Q&A with the Primary Latino Candidates


Top, from left, state Rep. Andres Ayala, former state Sen. Ernest Newton; and state Sen. Ed Gomes face off in the 23rd Senate District Democratic primary on Aug. 14. Bottom, from left, Edwin Vargas, 6th House candidate; state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez, 3rd House District; and Victor Luna, 3rd House District challenger
When voters go to the polls tomorrow, Aug. 14, there will be some major primaries involving Latino candidates at the legislative level, including races in Hartford, Bridgeport and Waterbury.
There is one open seat in Bridgeport and three races across the state where the incumbents have been denied the nomination. In Hartford, an incumbent is facing a challenge.
The race attracting the most attention is the primary in the State Senate 23rd District serving parts of the city of Bridgeport and part of the town of Stratford to the east. It features a challenge by state Rep. Andres Ayala; incumbent Edward Gomes, who was denied nomination to another term; and former state Sen. Ernest Newton II, a convicted felon who was run out of office in 2005.
Christina Ayala of Bridgeport is seeking the 128th District House seat. She is a site manager for Action for Bridgeport Community Development. She faces a primary challenge from Angel Reyes, community activist, businessman, journalist, and founder of the bilingual Park City Independent.
Waterbury’s 75th House district features a primary between the endorsed candidate, Victor Cuevas, a recreation center director, and four-term incumbent David Aldarondo, who reportedly fell out of favor with newly elected Mayor Neil O’Leary, and was denied the nomination for a fifth term at the Capitol, where he is one of numerous assistant majority leaders, as well as serving on the Aging; Executive and Legislative Nominations; and Insurance and Real Estate committees.
Hartford has two Democratic primaries involving Latinos for House seats. In the 3rd State House District, based in Hartford, the winner of the Democratic primary will run unopposed. The incumbent (and party endorsed candidate) is Minnie Gonzalez, who has served in the Legislature since 1997. She currently is Democratic majority whip at large. She faces off against challenger Victor M. Luna Jr., who is active in local causes in the district.
In the 6th House District, Edwin Vargas Jr., the endorsed candidate, is squaring off the incumbent Hector Robles, who is facing criminal charges for allegedly falsifying time cards while a Hartford police officer (before being fired in 2010).
What follows is a question-and-answer interview the candidates in legislative primaries including Latinos in CT. The information was coordinated by Linda Tishler Levinson for CTLatinoNews.com.
NAME :  Andres Ayala, Jr.
Andres Ayala, Jr. is a lifelong resident of Bridgeport and has been a public school teacher for nineteen years.  He was on the Bridgeport City Council for ten years, five as its President.  He was elected a State Representative in 2006 and Chairs the Bridgeport legislative delegation.
Q. What makes you the best candidate?
A. I am proud of my State House service, and that I have earned respect from my colleagues and community leaders.   Public service is not something we use to further our careers or public reputation.     It is a way to help our neighbors and the Senator for the 23rd District can and should deliver more to the City of Bridgeport and the Town of Stratford.
Most importantly, I have developed great working relationships with legislative leaders and the Governor.  I have been part of negotiating sessions setting critical legislative initiatives.   Thus, I am the best, among all candidates for the Senate, because of my “get the job done” reputation and my personal relationships with key governmental leaders.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?
A. As an educator I know students in Bridgeport and Stratford deserve a better education system.    This past session, I played an instrumental role in shaping the Education Reform Bill which was signed into law.   For the Latino community a quality education is the tool by which they can improve their lives and increase their opportunities for success.  Through education we can attack many of societies problems which negatively impact Latino families.
Equally important to the Latino community, like all citizens, is a good job.   Most recently I authored the current Steel Pointe Tax Incentive Funding legislation which was used to attract significant investment and infra-structure improvements to the site.  I also authored the bond bills which helped bring $ 2.5 million for the planning and development of a 2nd train station in the East End and East Side of Bridgeport. These last five years have been tough on middle class families.  Latino’s have been especially impacted by the sluggish economy.  It’s important that we have an economy that supports job growth.  I will continue to support fiscally responsible planning to grow our state and local economy while protecting the interests of our community.
Q. What’s the most important issue facing Connecticut today?
A. As I walk door-to-door, three issues are on the minds of residents – education, jobs and taxes.   We need to foster economic development to attract business to our region, producing more jobs for our families and thus reducing the property tax burden.
NAME:  Ed Gomes
Senator Ed Gomes, U.S. Army veteran, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1963 he began working for Carpenter Steel in Bridgeport, where he became active in its union. He served on the Bridgeport City Council, became a State Senator in 2005 and has served on CCAG, Common Cause and many other local, state and national organizations.
Q. What makes you the best candidate?
A: The foundation of my being, my work and beliefs make me the best candidate for State Senator in the 23rd district of Bridgeport and Stratford.
In 1963 I joined the great march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and carry that passion and drive with me every day of my life. I have devoted my being to helping create jobs and empowering people with the freedoms and power of voice in government; whether it is nationally, statewide, local, in the schools or as tenants.
