With several Democratic incumbents, most notably U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty and four of the six state constitutional officers, including the governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer, deciding not to seek re-election, the door has opened for an array of newcomers to vie for the top slots on the November ballot, with several Latinos among those eager to venture into new political territories.
In most cases, the Latinos running Connecticut’s highest offices need to convince party decision-makers to allow them to prove at the polls in November that their growing population should be allowed a chance to run in constituencies where their base of ethnic support is a small fraction of what it is their traditional urban bailiwicks.
In regard, New Britain Alderman Emmanuel “Manny” Sanchez, who wants to run for Esty’s Fifth Congressional District seat, said, “I’ve been talking to delegates from around our district for weeks to make sure my decision to run was the right one for our district, and also for me. I wouldn’t be in this fight if I didn’t think I had a real shot at being a fresh voice for our communities.”
The New Britain native asserts that Connecticut’s elected officials should represent the diversity of their state. “I am running to represent every resident of our district,” the Democrat said. “The policies I will fight for — from fully funded, equitable education to infrastructure investments to protecting working families — are good for everyone who lives here.”
In addition to Sanchez, the lineup of Latinos willing to take on ambitious and unprecedented candidacies include Democrats Eva Bermudez Zimmerman for lieutenant governor. On the Republican side, Ruby O’Neill of Southbury also wants a shot in the same Congressional seat and state Sen. Arthur Linares, who already has been successful in a lower Connecticut Valley district where his Hispanic background has been a minimal factor, is running for state treasurer.
“A lot of new people are stepping up to the plate,” said Norma Rodriguez, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, a statewide group that for more than a decade has encouraged Latino participation in the electoral process and has embraced other candidates seen as supporting Latino caucuses.
Her predecessor as caucus chairman, Joseph Rodriguez of New Haven, observed that Latinos always have been quite active politically, but in the wake of the 2016 presidential election “many individuals want to be more active than before.” They recognize, he said, that for their concerns to be effectively addressed at the federal and state levels they “want a seat at the table.”
O’Neill and Linares will be among the first to go to bat. The Republicans will nominate congressional candidates on Friday, May 11, and their statewide slate the following day at the Foxwoods resort. Linares, whose background is Cuban, is one of the leading candidates for state treasurer.
The Democrats hold their congressional conventions Monday, May 14, and their statewide conclave Friday, May 18, and Saturday, May 19, at the Hartford convention center.
The biggest breakthrough for Hispanics would be if Zimmerman, whose background is Puerto Rican, secures the Democratic lieutenant governor nomination on May 19. A labor activist who has been dubbed by one Democratic leader as the “Hispanic Norma Ray,” had explored running for the secretary of state, challenging her party’s incumbent, Denise Merrill. However, she now is looking to team up with the right gubernatorial candidate at the top of the ballot.
“She has to position herself carefully,” said Norma Rodriguez. “A lot of people are in the race (for governor) and it is too early to tell which ones will stay the course.”
Just as intriguing and of historical interest to Latinos is the contest to succeed the now discredited Esty in the Fifth Congressional District where both Republicans and Democrats have potential nominees with Hispanic roots, Sanchez and O’Neill. The District includes four urban centers, Waterbury, Meriden, Danbury and New Britain, as well as suburban towns such as Cheshire and rural communities, primarily in the northwest corner of the state.
“Manny” Sanchez, a New Britain alderman with Puerto Rican and African-American roots, welcomes the diversity of his potential constituents.
In addition, Sanchez, whose uncle is state Rep. Robert Sanchez of New Britain, said he was raised in the Hardware City. “which is one of the largest and most diverse cities in Connecticut.” He also noted that he was educated in both city and suburban schools and has coached a travel basketball team with youths from all over Northern Connecticut. “These experiences gave me a unique perspective on the lives of families from all backgrounds,” he said, “I was able to apply this knowledge to my time as a 4-term Alderman in New Britain, now the Assistant Majority Leader.
At age 30, Sanchez is is one of the youngest candidates, which he sees as a challenge and and an asset. “There is no question that some voters will think I am too young, but they should know I have dedicated my entire adult life to public service,” he said. “I have been an elected official for eight years and have learned how to listen to opposing perspectives while never compromising my core values on a vote.”
The New Britain native added, “My age is also an advantage. I have an opportunity to connect with young voters in a way that no other candidate does. I will be a fresh voice for everyone in our District.”
O’Neill, a retired psychology professor from Southbury, came to the United States as a child. She also has a strong insider connection through her husband state Rep. Arthur O’Neill, and strong Republican conservative connections.
According to Ruben Rodriguez, chairman of the Connecticut Latino National Republican Coalition, “Ruby O’Neill has good conservative support from all the district and nationally. O’Neill has been working really hard on delegates for this Friday’s Republican convention in Foxwood.” He added that her number of supporters are growing rapidly and she has a big shot at the nomination.”
Rodriguez said O’Neill has a lot of political experience even though she hasn’t run for office because she has helped “a lot of our Republican colleagues in research in lot of the issues involving or state and she is the secretary of the Latino National Republican Coalition.”
Rodriguez also said he was happy that Latinos are stepping into the important race for Congress. “We have shown that no matter from what party you come from that Latinos are making a impact in the state and nation.”