Bill Sarno CTLatinoNews.com
Since becoming the state’s first Latino banking commissioner in March, Jorge Perez has seen his interest in finances and community service widen beyond his hometown of New Haven and his experience in local government and banking.
However, his background and leadership qualities have been widely recognized as making him the right person for his new job.
Perez’s ascension to a top post in Governor Malloy’s administration is a source of pride to the state’s Latino community who have found appointments to the commissioner level scarce in recent years. The Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus will honor the Cuba-born commissioner Thursday, July 9 at an early evening reception to be held at the Coral Lounge in Hartford.
“It is important that we recognize our own and their accomplishments, and in the case of Jorge, what he has done for New Haven,” said Joseph Rodriguez, who is chairman of the statewide caucus and a former colleague on the city’s Board of Alders.
“Jorge has paid his dues,” Rodriquez said, citing Perez’s political involvement, his 28 years on the city’s governing body, some of which were as board president, and his long career in banking.
Expressing a similar view of Perez’s qualifications is another state leader who served for a decade on what was then called the Board of Alderman with him. State Sen. Gary Winfield, a Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s banking committee, recalls Perez “was thoughtful about policy and its impact on people. That, and his experience in the world of banking will make him a very successful banking commissioner.”
For most of his life and his professional career, Perez has remained in the Elm City, particularly its Hill section, an area that has been traditionally home to newcomers and many other less affluent minority residents.
It is a “wonderful neighborhood,” says Perez who adds that he now lives only a couple of blocks from the Hill section street where he grew up during tough times and turned his longtime love of numbers into a successful career.
During his first few months as head of the state’s Department of Banking, Perez has gotten to see a lot more of Connecticut, commuting daily to his office in Hartford and traveling around the state for various meetings and speaking engagements.
Perez, who has a degree in accounting, also has had to rev up his familiarity with the diverse financial entities that his department regulates. In addition to the state’s 40 banks and 30 credit unions, this agency oversees and acts as a consumer watchdog for thousands of mortgage brokers, security brokers and advisors, check cashers, collection agencies and other financial entities.
Perez said one aspect of the job to which has had to become accustomed is how the state bureaucracy works.
In addition, Perez has been getting himself up to speed in regard to cutting edge financial concerns such as cyber-security and virtual currency. Connecticut is the first state to address the latter, he notes.
“I am learning something every day,” said Perez, who will soon be going to Denver for a program on cyber-security.
In selecting Perez to oversee the state Department of Banking in March, Governor Dannel Malloy hit a home run, according to many of the state’s top leaders. This view was shared by the state Senate which unanimously endorsed his appointment.
Among those praising Perez is another New Haven political mainstay, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who has worked with Perez for many years. “Jorge is an outstanding public servant as well as a respected member of the banking community,” she said.
Rodriquez, who has known Perez for 15 years, said, “His work on the finance committee is truly amazing. He pays attention to the numbers and knows the budget inside and out.”
Rodriguez describes the new commissioner as a fiscal conservative and someone who “has a presence in the room.”
Perez was known for his probing questions on financial issues and was the person then Mayor John Destefano had to convince to get his initiatives through.
Rodriquez, who last summer left the Board of Alders to become new Mayor Toni Harp’s liaison to the governing body, said that Perez “took him as a young Latino alderman under his wings when he was on the board.”
When the state Senate endorsed his appointment, Perez resigned from the Board of Alders and his job at Liberty Bank. Ironically, the job change has meant having more time to spend at home with his wife Gloria and daughter Lynette.
Perez met his wife while in high school and they were wed after he finished college. She went to a business school and is now a legal secretary. Their daughter recently graduated from Yale University and plans to eventually become a pediatrician.
The new commissioner said he was never able to interest his daughter in the financial world and her chosen career path has made her the darling of his mother who always wanted him to become a doctor and, he jokes, is not impressed with his career achievements.
Perez is “passionate about New Haven,” Rodriguez said. The former alderman expressed pride that his city is gaining population and new housing is springing up. He also said that the job situation is improving, thanks to political leadership, but in large part due to the role Yale plays. This includes the school’s connection with New Haven Works, an employment agency, with whom Perez has played an active role.
Among the community activities that keep Perez going is the Farnham Neighborhood House, which offers programs and a summer camp for New Haven children.
Looking back at his own youth, Perez recalls, that life was not easy for the immigrant family that had left Castro’s Cuba and came to New Haven knowing only one person, another Cuban woman.
With the help of the First Star of Jacob Church which welcomed the Perez family to the Hill neighborhood, Perez said the then pastor of his church, a middle school teacher who insisted he learned how to write, and one of the women at the bank where he worked as a teenager, greatly influenced his life.
As a sophomore at Richard C. Lee High School, which has since been renamed as the Hill Regional Career High School, Perez had to abandon playing on the baseball team to take a part-time job as a mail clerk for a local bank to help his family. In doing so he made his debut in the financial industry.
Perez graduated with an accounting degree from the University of New Haven. He said he chose that field because it was one that not many Latinos were entering and thereby he would have a certain niche. Plus, he saw being an accountant as a profession offering diverse opportunities.
Politics came into his life in 1987 when he was helping found Habitat for Humanity in the city and saw that having city support was important. He ran for the Fifth (Hill) District Board of Alderman seat, won the election and held this post for 28 years, serving several years as president of the board and as chairman of the finance committee. He also served five years as chairman of the board’s Black and Hispanic Caucus.
One of the challenges that Perez says the Department of Banking will face is that 40 percent of the current employees will be retiring in the next few years. Perez said the department has a “decent number” of bilingual staffers and this will “get better over time.” He added, however, that his priority is finding the best qualified people, and that if they are bilingual this will be a plus.
Anyone wishing to attend Thursday’s Hispanic caucus reception to be held 6 to 10 p.m. at the Coral Lounge, 1429 Park St., Hartford, may contact Maria Cruz at (860) 986-0105 or Tiana Ocasio at (203) 815-8877. There is a $25 minimum donation.