Hector Correa grew up in South Norwalk, where the U.S. born son of Colombian immigrants remembers riding his bicycle through a largely underprivileged neighborhood as a youngster.
Correa now owns Saltwater, a restaurant and bar in the heart of a now thriving SoNo, lives in a nearby upscale apartment complex, leads a charity which provides bicycles to less fortunate youngsters and wants to represent the area, part of District B on the City Council.
Correa has earned a spot on both the Republican and Working Family Party tickets in Tuesday’s local election and is up against two Democratic incumbents who were unopposed two years ago. Latinos, including many South Americans, comprise 24 percent of Norwalk’s population.
In suburban Monroe, where Latinos constitute just five percent of the population, James Martinez, who was born in the Bronx and is the son of Puerto Rican migrants, is running for office for the first time as a Democrat in a highly Republican town. Martinez, an elementary school principal in Norwalk, and another Latino, Carlos Reinoso, Jr., both want to retain the Board of Education seats to which they were appointed, Martinez three years ago and Reinoso two years ago.
Correa and Martinez are among the dozens of Latinos who will have an opportunity at Tuesday’s so-called off-year local election to solidify and possibly expand their role as decision-makers in local government and education.
In the state’s major cities, Latinos already are very much in the room in terms of representation on municipal governing bodies, and in some cases are running without opposition in heavily Democratic Latino districts. However, Latino Republicans are hoping to make gains in several towns, including Norwalk, East Hartford, New Britain and Stratford.
Democrats also will have an opportunity for a historic breakthrough in Manchester, where Latinos have increased to at least 14 percent of the population. Here, longtime statewide Democratic stalwart Yolando Castillo aims to become the first Latino elected to the city’s Board of Directors.
There are also races where some rising political stars will seek to keep their momentum going in situations where mayoral battles are attention grabbers. These candidates include 23-year-old college student Eloisa Melendez in Norwalk and Miguel Castro, 48, a home construction company owner, in Meriden. Both highly visible Democrats are seeking their third city council terms from their districts.
While Melendez is pleased with the reception that she and running mate Chris Yerinides have received going door-to-door, she said this is a “weird year” for Norwalk politics because of a four-way mayoral race.
Both of these Democrats, plus their party’s mayoral candidate, incumbent Henry Riling, have also been endorsed by the Working Families Party, which is backing 58 candidates statewide, including Latinos in Willimantic and New Britain.
Several Latino candidates are testing the waters in suburban towns with small ethnic populations. This group includes Hartford attorney Nilda Negron, a Democrat, who is seeking a school board seat in Colchester, where Latinos constitute about four percent of the population and her party has done well in local elections.
In Monroe, three Democrats and four Republicans are running for five school board seats, with voter recognition and word of mouth among the key elements, Martinez said. He said his motivation is not political, but to use his 29 years experience as an educator to meet the district’s looming resource reallocation challenge posed by a looming major cut in state aid. “The fact that I am an educator is helpful,” he said.
Reinoso brings his extensive background in substance abuse counseling to the table. He is now program director at the Cardinal Shehan Center, a community facility in Bridgeport. Born in the U.S., he describes himself as “full Latino and half Hispanic;” his mother is Portuguese and his father is Peruvian.
Other notable races with Latino candidates include:
Avon: David Pena, a Texas native whose paternal grandparents came from Mexico, is running for re-election to the Town Council. A Democrat in a largely Republican town, Pena has held this seat for ten years.
Bridgeport: Several Latino Democrats are running for council seats in districts where their party has large majorities.
Two of the incumbents, Maria Zambrano-Viggiano in the 136th and Aidee Nieves in the 137th are “bright and going places,” reports state Rep. Christopher Rosario, a Bridgeport Democrat who is chairman of the state legislature’s Black and Hispanic Caucus.
Danbury: Emanuela Palmares, a Republican who runs a multi-language news outlet, is making her second run for a school board seat. Two years ago, with six seats at stake the Brazilian-American finished fifth but lost out due to the minority representation rule, which allocated three seats to each party. This time, she is one of five candidates endorsed by the Republican and Independent parties running against three Democrats for five seats. However, no more than three from one party will be elected.
Elmer Palma, a Republican and local restaurant owner, is seeking re-election to the Council in Ward 2.
Hartford: The only election is for three Board of Education seats. Juan Manuel Hernandez is one of three Democrats opposed by single candidates from the Working Families and Republican Parties.
East Hartford: Democrat Ram Aberasturia, a Cuban-American, is seeking to keep his seat on the Town Council. Caroline Torres, who holds an MBA and is fluent in Spanish, is one of three Republicans running for six council seats.
Ledyard: Naomi Rodriquez, a Mexican-American by birth, is seeking a Town Council seat on the Democratic line. She said there was a Republican Latino on the Town Council 10 years ago, but never a Latina. There are ten candidates for nine seats. Rodriguez, 47 and married, has been involved on various town boards, including the Planning Commission, and is making her fifth attempt for a council seat, she said.
Meriden: Castro is seeking re-election in Area 1 District 2. Another Democrat, Marisol Estrada is running for the Board of Education.
New Britain: Republican hopes have been buoyed by having Mayor Erin Stewart, who won by huge margin, at the top of ticket, but generally Democrats have a huge edge in registration.
Democrats Emmanuel Sanchez, an incumbent who won in Ward 3 two years ago, Yvonne Muniz and Richard Reyes are among the candidates for three at-large alderman seats. All three candidates also are endorsed by the Working Families Party.
Republican candidates for the Board of Alders include Wilfredo Pabon, Ward 1 and Kristian Rosado, Ward 2. Longtime local Latino leader Carmelo Rodriguez is representing the Republicans in Ward 5 and Joel Moret in Ward 3.
Democrat Iris Sanchez is running in Ward 3 and Francisco Santiago in Ward 5.
School board candidates include Democrats Violet Sims and Daisy Sanchez along with Republican Nancy Rodriguez.
New Haven: There are several Latino Democrats running, mostly unopposed, for the 30-member Board of Alders.
New London: Democrats Efrain Dominquez, an incumbent, and Alma Nartatez are running for Council. Board of Education candidates include Manny Rivera, a Democrat, and Green Party representatives Mirna Martinez and Erick Carrión.
South Windsor: Democrat Michael Gonzalez is seeking re-election to the Board of Education.
Stamford: Forty Board of Representative seats are at stake with Democratic candidates including Virgil De La Cruz (District 2), Gloria Depina (District 5), Anabel Figueroa (District 8), Matt Quinones (District 16). Republican Benjamin Aponte is running in District 12.
Stratford: Victor Ayala, Jr., a Republican is involved in a three-way race for a District 3 Council seat. The Democratic incumbent Wali Kadeem got 87 percent of the vote in 2015.
Waterbury: Incumbent Democrats Victor Lopez Jr. (District 2) and Sandra Martinez-McCarthy (District 5) are running for the Board of Alderman and Juanita Hernandez, another incumbent, is up for the school board. Zaida Martinez is a Republican school board candidate.
Windham: Rose Reyes, a Town Council candidate in Windham’s Willimantic Voting District is running on the Working Families ticket. James Flores, a longtime Hispanic community activist, decided not to seek re-election to the council.
Reyes’ credentials, according to Carlos Moreno, interim state director of the CT Working Families, include participation in town government over the last 20 years and playing a major role in getting Windham’s sanctuary city resolution passed.