When people have decent jobs, families live better lives; which is why I worked to support the Jobs Bill to help grow small businesses, create jobs for our returning veterans, bring back overseas jobs to Connecticut and expand grants, loans and subsidies for hiring people.
I fought to bring money back to educate our children, fund early-childhood spots, and help English language learners close the education gap.
I brought back millions of dollars for Action for Bridgeport Community Development (ABCD); Housatonic Community Center to help create a Regional Advanced Manufacturing Center; the Lighthouse After School Program and the Ralphola Community Center and more.
I championed legislation to afford tenants a say in their local housing and strongly believe that school boards are accountable to the all of the residents of our communities.
I have worked hard for Bridgeport and Stratford and have championed our issues; forged friendships and working relationships in Hartford to bring back what we need. And, I will continue to use my connections, ethics and iron-will to get what we need and deserve.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?
A: I work closely with the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Chairman Gary Holder-Winfield, who joined me recently at our headquarters opening.
The needs of a healthy, working, thriving Latino Community are paramount to our community. My work has been and will always be to champion the needs for all people in our great community, because when Latinos thrive, so do we all.
Q. What’s the most important issue facing Connecticut today?
A: Jobs, jobs, jobs are the most important issue facing Connecticut. We must devote our work in Hartford to create jobs for people, so everyone can have a roof over their head, food on the table with children’s bellies full and ready to learn in well equipped classrooms.
It is essential that our great community have jobs, decent paying jobs to grow a healthy community – and I will continue to fight for jobs and freedom.
NAME:  Ernest Newton II
Ernest Newton II is a longtime Bridgeport resident that has served on the Bridgeport City Council, State House of Representatives and the State Senate. His longtime activism on behalf of the community has earned him the reputation as a relentless fighter for the people in most need.
Q. What makes you the best candidate?
A. The people of the 23rd State Senate district are some of the most vulnerable in the State. With the issues facing our community today, like escalating violence, lack of job opportunity, and uncertainty about our future, it’s clear we need a fighter. I have a long history of fighting for the people, being their voice and raising the volume on the issues facing our neighborhoods.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?
A. In Bridgeport and Stratford, collectively we are all facing the same issues. Being poor and struggling know no specific demographic. As I have been in the past, I will raise the bar for all of the people of our district. The Latino communities, just like many others need the opportunity to succeed. I will be relentless to make sure the jobs that come into our communities go to the people of the community. All of our people deserve to be safe, have a quality education and a chance to make their lives better. That’s what I will fight for.
Q. What’s the most important issue facing Connecticut today?
A. Education. When you talk about any issue facing a district like the 23rd, either now or in the future, it’s going to come down to how prepared our youth are to succeed. That includes having positive activities to do once the school day is done, leadership programs, and a reinforced training plan to get more kids involved in the trades. Kids need to have the diverse tool kit it’s going to take to keep up in the fast paced world we’re all living in and still adjusting to. A well-rounded, educated young person will help Bridgeport create jobs, build stronger communities, slow crime, increase our neighborhood pride and so much more. Education is truly the key. As important discussions about our education system take place, it’s important to remember at each turn that our kids need opportunities, just like the adults do.
NAME: Minnie González
Representative Minnie Gonzalez was born in Adjuntas Puerto Rico. She graduated from Adjuntas High School. Mother to two sons and a daughter. Minnie migrated to the United States in 1981. As a single mother she endured many adversities as a woman and as a minority.
Soon she continued her mother’s model and began to get involved helping others to improve their lives, being active in politics and in the community for many years.
She was elected her as a Town Committee Member in 1986 and as a Legislator for the 3rd district in 1996.
Her passion is representing those who cannot represent themselves. Minnie has worked many different campaigns throughout her political involvement. She is a member of the Appropriations, Judiciary and Public Safety Committees.
Ms. Gonzalez worked as a Special Deputy Sheriff in the West Hartford Superior Court for many years, as well as serving as Assistant Registrar of Voters, before running for State Representative
Presently she is the President of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislator.
Q. What makes you the best candidate?
A. State Legislator for the past 16 Years and activist for the Puerto Rican/Latino communities for the past 25 years by doing voter registration, education and advocating for the rights of Hartford’s Residents, specially the Third Assembly District.
Q. What’s the most important issue facing Connecticut today?
A. Lack of job and education opportunities for the Puerto Rican and Latino Communities.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?
A. I will continue to work at the capitol to bring state funding to create more job, job training and education opportunities.
NAME: Victor Luna
I am Vice President of the 2012 Puerto Rican Parade Committee, Board member of the Parkville NZR, Board member of Friends of Pope Park, former 3rd Dist Town Committee member, and member of the Lions Club International.
Q. What makes you the best candidate?   
A. I understand the hardships facing my District.  I will advocate for jobs, better schools, and lowering crime.  I will be accessible and accountable.  I will listen and I will communicate regularly with the residents of my District.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?  
