Conversation With… Mary Glassman
Simsbury’s First Selectman talks about her run for Lt. Governor
By Judie Jacobson
Currently serving her sixth term as First Selectman of Simsbury, Mary Glassman is running for the office of Lieutenant Governor in the Democratic primary on August 10.
Born in New Britain, the daughter of Angelo and Frances Messina, Glassman’s father died suddenly when she was age four leaving her mother to raise Mary and her three brothers. She worked her way through the University of Connecticut, where she majored in journalism. After graduation, she took a job as a reporter for the New Britain Herald, then went on to attend UConn School of Law, taking classes at night. As an attorney, Glassman represented construction companies and worked on environmental and land-use issues.
In 1991, Glassman was elected First Selectman of Simsbury. She was re-elected to four terms before stepping down in 1999. In 2006, she ran for Lieutenant Governor on the Democratic ticket. After the election, she returned to Simsbury in 2007 to serve a fifth term as First Selectman.
Glassman and her husband Andrew Glassman, an attorney, have three children.
The Ledger recently sat down with Mary Glassman to talk about her Jewish roots and her run for the office of Lieutenant Governor.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your Jewish background.
A: I took a long road back to my faith. My grandmother, Mary Berkowitz, was from an Orthodox Jewish family in New Britain and she married an Italian man. Both families were not happy with that arrangement. My grandparents had seven children. When my mom was young both her parents became very ill and she was raised in a Jewish foster family – the Goldens in East Haddam. She then moved back to New Britain and met my dad, Angelo Messina, who owned a restaurant. She married him and had four children.
I have always been a very faithful person. And when I moved back to New Britain I connected with Rabbi [Henry] Okolica [of Congregation Tephereth Israel] and started becoming very interested in my Jewish heritage. At that time I had met my husband Andy Glassman who comes from a very strong Jewish family. His parents were among the founding families of Beth Hillel. We decided to get married and looked around for a place to get married and move to, and we met Rabbi [Howard] Herman [of Farmington Valley Jewish Congregation/Emek Shalom] in Simsbury. I started studying Hebrew with Rabbi Herman and decided to get married in that temple and reconnect with my Jewish heritage and raise our children Jewish. We have been members of Farmington Valley, and Rabbi Herman has been a good friend of ours, every since.
I’ve taken a long road back to my Jewish faith, but it’s very important to me and our family. Our three children have all had their bar and bat mitzvahs; our two oldest studied in Israel. Amanda went on a Meor Israel trip. Our son went to Israel this year on Birthright. I think that the values that we have in our family are closely aligned with the Jewish heritage; we stress education; our commitment to give back to your community; and being a strong advocate of fairness and justice.
Q: How did you get into politics?
A: When Andy and I moved to Simsbury we started getting involved in local government. At that time I felt that education was not a priority in Simsbury. In 1991, the candidate who was running for office withdrew six weeks before the election and because of my priorities and commitment to education I was put in as a place holder. Six weeks later I became the first Democrat to be elected first selectman in Simsbury in 40 years. And I’ve been in public service ever since.
I served until 1999 and then as my kids got older I decided not to run again. So, I went up to the Capitol and was a staff attorney in the House for [Speaker of the House] Maura Lyons, then I moved over to the Senate. When Gov. Roland resigned, and Jodi Rell became governor, Kevin Sullivan became Lieutenant Governor and I was his chief of staff. So, I don’t think there’s anyone more prepared to be Lieutenant Governor than me because I’ve actually worked in that office.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as Lieutenant Governor?
A: I think the state is broken. We need a totally new approach to government at the state level. I think someone with a background, as I have, as a lawyer who has experience running a town for 12 years, experience working in the Lieutenant Governor’s office can make a tremendous difference. In the past, the Lieutenant Governor has been more of a ribbon cutting position. But with all of the challenges facing the state – huge deficits looming, wide gaps in education disparity, a lack of support for our transportation infrastructure – you need not only a Governor, but also a Lieutenant Governor who’s going to roll up his or her sleeves to bring change to the state of Connecticut. That’s what I was going to bring.
