Election 2014: Connecticut's Latino Candidates


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Bill Sarno
When the last ballots are counted Nov. 4, Democrats hope to find all the legislative seats currently held by Hispanics still on their side of the aisle, and to maybe pick up one in eastern Connecticut.  Republican candidates with Latino backgrounds are looking for a different outcome. They are battling to keep the one Senate seat they hold and to establish new beach heads in several House districts. The GOP could use some victories by Hispanics to validate the party’s national effort to elect more diverse candidates at the state level.
Meanwhile, the Latino Democrats, even those unopposed, are hustling to get out their voters. They recognize that if  Republican Tom Foley ousts Dannel Malloy as governor, their growing influence at the Capitol may be diminished, even with Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate.  Currently, ten House seats and one Senate seat are held by Democrats with Puerto Rican backgrounds.  The arrest of state Rep. Christina Ayala (D-128) of Bridgeport does not look like a game changer because Christopher Rosario is well-known in the city and has been highly visible on the campaign trail,  Democrats also are given credit by the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (LPRAC) for having an eleventh Hispanic in the House  because Rep. Matt Lesser (D-100) of Middletown is of Argentine descent on his mother’s side. If Lesser does not win, this seat will remain in the Hispanic column since his Republican opponent is Angel R. Fernandez.


There are several state House contests in which Hispanics figure prominently. Among the more interesting are races in Waterbury, Meriden/ Berlin, Middletown and New Britain where Republicans are trying to unseat incumbents.  In addition, a Democrat with a Puerto Rican background is challenging a Republican incumbent in eastern Connecticut.
In New Britain, Robert “Bobby” Sanchez (D-25) is running against three candidates. The most prominent is Republican Edward Colon, a n Army veteran and a recent law school graduate.  Alfred P. Mayo, a petitioning candidate and Green Party candidate Paul Gobell are also running.
The district encompasses the central and eastern part of the city and is 42 percent Hispanic. (Ethnic breakdowns are from ballotpedia.org)
Sanchez has represented the 25th District since 2011 when he won a special election to fill a vacancy. He was was re-elected by 3,300 votes the next year. Sanchez is considered to have great name recognition and popularity because of his work with the Human Resources Agency and within the city’s Latino community.
Education has been a key area of contention between Sanchez and Colon. The Democrat, who previously served on the New Britain school board, emphasizes securing more state funds for the city’s schools. The Republican opposes the government-mandated “common core” curriculum and favors what he calls a “holistic approach” to education.
In Waterbury, Ruben Rodriquez, 37, is making a lot of noise in his bid to unseat 60-year-old Larry Butler (D-72), who first took office in 2007 after serving four terms as a Waterbury alderman.
Rodriguez, who works as a field supervisor for Precision Pipeline Solutions, is well known in Waterbury politics from the 2011 campaign in which he withdrew from the alderman race when he was the only Latino on the Democratic slate. He also is a former city planning commissioner.
Aware that Latinos are in the majority in his district, Rodriquez is making a big push for their vote by enlisting Luis Fontuña, the former governor of Puerto Rico, to campaign for him on Nov. 1.
Parts of Berlin and Meriden comprise District 83, where Republican Pablo Soto is again trying to unseat Catherine Abercrombie, a Democrat who first came to office in 2005. The district is 10 percent Hispanic.
Two years ago, Abercrombie, a small business owner and autism spectrum activist, won with 64 percent of the vote, but Soto got 43 percent of the vote in Berlin.
Soto, a personal finance consultant and a program director for a Christian youth group, is a member of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission and has worked in both the public and private sectors. An Army veteran, he also is a member of the Republican State Central Committee. Both candidates are married, have children and live in Meriden.
In Middletown, Lesser was first elected to the House from the 100th District in 2008 when he was a student at Wesleyan University. An executive with a nonprofit agency, he drew more than 3,600 votes in 2012 but won by less than 400 votes in 2010 and 2008.
Fernandez, 45, an 18-year Navy veteran and was born in Hartford, works as a consultant making threat assessments for corporate and public buildings. In 2013, he was the first Hispanic to run for Middletown’s Common Council, but was one of the lowest vote-getters.
There are several House races in which Hispanic Democrats have built strong followings and in some cases are uncontested by Republicans.
In Hartford, three of the Latino incumbents are running with little or no opposition in districts with Hispanic majorities.
Minnie Gonzalez (D-3) has been in the House since 1997 representing western Hartford and the Park Street area. In 2012, she ran unopposed. This time, the Republican Sweets Wilson and nonpartisan candidate Victor M. Luna Jr. on the ballot.
