A very special lady's selfless dedication to children and protecting American's hard-earned money inspires the work that Middletown's young legislator does every day at the state Capitol and in Washington, D.C.
Democratic State Rep. Matthew Lesser, 30, who serves Middletown's 100th Congressional District, was among several Middlesex County residents just named to Connecticut Magazine's 40 Under 40 list of the state's "best and brightest" generation of young leaders.
The Assistant Majority Leader left his pursuit of a history degree at Wesleyan University in 2008 to run for political office and won handily, defeating a three-term incumbent. Turns out, the law, government and making a impact on the lives of everyday citizens is something his paternal grandmother pioneered.
"I'm inspired every day by my grandmother, who embodies what public service is all about," Lesser says. "She went to Yale law school, smashing through the glass ceiling at a time when it was practically unheard of for a woman to practice law, and then turned down partnerships at big law firms so she go work in FDR's administration to take a job regulating Wall Street for the first time."
Lesser has read to Middletown's Macdonough Elementary School students and worked with kids in the the city's Ryan Woods Autism Foundation after-school program, helping shape young people's path to their future much like his grandmother.
"Later, she helped set up the first school lunch program in the United States. For her, public service was never about money, or power or ego, it was about serving the country and doing what's right — even when it's difficult," he says.
Being honored by Connecticut Magazine with a feature in its February issue, Lesser says, was surprising.
"It's flattering and unexpected, especially since there are so many other deserving candidates including right here in Middletown. But it won't change my approach to my job in any way," he says.
Lesser, who last year surprised people by asking to join the Black & Latino caucus, has Argentinian blood on his mother's side.
His multi-ethnicity helps this lawmaker understand, protect and represent broad swathes of his constituency, many of whom are part of what's being termed "Generation Next."
"My generation is the first generation of Americans who are less well off, as a whole, than our parents. Part of it is because of the effects of the 2008 recession, part of it is because older workers have lost money and can't afford to retire and part of it is the cost of higher education.
"But I want to work on each of those areas in order to ensure that the American dream is as real for young people today as it was in the past," Lesser says.
He's also an outspoken survivor of testicular cancer and recently spoke at a roundtable at the Legislative Office Building about the need to encourage more men to seek routine health and preventative care.
Lesser has also been a champion of students' and workers' rights as well as environmental issues.
In November, Lesser was among a group of Washington lawmakers who called retailers "greedy" for choosing to be open to offer ‘Black Friday deals’ on America's national holiday meant for family and Thanksgiving.
The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters awarded the legislator a 100 percent rating for his support and advocacy of environmental initiatives in its 2013 Environmental Scorecard — the fifth time he's been recognized.
In 2012, Lesser helped pass a bill that requires the State Board of Education to report annually on how often physical restraint and seclusion on children are used in schools.
Last year's prestigious statewide list included Middletown treasurer and Downtown Business District Executive Director Quentin Phipps, who's also a student mentor and sits on several agency's board of directors.Related Middletown Patch Stories