By campaigning in Hartford for Mayor Pedro Segarra, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez of New York City brought the endorsement of a prominent Puerto Rican Democrat for his re-election campaign. Her visit also is seen as indicating that the national Hispanic network is watching what is going on in Hartford especially in the context that the outcome could impact in the 2016 presidential election where the Puerto Rican vote could be pivotal, particularly in Florida.
Jose Alejandro LaLuz, an independent political consultant working exclusively for Democratic candidates across the country, observed, “Congresswoman Velazquez’ direct involvement signals that Puerto Rican Democratic Party officials and activists across the country are paying close attention to the outcome of the Hartford mayoral race.” LaLuz stated, “It is a fact that Mayor Segarra, being the only Puerto Rican Mayor in the Continental U.S., will probably be an important asset in mobilizing the Puerto Rican vote in Central Florida, which could decide the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.”
A different, more local perspective of the visit of the 12-term member of the U.S. House is provided by those backing Luke Bronin, Segarra’s party-endorsed rival in the Sept. 16 local primary. “With all due respect to Congresswoman Velazquez, the mayor’s campaign is becoming increasingly erratic,” said Andrew Doba, Bronin’s communications director. “One minute, he’s decrying outsiders, the next minute he’s bringing them in to help with his struggling campaign,” Doba said. Bronin also boasts support from a few local prominent Hispanics in his bid to represent Democrats in the November election. They include Rep. Angel Arce of Hartford, and civil rights activist Luis Caban.
In 2012, Mayor Segarra campaigned for the reelection of President Obama in Orange County, Florida where 73 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for Obama, helping provide that thin margin the president needed to win this state. In 2016, the Puerto Rican electorate, swelled by recent migrations from their economically stressed home island, is seen as an even bigger prize in Florida.
Segarra was accused in a recent column on WNPR radio of casting the race as “us” versus “them.” In this case, the mayor has identified the “us” as every resident of Hartford, not just Latinos. “Them,” he is reported as identifying, are those whose length of residency and their connection to the city is slim. Bronin grew up in the Greenwich area and moved to the city in the last decade.
Velazquez was joined at the pro-Segarra gathering Saturday by several prominent Puerto Rican political leaders from throughout the state, including several state legislators and Joseph Rodriguez, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Coalition
The congresswoman, who is the first Puerto Rican woman to ever serve in the House of Representatives, did not identify the mayor as the Latino candidate, instead telling his supporters, “We must fight to keep Pedro Segarra in office. He represents hope. He represents all of Hartford.”
The congresswoman’s endorsement of the mayor was based on a variety of factors other than they are both from Puerto Rico, said state Rep. Edwin Vargas of Hartford, who is working for Segarra’s re-election. They both share similar concerns about children’s issues and gun control, Vargas noted.
The visit of Velazquez, who has represents the lower East Side of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and the Queens, served as an upbeat bookend to what had been a tough week for Segarra, with the party endorsing Bronin and the mayor having to deal with an uptick in city homicides over last year. On Monday, the city’s Democratic Town Committee awarded its endorsement to Bronin, with Segarra surprising many by walking out of the meeting before the vote, which was expected to go against him, saying he did not want the support of the entrenched Democratic political establishment which, he said, did not represent the party’s rank and file.
A question posed by Segarra supporters and opponents as the nominating process moved forward, is why the party organization, whose leader customarily would be a sitting mayor of that same party, has turned against the incumbent in favor of a relative newcomer. Vargas said that Segarra came to the realization too late that the town committee likes to “shuffle the deck” to see if it will “get a better hand” or to see if the “new guy” will throw them a “few more crumbs.”
The Bronin camp has its own take on why the Democratic organization endorsed Bronin, “The one thing that is clear is that Democrats in Hartford are demanding change,” Doba said. “They want someone who has the ability to lead, so we can get crime under control, improve our schools and create jobs,” he said Sunday.
What holds the key on Sept. 16 is how many Democrats come out to vote. Vargas said with party insiders and their friends more likely to vote, a 12 percent turnout would doom Segarra. But if the turnout moves up to near 20 percent, the mayor is likely to have the upper hand.” If Segarra loses, it could mean disempowerment for the city’s Latino community for a decade, a period when those in control, the political insiders who pushed him out, will decide how millions of dollars expected to come into the city will be spent, Vargas suggested.
Another message that came out of the Velasquez visit is that with a rising tide of Hispanic influence nationally, the New York City Democrat is a good person to have in the city’s corner over the long run. She is the ranking member of the House Committee on Small Business, which, if the Democrats gain control of Congress, could be important to Hartford. She also is connected to the dozens of Hispanic members of Congress as well as to several key members of the Connecticut delegation.
Moreover, LaLuz said, “It is well known among Puerto Rican political activists that Congresswoman Velazquez played a pivotal role in persuading the White House to appoint Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court when she chaired the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.
Meanwhile, Segarra is collecting the necessary signatures to get on the primary ballot, and this should be finished well before the mid-August deadline, Vargas said.
Bronin, the former general legal counsel to Governor Dannel Malloy, will have the organization line on the primary ballot. With the Democrats years-long domination of Hartford politics, their party primary has greater influence on who is elected mayor than the general election in November.