Americo Santiago, an organizational leader in Hispanic politics,
with his son, state Rep. Ezequiel Santiago.
Hispanics, by sheer numbers registered to vote in Bridgeport, are becoming a growing force in city elections. Both Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the state’s chief elections official, and Sandi Ayala, Bridgeport’s Democratic Registrar of Voters, confirm Bridgeport has roughly 25,500 registered voters of Hispanic origin out of 69,963 total registered, approximately 36 percent of the entire electorate. Ayala estimates 90 percent of Hispanic electors are Democrats comprising about 50 percent of Democratic primary registration.
Bridgeport has the highest number of Hispanics registered to vote in Connecticut followed by Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury and New Britain, according to Merrill. Hispanics registered in Bridgeport are twice the number of Hispanics registered in New Haven. The gap between Hispanics registered to vote and those actually casting votes is wide, with several voting precincts in Hispanic-dominated neighborhoods challenged to break into the teens for Bridgeport local elections. But the potent number of registered Hispanics can no longer be ignored by party regulars and candidates for office.
There is growing evidence Hispanic candidates are starting to come into their own in positions of electoral power.
Last year Andres Ayala became the first Hispanic in the city, and among the first in Connecticut, elected to the state Senate, winning a tough primary fight last August against incumbent Ed Gomes and endorsed Democrat Ernie Newton before cruising to a general election win in November. If ethnic and racial politics matter, both Newton, who finished a strong second, and Gomes, a distant third, maintain the demographics were teed up nicely for Ayala with two black candidates splitting that constituency.
In Bridgeport, Puerto Ricans make up a large majority of registered Hispanics. Organizationally, Hispanics have been challenged to coalesce behind one of their own to win the mayoralty, the biggest prize in city elections, in part a product of infighting and district turf wars. In fact of the 52 chief executives in city history, all of them have been (non-Hispanic) white males, except for Mary Moran, a white woman who served one term 1989-1991.
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