The Charger Blog

Alum Brings Passion for Service to Campaign for State Office

Erick Russell ’09, an attorney who earned a degree in criminal justice from the University of New Haven, is dedicated to making a meaningful difference in his community. He’s now running to become Connecticut’s next state treasurer.

August 3, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Erick Russell ’09.
Erick Russell ’09.

When Erick Russell ’09 earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of New Haven, he became the first member of his family to graduate from college – and he didn’t stop there. He then went on to earn his Juris Doctor, become an attorney, and he is now running for Connecticut state treasurer.

Growing up in New Haven, Russell was the child of the owners of a small convenience store and deli. They had many interactions with law enforcement, and he realized not many of the officers looked like him. Aware of the crime in the city and the challenges the community faced, he was determined to make a positive contribution. He believed earning a degree in criminal justice would help him do just that.

“I watched my parents sacrifice for me and for my siblings,” he said. “School was an opportunity to change the landscape for my family. My parents wanted me to have opportunities, and I was committed to doing well and to taking advantage of the opportunities I had. I always look for ways to help others and to be a resource for them. It’s challenging to be the first person to do something, and I am grateful to have had so many who helped me when I was in college.”

As a first-generation college student, Russell, who had always been interested in the law, feared law school was not realistic. But when he took a “Criminal Law” course with Michael Lawlor, J.D., a criminal justice professor at the University, everything clicked.

“I loved this class, and it felt natural for me,” he explains. “I always liked policy, and this brought it all together. Prof. Lawlor fueled my interest in law.”

‘It’s important to be involved in making a difference’

Russell went on to complete an internship with the state’s attorney’s office and then pursued his J.D. at the University of Connecticut School of Law. He interned with the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc., a mental health-based legal rights organization, and completed a program with Pullman & Comley, a Bridgeport-based law firm. He has remained with the firm since earning his J.D. in 2012. Now an attorney and partner, Russell represents municipalities in financing critical infrastructure projects – such as schools and affordable housing – as well as work related to pensions.

“What I love is that I get to give back to communities across the state,” he explains. “These are the projects that make our communities and our state stronger, more stable, and more reliable. It is what families rely on. My work has a direct impact on people in the state, and it is rewarding.”

Interested in politics, Russell further committed himself to service through his political work. A dedicated supporter of the democratic party, Russell has served on the New Haven Democratic Town Committee, as vice chair of the Connecticut Democratic Party for more than three-and-a- half years, and as vice chair of the Eastern Region of the Association of State Democratic Committees.

When Shawn Wooden, state treasurer for Connecticut, announced he would not seek reelection, Russell saw an opportunity. He is now one of three candidates running for Connecticut state treasurer in the democratic primary.

“It’s important to be involved in making a difference,” he said. “I felt like this was an important time to be involved and to use my voice. I also think it’s critical to have leadership that’s reflective of our communities. If there’s an opportunity to do the work I’m passionate about and can make an impact, I won’t shy away.”

Erick Russell ’09 (second from right) and several of Connecticut’s democratic leaders and lawmakers. .
Erick Russell ’09 (second from right) and several of Connecticut’s democratic leaders and lawmakers.
‘I was fortunate to have great mentors’

Russell, who has already been endorsed by current and former state leaders such as former Connecticut State Treasurers Denise Nappier and Joseph Suggs, Jr., sees this opportunity as a way to further his impact on the community, while combining his professional qualifications and his interest in service. If elected, he says he plans to bring his perspective and passion to the role to help families across the state. He already has several ideas – including helping to implement a “baby bond program” in Connecticut – that he has shared on the campaign trail.

Under such a plan, any child who receives HUSKY Health insurance – which includes Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program – would receive a set amount of money in a trust, which would then accrue over the child’s life. At age 18, the individuals would be able to use the funds for initiatives such as education, starting a business, or a making a down payment on a first home. Russell hopes it would help address the generational health gap.

“As the first person to break through the generational health gap in my own family, I believe this is personal,” he said. “I hope it also helps people learn how to manage their finances.”

If he becomes state treasurer, Russell hopes to also impact how companies do business. Specifically, he would help push for diversity and inclusion, as well as for green-energy initiatives.

Dedicated to inspiring the next generation of leaders, Russell has been passionate about mentorship since he was a Charger, serving as a mentor to Black and LGBTQ+ youth, in particular. He says he’s grateful for the important role mentorship has played in his own life, and for those who have guided and inspired him.

“I’ve had great mentors, and I’ve always wanted to contribute in that way,” he said. “My mentors helped me feel comfortable being who I am. I was fortunate to have great mentors, especially as I was navigating a new space as a first-generation student.”