Quentin "Q" Phipps, 34
Quentin "Q" Phipps for Connecticut House of Representatives
As City Treasurer and a nonprofit administrator, Quentin Phipps, 34, has been a progressive voice in his local community, and now is seeking to bring that perspective to the Connecticut House of Representatives. Phipps hopes to show how diversity can be come our greatest asset in a successful government.
What was the best advice you received before you ran for office?
The President of my undergrad Bryant University, Ron Brinkley, was a former Congressman from Rhode Island. Right before I graduated, I asked him, “How do I make connections and build relationships after graduation?” because I wanted to get into politics. And he said, “Go back home and start locally.”
At first, I was a little frustrated because he had tons of relationships that could help me make that process a lot easier. But I think it was the best advice because I went home, got involved, did campaign work and joined nonprofit board committees. I think that's really been the foundation for a lot of my base support, and it was the best advice I got about how to be able to run for office one day.
Where's your favorite place to hang out in your city?
As the former director of the downtown business district, I would have to say downtown.
Several years ago, our Main Street was voted one of the most romantic Main Streets in all of the country. We have great food from pizza to great Asian restaurants, to the best Italian in the area. A little bit of everything.
What does the role of city treasurer entail?
City Treasurer is the official signator on all checks and all bonding for the city of Middletown. So I work closely with the finance director to make sure that all bonding documents are prepared properly and I work with our finance director and city council on our bond rating. Right now, we have the highest possible rating that any municipality can have. I also help with looking at our investment strategy for both our retirement, paychecks, and all of our other deposit accounts.
You’ve also sought to expand and redefine your role. How did you seek to reshape the position?
I really wanted to make sure that the role acted as a watchdog for the people. The role directly reports to the people and no one else, so I want to make sure that we were holding the city accountable and creating the best financial future. So I have taken an active role in our financial savings as a partner but I recognize that my duties first and foremost is to the people.
When did you realize you wanted to run for State Rep?
Our current state representative is a good friend of mine, Matt Lesser, is running for State Senate. So the moment it became clear that he was looking to explore different offices, I wanted to ensure this area would continue to be represented by someone that understood the district. I wanted to make sure the seat remained progressive and that we have a progressive champion and progressive voices at the capitol. And I also want to make sure that whoever was going to serve understood this area’s best asset, which is its diversity. Diversity in race, diversity in ethnicity, diversity in perspective, diversity in history.
And I think I represent that, understand that and appreciate that. I think a lot of folks will look at the differing opinions and perspectives as something that would be hard to manage. I recognize that are our greatest asset strength and that is going to make our district continue to be successful.
How do you define progressive?
I don’t think of “progressive” as a litmus test. I see it as a philosophy of an aspirational mindset. Progressivism should aim beyond equality, but really looking at equity. Progressivism needs to recognize our history and how we got here. We're really looking to try to make sure that all of our community members have their needs not just met, but have the ability to succeed and prosper. And I think that’s looking at racial justice, social justice, environmental justice, and how those things interact and combine so that all of us can progress.
What experience has best prepared you to be a State Representative?
Mentoring at a local community school at the north end of town. It is has a long history of being an Italian-American community and now is where many people of color live, so both our African American community and our Latinx community.
My mentee really helped change my life because he is one of the most resilient people I've ever seen. As a young student in third and fourth grade, I could see what he was dealing with in his home life. In the classroom, he saw how teachers were treating him differently.
He was a student that required accommodation in class work, which gave me insight on special education. He really illustrated all the sort of inequities that are in our system. And the way I was able to support him was humbling.
That's really helped me understand who I wanted to be. I didn't really want to be a banker, I didn't want to be in development. I realized education was my calling, and now I have moved into education now as the director of community relations manager.
It was world changing in many ways and perspective changing. I think that really helped me become a better parent advocate. And I've been working with the city council members, the Board of Education, and legislators at the capital for our parents to build those relationships.
What first got you interested in government and politics?
So my family has always been involved in the church. Grandma was a deacon, all my family members were deacons. My godbrothers and my mother was a missionary. Everybody is involved in the church.
The church we attend is Cross Street AME Zion Church and it has a history of political engagement, and by that I mean using public administration or working with public administration in order to solve community needs whether it's feeding people, making sure people have adequate housing or being healthy.
Our church was created during the Civil Rights Movement. So I always felt compelled and drawn toward community work through the church. I knew I didn’t want to work in the church, but I've always known I’ve wanted to serve and I think I've been lucky and blessed to use and navigate political systems in order to help people.
Who have been your biggest mentors?
My mom is unquestionably one of my biggest inspiration. My mom was a state worker and was involved with the local SEIU. She worked with those who have mental health issues like schizophrenia or depression and really gave them an extra layer of support. My mom served her clients for 30 plus years tirelessly and always with a smile, giving everything she could. She was a leader with a sense of duty to give to others who just need a little bit of extra help or support to thrive.
Seeing her do that, especially in my college career, because she had to work 16 hours a day for at least six days a week in order to pay for my college, was indicative of how much help our community needed and how the affordability of college are related. It really inspired me to make sure that we changed things so that no parents have to work that hard to get their child a better chance at education. That's fundamentally unfair.
I would include my mentor at INROADS. When I was an undergrad, it was one of the top of internships in the country. It was specifically for students of color. They placed you in paid internships in your field at Fortune 500 companies. Having that early start at a bank propelled my career. It really helped me understand the professional sphere from to how to dress, how to write a resume, timeliness and all those things are all truly important in your work. Today many companies have created their own diverse recruitment programs because they recognize that having diverse perspectives in a diverse workforce is needed in order to be more profitable, and INROADS illustrated that. I’m a proud INROADS alum.
I have to mention Middletown Public School. I have too many teachers to name. But specifically, I would have to mention my 8th student council advisor, my band director, and my track coach. My track coach was one of the few male educators of color I had in my life, and those three taught me about hard work and recognizing what you’re good at, and knowing how practice can make you better by giving your all.
So I definitely get a lot of credit to the middle school. And I tell folks all the time, if it wasn't for the education I got there, there's no way I would be where I am. They truly invested in me and it makes me want to go back to my community and make sure that all students have the education or the opportunity I had, it shouldn't be by luck. It really should be by design.
What advice would you give to another young person considering running for office?
There’s just so many things. The first thing if I would share is make sure that you continue to be an active member of the community and stay part of the community. That could look multiple ways, that can look through volunteerism, that could look through shopping and spending money in your district, or something as simple as going to the grocery store. You need to be an active part of your community so that you understand when obstacles or issues. Make sure you're not looking at it as “I’m solving for you”, but “we're solving this together” because this affects me too a fellow community members. It’s never parochial decision making because it's about collaboration.
Two, I would say do a heck of a lot more listening than talking. The best leaders are listeners.
The last thing I would think I would have fun with it. It is hard work. You want to take on the pain of your community because you can't separate yourself from that work. So if the work is tough, it's painful, it's hard, it's challenging and tiresome.
But if you're having fun while doing it, even when it is tough you can love your way through the work versus looking at it as a challenge. It becomes who you are instead of what you do.
The views expressed in this interview are those of the candidate, and do not reflect the beliefs and views of Ballot Breakers or its staff.