Commissioner of Financial Regulation and Brattleboro native Michael Pieciak is running for the Democratic nomination for treasurer, he told Vermont News & Media on Friday morning.
A formal announcement was held Friday afternoon in Montpelier on the Vermont Supreme Court lawn.
Pieciak, who has served as commissioner under Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin and Republican Gov. Phil Scott, announced last month he would be stepping down as commissioner on May 16.
On Friday, Pieciak said he had been considering entering politics at some point down the road. But that timetable moved up when current State Treasurer Beth Pearce let him know that she would be stepping down at the end of this year.
Pearce announced her retirement on Wednesday, saying she’s been diagnosed with cancer and is focusing her attention on that fight.
“I was thinking about this office,” he said. “Beth had mentioned to me a number of years ago she might at some point be stepping down — but I wasn’t exactly sure when that was.”
But more recently, Pearce let Pieciak know those plans were “coming into focus for this election cycle.”
“I thought it aligned well with my experience and background,” he said. “The office itself is a substantive one. You need prerequisite background and expertise.”
Pieciak believes his experience at the Department of Financial Regulation has prepared him for the role.
“We were looking out for the financial welfare of Vermonters. We made sure banks and insurance companies were playing by the rules, and when they weren’t doing that we made sure they paid the price,” he said “We secured a significant number of cases and settlements over the years and restitution back to Vermonters as well.”
“We always tried to be accountable to all constituencies and consumers who reached out to us,” he said. “If I’m successful, I’ll bring that open, collaborative service to the Treasurer’s Office.”
Pieciak has never run for public office.
“I think maybe class president in sixth grade” at St. Michael’s Catholic School, or eighth grade at Brattleboro Area Middle School was the last time his name was on a ballot, he said with a laugh.
But his interest in the role grew as he realized how much it overlapped with the work he already was doing at the Department of Financial Regulation.
“As I warmed up to the idea, I became more in the office,” he said. “The functions of the office are similar ... we’re protecting the financial pocketbooks of Vermonters.”
Knowing the workings of banking, investments, insurance and retirements is critical for the Treasurer’s Office, and “that’s day in and day at out” at the Department of Financial Regulation, Pieciak said.
An attorney now living in Winooski with his partner, Will Holder, Pieciak said the state’s big challenges — affordability, housing, workforce development and climate change — are in many ways tied to its economy and financial health.
“Those are all critical big picture issues the next generation of Vermonters have to wrestle with,” he said. “For all those reasons this office was appealing to me.”
In an announcement, Pearce offered an endorsement of Pieciak’s candidacy.
“I encouraged Mike to run for this position because Vermonters know and trust him. He has the right experience and background that uniquely suit him to the duties of the Treasurer’s Office, and he brings an open, collaborative approach to everything he does,” Pearce said. “Under Mike’s leadership, I know the Treasurer’s Office would be in good hands.”
An attorney and Democrat, Pieciak was appointed commissioner of the Department of Financial Regulation by Shumlin in 2016 and remained in that office under Scott. He became more visible during the pandemic when his department was put in charge of data modeling how the virus behaved and predicting infection and hospitalization trends — and he was called upon to present that data to Vermonters weekly.
Pieciak joined the department in 2014 as deputy commissioner. He played a key role in uncovering fraudulent economic development projects in the Northeast Kingdom funded through the federal EB-5 immigrant investor program.
Pieciak, who was also part of the pension unfunded liability task force that produced a compromise plan to pay down that multibillion dollar obligation, said Friday he supports the bill passed by the Legislature and vetoed by Scott. The Senate unanimously overrode Scott’s veto earlier this week.
“I voted for it at the time, and I’d vote for it again,” he said.
Pieciak said he was “not particularly optimistic” the task force would come away with a solution, given the size of the unfunded liability, the complexity of the problem, and the compromises lawmakers and employees would have to make. “But I was pleasantly surprised by the work we did and the recommendations we reached.”
“At the end of a two-year pandemic, when teachers, staff and state employees were asked to do more than they’ve ever done, those groups agreed to increase their contributions,” he said. “That’s a pretty remarkable thing.”
The continued health of the state’s defined benefit plan is “important to me and to state employees,” he said. “We need to pay close eye on how it’s performing as we implement the changes.”
Pieciak grew up on Wantastiquet Drive in Brattleboro, and attended local schools and Northfield Mount Hermon School in Gill, Mass. A Union College graduate, he received his law degree from the University of Miami School of Law, where he was editor in chief of the law review. He worked at law firms in Burlington and New York City before joining the Department of Financial Regulation.