MERIDEN — Longtime city resident and former state senator Dante Bartolomeo has been appointed to immediately succeed retiring state Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday.
Westby will leave by July 1. Bartolomeo will serve as interim commissioner until the General Assembly confirms her appointment. Lamont described Westby and Bartolomeo as part of the winning team that helped the labor department dig out from under the coronavirus-engendered collapse of the state economy a year ago.
“This past year has tested us immeasurably and Connecticut Department of Labor staff rose to each challenge – for that, they have my deepest respect and gratitude,” Lamont said in a statement Thursday. “The whole team … did whatever they had to do to get the job done and get benefits out to the residents who needed them.”
Bartolomeo represented the 13th District in the state Senate for two terms beginning with her election in 2012 but lost to Republican Len Suzio in 2016. She previously served on the Meriden City Council.
Following U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the state’s former education commissioner, Bartolomeo is among several Meriden leaders to rise to prominence lately in state or federal government positions, said state Rep. Michael Quinn, a Democrat representing the 82nd District in Meriden and Middlefield.
Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, a Meriden resident and Connecticut 's commissioner of Mental Health and Addiction Services, became assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in April. The U.S. Senate confirmed Cardona in February.
James W. Abrams served as a state representative from the 83rd District from 1994 to 2005 before becoming a Superior Court judge in New Britain. Abrams’ wife, Mary Daughtery Abrams, serves now as senator in state District 13. Former Meriden Board of Education Chairman Gerard Adelman is a judge in a Fairfield Superior Court, Quinn said.
Quinn called Bartolomeo’s appointment “great news and another feather in our caps in Meriden.”
“She is a very intelligent and caring person and clearly those traits will serve her well in the Labor Department,” Quinn said. “She certainly got a baptism by fire in the department last year. I don’t think there’s any challenge that she can’t beat.”
Bartolomeo was often the face of the department through the coronavirus crisis. In May 2020, at the start of that deluge, she reported that applications for unemployment since mid-March 2020 had exceeded 500,000.
That's more than three normal years' worth of requests in two months.
By mid-May, the department had processed about 480,000 of the 515,000 applications received since March 13, or about 93%, Bartolomeo said, also achieving its goal of a one-week average processing time.
Bartolomeo previously served as deputy majority leader on the Meriden City Council, where she served for two terms and focused on education advocacy.
Bartolomeo “is the real deal, like Miguel Cardona, someone who worked up through the ranks and got a lot of experience in a lot of different positions,” said City Councilor Michael S. Rohde. “She is a very hard worker. She put in a lot of hours to address constituent requests. I think the world of her. She will do an extremely good job in that position.”.
Bartolomeo dueled for most of the last decade with Suzio over possession of the 13th Senate district, one of the state’s battleground areas. Bartolomeo lost to Suzio by less than 1,000 votes in 2016 after she won by a few hundred votes in 2014. He first served as state senator in 2011, and lost to Democrat and incumbent Abrams in 2018.