveled throughout the 7-town district, listening and learning about the people and issues.
One of the most important is transportation. Trains run slower today than they did in the 1950s, Haskell says — yet the transportation fund is regularly dipped into, for other uses. He supports a transportation “lockbox,” which he says Boucher opposes.
Another key issue is the number of young people leaving Connecticut. He looks at the current legislature, and sees virtually no one of his generation. He believes their voices must be heard.
“Toni Boucher says GE and Aetna left the state because of high taxes,” Haskell says. “But they’re moving to places with high taxes. There’s something more going on.
“We need to look at tax credits, to keep students from Connecticut’s great schools here after they graduate. We need paid family leave policies too.”
Haskell says the 26th district is “moderate.” Hillary Clinton won it by 23 points. He looks forward to working with anyone, of any party, to achieve his goals.
Fortunately, he says, running for office in Connecticut is not expensive. If he raises qualifying funds, he’ll have the same amount of money as his opponent. He’s already organized a series of fundraisers.
Haskell is not a political neophyte. In past years he’s worked on the successful campaigns of Senator Chris Murphy and Congressman Jim Himes, as well as with Hillary for America.
Will Haskell with Hillary Clinton.
Reaction to his candidacy has been positive, Haskell says. “I know I look more like 12 than 21. Most state senators don’t look like me. But that’s why I’m running. I, and people like me, have a stake in our future.”
He’s not apologizing for his age. Far from it.
One of his inspirations came from Barack Obama. In his farewell speech, the outgoing president urged anyone dissatisfied with the current political climate to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself.” Haskell calls himself “a stakeholder in the future.”
Besides his age, Haskell faces the challenge of running against a well-known and respected incumbent. “I have to make sure people know her voting record,” Haskell says. “She’s opposed to voter accessibility, and criminal justice reform.”
As he travels through the district he hopes to represent — all of Westport, Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding, and parts of Weston, Bethel and New Canaan — Haskell will make his case.
“My platform emphasizes long-term investments in infrastructure, reliable funding for our schools, more robust cooperation between our towns and cities, addressing widespread opioid addiction as the public health crisis it is, and policies that will draw other young people to live and work in Connecticut.”
He’ll be helped by his years at Staples, where he talked about politics with social studies, English, even chemistry teachers. He was aided too by his years in the Players drama troupe. As a senior, he was elected Players president. Being on stage, he says, “gave me the confidence to stand up and talk in front of others.” (He also became a noted voice speaking against cyber-bullying.)
Staples Players president Will Haskell, in “Avenue Q.” (Photo/Kerry Long)
Harking back to his summer with the DNC voter protection team, Haskell says, “Republicans don’t want my generation near the ballot.” This fall, he promises, “my generation will be on the ballot.”
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