“I am a different kind of Democrat and why — because I’ve not been a politician and I am a pro-business progressive:” Bhargava says
Mudita ‘Dita’ Bhargava, 45, the vice chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party and a former Wall Street banker, has declared her candidacy for governor, becoming the only woman in a field of four men vying in the primary to replace Democrat Dannel P. Malloy. Malloy announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.
“I am a different kind of Democrat and why — because I’ve not been a politician and I am a pro-business progressive. And, if we don’t put a different kind of Democrat in the general election, it’s going to be very difficult for us to win,” she said. “Now, there is too much at stake for our state to turn into a red state. I am very focused on making sure that we keep it a Democratic state.”
According to reports, Bhargava, a Greenwich-based businesswoman, has raised more than $53,000 in the 18 days since she announced formation of an exploratory committee for her candidacy. Bhargava, who describes herself as a “pro-business progressive,” has raised well in excess of funds raised by any other candidate in that period of time, owing to contributions from the state’s Indian-American community. She is pledging to invite new business investment in Connecticut and create a welcoming job market for college graduates.
Bhargava said she is wearing her identity as an Indian-American woman on her sleeve. “About 3 percent of Connecticut’s population is Asian, and I am a very proud Indian-American and am quite close to the South Asian Community in Connecticut,” she said. “Five years ago, I co-founded the India Cultural Center of Greenwich which has a wide reach in Southern Connecticut. I have a good relationship with Dr. Abraham, and he was very supportive during my State Rep run and is also supporting me for my gubernatorial exploratory campaign and he did say that he will host an event for me.”
Bhargava told the media that she saw Connecticut at an economic and fiscal crossroads. “I want to bring to the state ideas that need to be implemented immediately,” especially in the areas of good-paying jobs and a thriving business sector. Bhargava made an unsuccessful bid for state Representative from Connecticut’s 151st District last year, going up against a Republican incumbent in a majority GOP district. She said that despite the loss, the contest gained her name recognition — helping win her election this past January to be vice chair of the state’s Democratic Party.
She said her experience as a Wall Street banker and her business acumen bring much to the table. “I have more than two decades of financial sector experience. It took courage, perseverance and hard work to break down barriers and be successful as an ethnic woman in a male dominated field. I plan to bring that same tenacity to help our state overcome its current challenges.”
She wants to see the tax base and industry base expanded. “So, I want to make sure that the businesses that are here — the small and large businesses —especially the small businesses because they employ more than 90 percent of our population across the country — feel empowered to stay and continue to do business in Connecticut. And, I want to attract new businesses and new industries to the state,” she said.
Born in Ontario, Canada, Bhargava grew up with two sisters, raised by a single mother following their parents’ divorce. She has a degree in electrical engineering from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She moved to the U.S. with her mother and sisters and became a citizen in 2004. Bhargava moved to Connecticut in 2007 from New York, after marrying her husband, Dan Pelletier. The couple has two children — Arya, 8, and Kalyan, 7.
Bhargava’s last private sector job was with RBS, but she also worked as a Wall Street trader and portfolio manager at Bear Stearns, Citadel Investment Group, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, and Dillon Read Capital Management.
She said she has reached out to the Indian-American community’s leaders, including Dr. Thomas Abraham, the co-founder of the National Federation of Indian American Associations and the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin.
She said the modest-sized Indian and South Asian-American communities were nonetheless politically active in Connecticut and she has found them supportive. “A good portion of the funds I’ve raised so far have come from Indian-Americans, and I expect to continue to receive that support,” she said. She said she has been happy to receive donations from citizens and even green card holders and that state financing requires candidates to raise at least $250,000.
“I come from a family with a lot of history and a lot of knowledge about Indian culture and history, and my grandfather — the late Dr. P.L. Bhargarva — was a renowned professor in Sanskrit and History, and he was awarded the President’s Medal in India for his scholarly work. He’d written 14 or 15 books and so in our family, Indian culture as very much an integral part of our upbringing,” she said. “I used to go to India almost every other year and spend the summer with my grandparents in Jaipur. So, I am very close to the culture and I am very proud of that — of my heritage. My kids are half-Indian, but they both understand and speak Hindi.”
Bhargava said the reason she founded the India Cultural Center of Greenwich was to continue that legacy. “A lot of the people who come to our events — about 30 to 40 percent — are non-Indian and we are very happy to share our culture with the broader community,” she said. She said she was also motivated by the bigotry, xenophobia and misogyny often associated with the presidential campaign and administration.
“When I was campaigning last year, I avoided talking about Donald Trump —I wanted to talk about the issues in Connecticut, and I am still focused on that,” she said. “But there came a time when my opponent had said that he supports Donald Trump and after that Access Hollywood tape came out, he still, when asked, two days later, whether he still supports Trump, he said, yes.
Then it became very personal to me, because this was a direct attack on women, and then I made it a point to say, ‘Listen, this is not the first and last time that Donald Trump is going to do this.’ He wants to be the leader of the country and people will follow his lead and he sets an example, and his xenophobic, misogynistic behavior, he’s giving people and open ticket, because there a lot of people out there who do carry insecurities, who are hateful, but there wasn’t this license to express it.”
She said he has “emboldened” racists and bigots. “And, so, when I was campaigning last year, I made the point that he is going to open this up …and, I said, we’ve come so far but I can assure you that this will happen again, and not surprisingly, and literally very soon after, I had made this point, I got this mail sent to my home with my walk-card—my campaign material defaced—and my face defaced and it said, ‘Go back to where you came from.’
“We’ve come way too far in our country and we stand on the shoulders of leaders who have made it a point to educate our folks that diversity makes us stronger, but this will make us weaker as a country and there’s way too much at risk for us not to double-down and stand up to this type of rhetoric and this kind of behavior.”
The publication, in a recent report, said that Bhargava took a step towards a possible run for governor in 2018 when she resigned from her post as vice chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party. Bhargava had held the post since January and resigned Aug. 15 in a letter to party chair Nick Balletto, the report noted. In her resignation letter to Balletto, Bhargava said she was considering a run for statewide office, the Time report added.
“Our state is facing some deep challenges,” Bhargava said last month, the Greenwich Time reported. “I’m trying to determine how I can help in the best possible way. My resignation is the first step, and the next step is talking to people throughout the state, hearing their concerns and seeing how I can best help.”
“We simply can’t afford to keep doing things the same way and expect a different outcome,” Bhargava wrote in her letter to Balletto, the Time reported. “We need new solutions to overcome Connecticut’s fiscal and economic challenges while advancing progressive goals.”
“We have to significantly improve the economic environment in Connecticut for our businesses and families to stay and to thrive,” she added in the Daily Voice report. “There needs to be a fresh, proactive and effective approach to how we deal with the challenges facing our state, starting with the budget.”