Bridgeport and the state’s Hispanic and political leaders awoke Friday morning shocked and saddened at the news that State Rep. Ezequiel Santiago had died early hours reportedly of a heart attack.
Santiago, a former city councilman, was well-known and respected in his hometown and at the state legislature. Tributes for the 45-year-old legislator, poured forth from legislative colleagues from both parties, community activists, Hispanic leaders, Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, Governor Ned Lamont and friends.
He was known for working quietly for the city, but he also could be out front and visible to press a cause that he felt would benefit Bridgeport, whether it was to support a casino proposal or passing out information to commuters at the train station about an early voting referendum proposal four years ago.
Santiago’s closest colleague in the legislature, Rep. Chris Rosario, expressed his deep sense of loss and shock by changing his profile photo on his Facebook page to one showing him and his fellow Bridgeport representative working together in the state legislature. The two Democrats represented adjoining districts, Santiago, Bridgeport’s south end, and Rosario, the east side, and talked frequently, even when the legislature was not in session. Rosario frequently referred to Santiago as his “brother” at public gatherings and told one Connecticut newspaper that the news of “Zeke'” passing took the floor from underneath” him.
Gov. Ned Lamont ordered flags be flown at half-staff in Santiago’s honor and issued the following statement: “We were terribly saddened to learn this morning of the sudden passing of Representative Santiago, a man who truly loved public service and his hometown of Bridgeport.” Lamont said in a statement. “Our prayers are with his family, friends and constituents at this difficult time.”
Santiago and Rosario, who shared Puerto Rican ancestry and Bridgeport upbringings, complimented each other as members of the city’s delegation in Hartford. Rosario tends to be more visible and a point man on issues effecting Bridgeport, while was known for working quietly and effectively, rarely seeking publicity and as a resolute team player, most recently in championing a proposed casino in his city.
“I like to think of myself as quietly effective,” Santiago told Hearst Connecticut Media in November. “One of my tasks is to make sure we work together as a team — that the senators and House (members) are on the same page and know what each other is doing so we can support each other’s efforts,” he said.
Expressions of loss and respect came from both sides of the political spectrum. Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, described Santiago as “a dedicated lawmaker and a tireless advocate for the community… passionate about improving Bridgeport and helping people.”
In the state House, he served as assistant majority whip from 2013 to 2018 and became deputy Majority Whip this appointed chairman of the banking committee in January.
Although he was born in New Jersey, his life and heart was in the south end of Bridgeport. He came from a political family, his father Americo and stepfather Mitch Robles, were heavily involved in local campaigns and the community.
Santiago was proud of his Puerto Rican heritage and was director of Puerto Rican Day. He is the father of three daughters, Chelsie, Illenny, and Lennymar.
Additional details about Santiago’s passing and funeral arrangements were not available early Friday.