Skip to main content
Grace McEnery and Erick Russell
Moderator Grace McEnery ’25 and Erick Russell

A Fireside Chat with Connecticut’s Pioneering Treasurer

Claire Kelly ’25 reflects on a talk from Erick Russell, Connecticut’s treasurer and the first Black, out LGBTQ person to be elected to statewide office in the United States. 

SOM’s Net Impact club was thrilled to welcome Connecticut treasurer Erick Russell to discuss politics, career, identity, and more with 60+ students last week. Erick, who was sworn in as Connecticut’s 84th State Treasurer in January of last year, is the first Black, out LGBTQ person to hold statewide office in American history, taking this role after a career in law, and is driving important work in the state.

Erick began with some context about his upbringing, having grown up in New Haven, where his parents ran a convenience store. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, where he studied criminal justice with the intention of finding a practical career path, and then law school. “I did not want to go to a law firm, but then I went to one for 11 years,” he said, to laughs from his audience (many of us, myself included, could relate to that sentiment.) Reflecting on his upbringing and educational and professional path, he shared that he didn’t see many examples of successful people who were “out” growing up, but that key mentors in school and in the firm helped him realize it was possible to be “supported and celebrated for being yourself.” 

Though interested in being involved in government, and having engaged with the office through his work in law, Erick’s run for office was not premeditated. When the prior treasurer unexpectedly announced he was no longer seeking reelection, Erick (and his husband) had 48 hours to decide whether he would run. This would greatly change his family’s lifestyle and would entail giving up a promising pathway at his prior firm, but Erick ultimately decided to take the opportunity to “make transformational change within the state.” Ultimately, his campaign was endorsed by the Victory Fund, which supports the election of LGBTQ+ leaders in government, and it was through this election that he discovered that he would be the first Black, out LGBTQ person to hold statewide office. Erick said that this came as a surprise, but also an honor, and that he was happy he could help the youth see themselves represented at this level, as he wasn’t able to when he was young.

Over the last year, his office has succeeded in driving forward some key legislation that will have significant impact on Connecticut as well as national policy. Key among these is the “CT Baby Bonds” program, which addresses the barrier of access to capital for escaping poverty. Under this program, babies born after July 1, 2023 in Connecticut that qualify for the state’s Medicaid program will have $3,200 invested on their behalf that they can access between the ages of 18 and 30 for certain financial needs, such as saving for retirement, buying a home, or starting a business in Connecticut.

In response to the unsurprisingly endless supply of student questions, Erick discussed balancing working with private funds for public good and how to balance the relationship between returns and impact, how to invest intelligently in more affordable housing, the politicization of ESG and environmental risk, and how the treasurer’s office allows for collaboration across states and party lines. Additionally, he elaborated on the challenges of making the high-pressure decision to run for office, and feeling an obligation to take that opportunity and platform for advocacy.

Professor Judy Chevalier, the William S. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Economics at SOM, asked about how he weighed investing in policy, like the Baby Bonds, that would not see impact for decades. Though Erick said he would likely no longer be in office 18 years from now, he believes that part of it is generational, and part of it is that the position of treasurer is uniquely positioned to think long-term. “It takes a lot of courage to advocate for and support something that they will not be in office to see the ultimate benefit.” He also noted that “as a state, [we] have shifted away from the idea that we should be making decisions on a one-to-two-year budget cycle.” On a bipartisan basis, the state has “developed a culture to meet obligations and do right by future generations in tackling these challenges now.”

Erick closed with a perspective on the current political landscape. Though so much of politics, particularly at the national level, has been politicized, he shared that he is optimistic that things are moving in the right direction. He said he believed we can “get back to government and politics being about developing real solutions and moving things forward.”

We are grateful to Erick and his team for taking the time to join us; much of the questions Erick described grappling with are extremely relevant to graduate students who will soon make big decisions about our careers. Further, his example of a career path branching between sectors carrying along transferred skills and relationships is reassuring to a student body attracted to SOM for the “Business & Society” mission, but who may initially go into traditional industries such as banking or consulting. Finally, while I personally grew up in northwest Connecticut, many of us come to New Haven with very little knowledge of the state we will live in for two years. Understanding more about the people who grew up here and how they are giving back to the state and building its future is critical to engaging with the New Haven and broader Connecticut communities during our time here.