A. Being a Latino male, I understand hardships facing our district.  I will work with everyone in my district to assist in their needs.  We lack jobs in our   District.  I will be a strong advocate for jobs.
Q. What’s the most important issue facing Connecticut today?  
Jobs for residents who live in urban cities and towns.  Jobs create economic stability.  We must have jobs for our residents.
Name: Edwin Vargas Jr.
Edwin Vargas Jr., of Hartford is seeking the 6th District House seat. The Democrat is running against Republican Michael Lupo. Vargas ran for the 1stDistrict state Senate seat in 2008 and 2010. He is a teacher who previously worked for the Hartford Public Schools.
(His answers to the following questions were told to Linda Tishler Levinson of CTLatinoNews.com)
Q. What makes you the best candidate?
A. Edwin Vargas has 40 years of community organizing experience and 35 years as a Hartford public school teacher, where his wife also taught for 35 years. He said he owns a home in the community and knows it well. He has a long history of public service.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?
A. He has a long history with the Latino community. He was hired by Maria Sanchez and made a commitment to her to serve the Latino community. As an example, he worked to make Three Kings Day a school holiday in Hartford . He mobilized an effort for better communication between emergency responders and the Latino community after the death of Julio Lozada. The young man was killed in an accident, and his rescue was delayed by the language barrier. Doctors said he could have been saved if he had made it to the hospital sooner. Vargas organized a movement to change that, which led to the hiring of the first Latino firefighters and dispatchers. Vargas also has worked to improve the lives of the immigrant community.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?
A. Vargas said we need good jobs, and we need to attract good jobs. To attract those jobs, the educational system and public safety in the cities needs to be improved. Employers need to see those improvements before they will bring jobs.
NAME: Hector Robles
Hector Robles was born and raised in Hartford. Robles is the first Puerto Rican to be elected state representative in the 6th District. As State Representative, Robles worked to improve Hartford schools by strengthening high school graduation requirements and encouraging parental involvement; while also working to increase penalties for illegal street racing, and strengthening Connecticut’s domestic violence laws to protect families.
Q. What makes you the best candidate?
A. I believe I am the best candidate because I have a record of service to my constituents. I make sure that I am available and accessible to my constituents and work hard to make the 6th district a safer place to live. I was successful in passing legislation that increased penalties for illegal street racing and have since gone on to champion and co-sponsor legislation to improve our public schools, to create job training and placement programs and to strengthen domestic violence laws to protect families.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community?
A. As a member of the Latino community in Hartford, I make it a point to be visible and accessible to everyone. It is important for me to hear the concerns and needs of the community so that I may do my best at the state capitol to deliver on those issues. I have been active on immigration issues at the state level by voting for the local DREAM act which lets students who are not citizens have access to financial aid and college. This is an important issue to me and I will continue to advocate immigration reform as well as for improved education, access to health care and increased safety so that our community can continue to thrive.
Q. What’s the most important issue facing Connecticut today?
A. We need to make sure that all of our children have access to quality education. An education that prepares them for higher learning – be it a traditional college or university or a technical school that teaches them a trade – and that teaches them the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
Incumbent state Rep. David Aldarondo did not return repeated messages from CTLatinoNews.com to participate in this Q&A. He is challenging Victor Cuevas, the party endorsed candidate.
NAME: Victor Cuevas
BIO: Did not supply
Q. What makes you the best candidate?
A. August 14, 2012 is not just another day in Waterbury.  It is primary day, and on that day, I am asking the citizens of Waterbury to go to the polls and show their support for me in my bid to represent them as their next state representative in the 75th district.  A successful run on August 14 allows me to run in the November general election.
The time for inaction and unaccountability is over.  Positive and monumental changes are long overdue, and as the Democratic-endorsed candidate, I am committed to bringing value back to our community. My visions include, but are not limited to, improving healthcare for everyone, eliminating neighborhood blight, developing partnerships with private business and state and local government to create new green space, and bringing jobs back into our local economy.
I will also work vigorously to enhance the accountability of the education process to ensure that our children have a positive and productive future.  And, most importantly, I will consistently and enthusiastically provide my community with proper representation in Hartford.
Q. What steps will you take to address the issues of the Latino community? 
A. Hispanics need elected officials who can and will represent their needs.
Communities with strong voter representation (louder voices) and visible representation at the state level gain more credibility and are more apt to flourish from local incentives – well-maintained schools, better parks and recreation facilities, more extracurricular activities, affordable senior citizen housing, etc.  My goal is to look at the city collectively, and the Hispanic community in particular, and start laying down a foundation for the future,  by developing new opportunities through existing non-profit agencies, as well as creating new partnerships within the corporate community.
Q. What is the most important issue facing Connecticut today?
A. In my opinion the most important issue facing Connecticut today is the lack of employment opportunities.   Loss of jobs translates into declining neighborhoods.
The party endorsed candidate Christina M. Ayala and her challenger Angel Reyes did not respond to CTLatinoNews.com in time to participate in this Q&A.