Middletown Democrats nominate Middlesex Health clinician to run for late CT lawmaker's seat

Photo of Cassandra Day
Kai Belton 

Kai Belton 

Middletown Democrats / Contributed photo

MIDDLETOWN — Democrat Kai Belton, a youth crisis social worker at Middlesex Health, will run against Republican former city Common Council member Deborah Kleckowski for the 100th District House seat during a special election set for next month.

The seat became vacant following the death of Middletown legislator Quentin "Q" Williams, who was killed Jan. 5 during a wrong-way crash on Route 9 in Cromwell. He had just been sworn into a third term at the inaugural ball the evening before.

Belton was nominated unanimously by town committee members at a special meeting Sunday, according to Chairman Mike Fallon.

Belton and Kleckowski will face off during a special statewide election Feb. 28 for a chance to represent the city in the General Assembly. 

If she were to win, Belton would be the first Black woman to serve the city, just as Williams was the first Black man to take on the role.

Black women are “extremely underrepresented” in American politics, Belton said, and their perspectives are “unique and vital when it comes to making decisions that impact us: Our voices and experiences need to be heard on every level.”

If she were the first, she added, “that means there will be a next and that’s important to me," adding that Williams "opened the door" for her candidacy. "Running this race will hopefully open the door for someone else. Our government should be more diverse reflecting their constituents. I look forward to more people of color running for office.” 

Belton has worked in various capacities throughout Middlesex County, including as program director at CT Strong, executive director of New Horizons Domestic Violence Services in Middletown, and director of Safe Connect, operated by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. 

She is a 2021 Emerge Connecticut graduate and third vice president, as well as education chairwoman of the Middlesex County NAACP. 

The program prepared her to run for office "when the time was right for me," she explained. "Q and I share similar beliefs about creating healthier and just communities, which is why it's important to me to carry on Q's legacy.”

Belton knew one day she would likely run for state office, she explained, especially considering she has served in different capacities, helping to improve the lives of others. "When you’ve spent years helping families find affordable housing, advocating for victims of domestic violence, and finding quality mental health resources for people who really need them, you know that policies impact outcomes for people."

Williams' name comes up again and again when people discuss his vast influence. If elected, Belton intends to carry forward some of the causes most important to him, which often aligned with hers, she noted.

“Q would want to continue fighting for progress for our community,” Fallon said. “Kai Belton has dedicated her entire professional life to helping those most in need, and I know she will continue to fight for the most vulnerable in the state legislature."

As a social worker, Belton said there are many issues of concern to her, including youth mental health. “Our children are struggling more than ever. It was difficult for families and schools to address children's mental health needs even before the pandemic," adding that she hopes the situation will improve if new legislation goes into effect.

In her work as a mobile crisis clinician, she conducts assessments and short-term intervention, safety planning, and crisis stabilization for children and families throughout the county. “The goal is to respond and intervene, keeping children out of crowded emergency departments and connecting them to longer-term treatment,” Belton said.
 
Domestic violence is another issue that’s close to her heart. “Women's voices need to be heard on the state level because one in four women have experienced violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime," she noted.

"Even if women lawmakers have not been personally impacted, they are the voice of a family member or a friend. It's up to us to be that voice creating change to make victims safer,” Belton added.

She’d also advocate for protecting women's reproductive rights, strengthen gun laws and advocate for affordable housing, she said.

Williams suggested she take part in local government and join the local DTC, Belton explained. “He knew that I wanted to run for office one day and encouraged me to do that. He was like that: He inspired so many people to take the leap and give it their all. I didn't think it would happen this way, but that is exactly what I plan to do.”

“Q had pushed her to take the next step and run for office; Nobody can exactly fill his shoes, but I know how much confidence he had in Kai,” state Sen. Matt Lesser said in a press release.

For his part, Democrat Mayor Ben Florsheim is eager to work with Belton if she succeeds in her bid. “Like Q, she will bring a uniquely diverse set of perspectives to Hartford — in Kai’s case, that of a social worker, a youth mental health professional, an advocate for safe communities, and a working mom of color — that will serve and represent Middletown so well,” he said.

Belton will bring a unique perspective to the state House and make an "excellent” lawmaker, said state Rep. Brandon Chafee, D-Middletown, who serves the 33rd District. “She has worked hard to make health care and social services more readily available and more meaningful for all,” he said in the statement.

The Connecticut Working Families Party also endorsed Belton Tuesday. “Kai understands [Williams'] commitment to love, justice and solidarity, and how important it is to preserve and honor his legacy as we move forward.”

Individuals can look up their registration status as well as find local polling locations by visiting bit.ly/2n85OJF.