In December, the Hartford Public Library’s Caroline M. Hewins Medal will be presented to Sandra Bender Fromson and Howard Fromson, longtime supporters of the library and numerous community organizations. It is the third year the award will be presented to a person (or persons) who have had a transformational impact upon and legacy of service to Hartford, according to library officials. Sandra Bender’s service to her community dates back more than a quarter century, where it flourished in the suburbs, was reflected in organizations across the Capitol City, and was part of an historic election year in Connecticut - the first time two women were candidates for Lieutenant Governor on the same November ballot. Decades ago, she had a role in a series of unanticipated and groundbreaking political events that contributed to increased prominence of women at the highest echelons of politics and public service in Connecticut.
Sandra Bender served as Mayor of South Windsor 1975-77, when relatively few women served in that role in Connecticut, rising to prominence in the financial services industry, also very much a male bastion at the time.
Just over a decade later, her business acumen and history of public service put her on a ticket for statewide office. In 1990, New Haven-area Congressman Bruce Morrison won a primary to be the Democrats choice for Governor, former U.S. Senator Lowell Weicker started his own political party to launch is comeback with a candidacy for Governor, and Republicans nominated another Congressman, John Rowland of Waterbury.
Morrison selected Bender as his running mate, Weicker chose Hartford corporation counsel Eunice Groark, and Rowland decided on then-House Republican leader Robert Jaekle.
That year, the Weicker-Groark ticket was elected with 40.4 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating the Rowland- Jaekle ticket, which received 37.5 percent of the vote. Finishing third in the unusual three-way race, the Democratic ticket of Morrison-Bender was the choice of only 20.7 percent of voters making their way to the polls on November 6. Groark, not Bender, became the state’s first female Lieutenant Governor. Only Ella Grasso, elected Governor in 1974 and 1978, had risen higher in statewide office.
Rowland ran again four years later, facing then-Lieutenant Governor Groark when Weicker chose not to seek re-election. His choice as a running mate in his second run at the state's top job was a woman - M. Jodi Rell, a member of the state House of Representatives.
The Rowland-Rell ticket’s victory in 1994 meant Connecticut would have its second consecutive female Lieutenant Governor, rather than its second female Governor.
Rell later earned that distinction as well, succeeding to the office when Rowland resigned amidst a scandal and impeachment hearings, announcing on June 21, 2004 that he would step down on July 1. Rell went on to be elected in her own right in 2006.
Bender-Fromson’s recognition later this year affirms her contributions over many decades to the Hartford Public Library and numerous other organizations.
She is also remembered as the Democratic candidate the first time two women were on the November ballot for Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. That occurred again in 1994 and 2014. At least one woman has been a candidate for Lieutenant Governor or Governor - or both - in every election cycle since 1986, and Connecticut's voters elected Nancy Wyman to serve as Lieutenant Governor in 2010 and 2014, following one term of a man in that role, the only such term since 1990. This year, Susan Bysiewicz is on the ballot for that office. A woman has been elected either Governor or Lieutenant Governor in Connecticut in every election since 1990.
The Caroline M. Hewins Medal recognizes an individual who embraces the City of Hartford and its people, who breaks the mold and provides service of a revolutionary kind, who stretches the boundaries of a social or cultural institution with a humanistic approach to public service, and who shows strong guardianship of and advocacy for the basic right of equal access to information and opportunity.