Look at my record over the 12 years that I’ve been the chief elected official in Simsbury. Look at my budget: there were no budget increases last year, I had a negative three reduction in my budget. When I was first elected, I took a 10 percent pay cut. Last year I brought the unions to the table to voluntarily take wage freezes and increased some of the cost of interns to reduce the cost of our taxpayers.
Q: CONNIX – the Connecticut Israel Trade Commission – which developed trade exchanges and joint ventures between companies here and in Israel, was written out of the state budget in 2003. Would you support reinstating CONNIX, or a similar venture aimed at promoting business ties between Connecticut and Israel?
A: Absolutely. And I think that’s exactly what’s wrong with government. We haven’t had any stability or predictability. We started good programs like that one and then ignored it or disbanded it. What you’ve seen is a Governor who’s been disconnected not only with the Jewish community – which has been a strong asset to the state – but also disconnected to business in general. Disconnected from going to Washington and bringing back federal money. A Governor who is disconnected and won’t meet with mayors and first selectmen; who won’t meet with union leaders. If government is going to make any progress in solving the tremendous challenges in front of us we need to bring all of those parties back to the table.
Q: Tell us about your views on health care vis a vis Connecticut.
A: Seven billion of the 19 billion the state spends is on health care. I think that the state has again not met its obligations to the people of our state. We still have 10 percent of our residents who are without access to affordable health care. Yet, as Massachusetts has adopted a plan to deal with health care years ago, we still only have a plan to create a plan. We have not done enough, as other states have, in terms of giving people the options to stay in their homes as long as they can, to help reduce the cost of nursing homes. We put folks with mental health issues in nursing homes because we don’t have other facilities that would be more appropriate and provide better care. It’s just a pattern of ignoring people in the state. And we’re committed to making a difference. There are great models out there: Florida implemented changes to their Medicare and Medicaid system and cut their budget by 15 percent. They were able to provide more support for folks who wanted to stay in their homes and have more options.
It’s a theme here in Connecticut: we don’t invest on the front end, so it costs on the back end. We don’t invest in mental health and appropriate service on the front end, so we end up incarcerating more people at twice the cost. We have the highest teenage incarceration in the country, because we don’t do enough on the front end. It’s the same in transportation: not fixing our roads when they need to be paved. We wait for them to need to be replaced, which is more than triple the cost. We don’t invest in early education and so we end up with the widest education gap which costs us more in other services.
Q: There has been talk about a stronger presence for Connecticut in Washington. Do you support that?
A: I think the state has been very shortsighted. I think you can do a lot of creative things to bring money back to Connecticut. Going to Washington is number one. The number of times the Governor has not gone to Washington or sent staff to Washington to learn how to bring back the stimulus dollars is very shortsighted. We don’t have a Governor engaged in talking with other New England governors to address some of the regional issues that face us; high energy costs, for example. Those are not only Connecticut problems, those are also new England problem. There’s a lot you can do when you combine with other states to address some of those issues. If Connecticut cooperates and shares with other Governors, we have more leverage. The same approach goes for local government. I’ve been a strong advocate of regional cooperation since I was elected First Selectman in 1991. Because I believe you need a strong urban center if you want to have strong suburban and rural towns as well.
Q: Any other thoughts on how to solve our budget problems?
A: Looking at the expenditure side, replacing commissioners with people who have experience administering some of the education and transportation areas will save our state millions of dollars. On the revenue side, we waste a lot of money. We give out tax credits that haven’t proven to generate any new jobs or have any investment. We rack up the highest bonding debt in the country – about 11 percent of our budget goes to reducing borrowing at a per capita cost of about $7,000 per person. Yet, we aren’t using those bonding dollars for roads and for education. As I’ve seen in my community as First Selectman, you can have a budget that doesn’t increase taxes and provides regional approaches to government: sharing resources, sharing equipment. I think that with those kind of incentives we can really change the way we do business.