By Josh LaBella
Serving in a number of roles in West Haven politics over the years, City Treasurer and Democratic Town Committee Chairman Michael Last said the time of the party boss is over.
Last, who was born and raised in West Haven, went to Notre Dame High School. He studied financial accounting at the University of New Haven – finishing in 1988.
“I went to work for the State of Connecticut, at the State Treasurer’s office for seven years and then I moved down to New Haven – where I work now,” Last said.
For the past 23 years, Last has worked as the chief financial officer of the Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. His work is relevant to the job he was just reelected to in November, City Treasurer.
Last said he became involved in politics “after years” of former Mayor John Picard – a Notre Dame classmate – asking him to run for office. He said, at the time, he was too busy raising his children, Kelly and Mike, as well as coaching football. There was another reason,also.
“My wife [Kathe] absolutely despised politics,” said Last. “I couldn’t get her permission.”
As his kids got older, Last said he felt he was more able to take on the responsibilities of public office. He ran successfully for the 9th District City Council seat in 2011 – becoming chairman of the Finance Committee.
“[I wanted to work on] financial issues,” said Last. “The city was running a lot of deficits. There were a lot of financial issues in the town. Things were kind of stagnant so I thought I could help, certainly on the budget aspect.”
According to Last, the city had a large surplus, almost $2.8 million, in 2013. He said the cumulative deficit was brought from $10.5 million to under $8 million.
“We truly started to turns things around,” said Last. “But then, the next term I was on the Public Lands Committee, because John Picard had lost.”
As he was no longer on the Finance Committee in his second term, Last said he was no longer able to work on budgetary issues. He said he and Mayor Edward O’Brien’s philosophies were “so far apart” it was hard to do the work he wanted to during that term.
Last was chairman of the Democratic Town Committee from 2012 to 2015. He ran and won the position back in 2018. He said the DTC had gotten a lot of work done during the past year and a half, including updated the bylaws of the group.
Last called the current members of the DTC “diverse” adding it was more reflective of the people of West Haven than it had been in previous years. He said they were much more involved in the community and “have the pulse” on their respective districts and neighborhoods.
Of note, the chairman said the “time of the party boss was over.” Last said people in that position do not react well to “that kind of pressure.” He said the way the current DTC is running things is more modern.
“We want people on the town committee who want to work and want to get Democrats elected,” said Last. “(We want) People who aren’t looking for jobs or favors or appointments. They want to do what’s best for the community. I think the culture of the town committee and, certainly, the politics of West Haven is slowly but surely changing for the better.”
One of Last’s stated goals was to work on unifying the Democratic Party in the city. This comes as a challenge. West Haven’s Democrats have always had their fair share of factionalism – look no further than the three-way primary in the past mayoral election. Last described the issue of unification as “ongoing.”
“We really have made some strides,” said the chair. “We’re probably not as successful as I would have liked at this point. But we have continued to reach out. We have three factions in town and we have continued to reach out to the other folks because if people want to get involved in government, we certainly want them to. We are going to continue to do that too.”
Last said unification will be a hard feat given the more than 30-year history of party infighting. The chairman said he frequently reaches out to the other factions to discuss coming together. He said “the wounds go deep” and trying to heal them is going to take time.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” said Last. “But I am committed to unifying for the betterment of the community.”
Last said he enjoys working in and helping the community, adding that his family has long roots in West Haven. Between his work in politics and other activities like coaching in the Ray Tellier Midget Football League, which he has done for near three decades, Last said he wants to leave behind a better community.
“We have so much to offer,” said Last. “We are generous and as dedicated as you’ll find anywhere. I think it’s a great community and I love to be a part of it.”