Angel Arce (D-4) is seeking his second term in the southeast Hartford district that straddles Wethersfield Avenue. Two years ago, he won 91.4 percent of the vote. This time he is running unopposed.
Edwin Vargas (D-6) is also seeking a second term in a district mostly comprised of Hartford south of New Britain Avenue. He is again opposed by Republican Michael Lupo who only received 11 percent of the vote in 2012..
In Waterbury, Victor Cuevas (D-75) is seeking a second term in a district that is 45 percent Hispanic and includes the center and south part of the city. A Republican candidate withdrew leaving only one challenger, independent John F. Alseph, who Cuevas soundly beat in 2012.
In Meriden, Hilda E. Santiago (D-84) is seeking re-election in a district that includes the downtown and southern sections of the city. Her only opponent is Green Party candidate Matthew Went. The District is 41 percent Hispanic.
In New Haven, Juan Candelaria (D-95) is unopposed for the seat he has held since 2003. The district covers the southern part of the city and is 55 percent Hispanic.
In Bridgeport, two Hispanic Democrats are seeking election from east side districts.
In District 128, which is 52 percent Latino, Christopher Rosario is running against Republican Ethan Book and Angel Reyes of the Peace and Progress Party.
Rosario, 35, is the city’s anti-blight director and was named a Champion of Change in 2013 by CTLatinoNews.com.  In the Democratic primary, he easily beat incumbent Christina M. Ayala, who won the district by 3,300 votes in 2012. Book, who ran for U.S. Senate unsuccessfully in 2010, considers himself a political maverick.
Also in Bridgeport, Ezequiel Santiago (D-130) goes for his fourth term against Republican David Goodman and Joel Gonzalez of the Peace and Progress Party.
In 2012, Santiago received 90.5 percent of the vote. He was unopposed in 2010 and two years earlier trounced Gonzalez, then a Republican, by 4371 to 461.
Parts of Manchester and East Hartford make up District 9 where Democrat Jason Rojas has held office since 2009. Rojas drew 74.4 percent of the votes in 2012 and his only opponent this time is Libertarian Richard Lion. The district population is less than 6 percent Hispanic.
In Vernon, Coventry, Columbia and part of Tolland, Democrat Anthony Ortiz is challenging two-term incumbent Tim Ackert  (R-8). The 8th District is  is 2.1 percent Hispanic.
Ortiz, whose father came from Barceloneta, Puerto Rico, works in agriculture, both on his Columbia dairy  farm and internationally for the U.S. government. His grandfather, Joseph Szegda, was Columbia’s first selectman, 1968-75. Ortiz holds degrees in agriculture, Pacific international affairs and political science.
Ackert, a Coventry resident,  is an Air Force veteran and owns Ackert Electric. He has been endorsed by the Connecticut Education Association. Ackert won re-election by 2,200 votes in 2012 with most of the margin coming from his hometown.
The following are some of the Senate contests in which candidates with Hispanic backgrounds figure prominently. Two of these races involve the first two Latinos ever elected to this chamber.
In Bridgeport, Sen. Andres Ayala Jr. (D-23) is unopposed for re-election, having garnered 91 percent of the vote two years ago in a district that is about 39 percent Hispanic.
The other Latino incumbent, Art Linares (R-33) of Westbrook, the 25-year-old grandson of a Cuban refugee, is battling to hold onto the lower Connecticut Valley seat that had been held for decades by Democrats. The district’s Hispanic population is less than 3 percent.
In 2012, Linares, who owns a solar energy company, received 48.3 percent of the votes and benefited from a split in the Democrats. This time, the Democrats have united behind Emily Bjornberg of Lyme, a 33-year-old working mother and the wife of an Iraq War veteran, who is making her first run for public office.
The District 33 race also includes Green Party candidate Colin Bennett, a 35-year-old environmentalist from Westbrook. Two years ago, that party’s candidate Melissa Schlag, now a Democrat again, was better known and siphoned off nearly 9 percent of the vote.
Linares has been endorsed by the Connecticut Business and Industry, Association, Connecticut Realtors, and the National Rifle Association. Bjornberg has the support of various unions, Voters for Gun Safety and the Sierra Club.
In District 27, which includes east Stamford and part of Darien, Republican Eva A. Maldonado is trying to unseat two-term incumbent Carlo Leone (D-27. Maldonado, who is also running on the Independent line, is a grandmother, former police officer, former LPRAC commissioner and the founder of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Stamford. She ran unsuccessfully for state representative in southeast Stamford in 2012, losing by 2,900 votes.
Leone, who served in the Air Force and is a veterans program manager, won re-election easily in 2012 despite losing in Darien. He was born in Italy and is a former state representative.