Life After Chase: John Hartwell

Capital "L" Liberal Democrat of Connecticut – and Proud of It;
Hosts Weekly "Stream of Conscience" on Cable and YouTube

John Hartwell wasn’t overtly political when he worked in retail strategy at Chase Manhattan from 1987 to 1996. He refrained from contributing to the Chase PAC, but found Chase “a remarkably unpolitical place.”

It was a period when he was the father of young, growing children, and he was active coaching whatever sport they were involved in at the time. “I can’t remember spending a great deal of time discussing politics in the workplace,” he said.

But for the last decade he has returned to the liberal political activism of his youth: In 1968 he worked for peace candidate Eugene McCarthy’s Presidential campaign, first as a student organizer and then as an advance man, continuing after graduation from Earlham College on the staffs of political campaigns based in Indiana, Colorado and Washington, DC. Nearly 40 years later, he was heading up the Fairfield County, CT campaigns for presidential aspirant Howard Dean and serving as treasurer for a campaign by Ned Lamont to unseat Senator Joe Lieberman.

The 66-year-old Westport, CT-resident also made two unsuccessful political bids himself, in 2008 and 2010, trying to be a Democratic state assemblyman from a largely Republican district. "Westport’s the only democratic community in the district. New Canaan went for McCain!" he said. "After my last loss the district was gerrymandered."

With two likeminded advocates, he has turned much of his political energy toward producing and hosting a weekly cable television/YouTube show, Stream of Conscience, defined by its motto “Change is possible, and you can make it happen.” Guests include local activists and, less often, elected officials. “I try to focus the show on people who are working on change in their communities out of the love of doing it rather than getting paid for it,” Hartwell said. The costs are low, but it’s worth noting that they’re covered by Hartwell and his partners.

Most of the guests are from Connecticut. Hartwell cited a local woman involved with the Westport Arts Center who went to Haiti with 50 little cameras that she gave to kids in an orphanage; she brought back the images and mounted an exhibit in Westport. For another show, he interviewed some young women speaking around the state against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), lobbying in the state capitol. The interview is on YouTube, and Hartwell is pleased that the women can use the program as part of their campaign.

The interviews are aired on a Public Access station at 8 pm on Wednesdays (for Cablevision in the Norwalk area, Channel 88). All can be seen on Dfatvnet channel on YouTube.

The show is an extension of work Hartwell does with Democracy for America (DFA). Since 2005, he has been DFA Meetup coordinator for Fairfield Country, moderating a monthly meeting of liberal activists who first came together in the Howard Dean campaign.
For the last two years, he has been co-host and organizer of academies to bring professional campaign training programs to Connecticut.

My father was a Goldwater Conservative, my mother a Kennedy Democrat. There were lots of discussions, very little agreement at home,” he said. “I started reading Time cover to cover at the age of 12.”

Yet there was a time when he put politics on hold. With Nixon’s re-election in 1973, he wanted to leave the country.

“Living overseas was something I wanted to do a long time,” he recalled. “I was living in Washington and met a woman who was half-Turkish, whose family had an apartment in Istanbul…We lived there for six months and loved it, but couldn’t find enough work.”

They split up and he went to Georgetown for another degree. “I realized that teaching English would be a way to live overseas,” he said, and he spent the next decade in Iran and Saudi Arabia, teaching and managing in aviation-related training programs for companies like Bell Helicopter and Lockheed. He met his British-born wife, Janet, in Iran, where she too was a teacher. They left Iran two weeks before the 1977 revolution. Their son and daughter were born during the time they lived in Saudi Arabia.

During his stay in the Middle East, he divorced himself from politics. “I pulled back to just living there,” he said. “I recognized, ‘This is not my country. I’m not going to go out and say things that will get me in trouble.’”

Hartwell returned to the United States with his young family in 1985, entering the Yale School of Management at the age of 38. After earning a Masters in Public and Private Management, he joined the Chase Manhattan Bank, becoming a Vice President, specializing in retail strategy. For nine years he commuted daily into the city from Dobbs Ferry in Westchester County.

In 1996, his wife was offered a significant post at Groton School in Massachusetts. Hartwell left Chase and entered the world of management consulting, working primarily with financial services firms on marketing and strategy. Assignments have taken him to India, Panama, Mexico and El Salvador, as well as parts of the United States.

In 2003, the year in which Hartwell led an anti-Iraq War Teach-In at Boston, Hartwell’s wife became headmistress at Greens Farms Academy in Fairfield County in 2003. Hartwell brought his politics and activism to Fairfield County.

A world view has been inherited by his children. His daughter, for instance, works for GE in Abu Dhabi. “She was a student at Georgetown on 9/11 and saw smoke coming up from the Pentagon. She started Arabic her sophomore year and spent a year and a half in Cairo to work on her Arabic. She has an MA in Arab studies from Georgetown.”

“My wife has never been involved in politics directly. She’s fully engaged in school business.” But unlike his parents, he said, “We see things the same way.”