Latino Influence In Lamont Administration

IMG_2842Bill Sarno/
Maribel La Luz considers being a Latina as “a bonus” that she brings to her new job as communications director for Governor Ned Lamont.  She sees her new Capitol assignment, one of the few top jobs doled out to Latinos, exciting and an affirmation of her hard work in similar roles in different stages in her career, as well as a tribute to people who have served as mentors and role models.
“I am more prepared now than I have ever been,” said the Brooklyn, NY-born La Luz. “I like to think I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am,” she said.  “I’ve listened to advice from those that know more than me and developed relationships along the way that I very much value,” she said.
Two of these learning experiences are her two most recent jobs. She recently wrapped up her duties as director of communications for the Connecticut Board of Regents for Higher Education, a position she gained after serving as director of communications and media for the city of Hartford under Mayor Pedro Segarra.

Lamont’s choice of La Luz and of state Rep. Chris Soto as his director of legislative relations have won praise from Hispanic government and community figures based on their credentials.

Chris Soto

“I cannot think of two more qualified, passionate and committed Latino professionals who I would want at the table when important decisions are made than Maribel La Luz and Chris Soto,” said Joseph Rodriguez, a longtime Hispanic political activist and the deputy state director for the Office of United States Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

But while Rodriguez and and other Latino leaders welcome these two appointments, they also were hoping the  new governor was placing qualified people from the state’s largest ethnic minority into significant roles, such as commissioners and upper level staff positions at the Capitol, jobs that have been scarce for Latinos in past administrations.
“We have much more work to do,” Rodriguez said. “I hope this incoming administration will review the countless resumes that the Latino Gubernatorial Appointments Task Force has gathered,” said the New Haven Democrat.
Similarly, State Rep. Christopher Rosario, chairman of the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus said that La Luz and Soto are “great additions to the governor’s staff, but he also is pressing for the appointment of more Latinos, as well as African Americans, throughout Lamont’s administration. The leadership of state government “should reflect what this state looks like,” said the Bridgeport legislator, who begins his third term January 9.
In announcing the selection of LaLuz and Soto for sub-Cabinet slots, Lamont said the they will have “key roles” in ensuring his office is “accessible to people across the state of Connecticut.” He also said, “I’m excited for them to be an integral part of my team.”
La Luz will direct media strategy across executive branch agencies, and serve as the governor’s lead spokesperson. Another Latina, Samaia Hernandez, served as a press secretary under Governor Malloy, but La Luz will have a wider role. “My job is to communicate with everyone wherever they are.” the incoming director said.
She also praised the media. “We’re lucky in Connecticut to have so many smart professionals in media,” she said, adding, “They work incredibly hard, they work long hours and it’s not easy. I’ll continue my open communication style and work together as I always have.”
Soto will oversee the governor’s legislative affairs in both the state Senate and House as well as advise the governor on pending legislation, a liaison role that is a major breakthrough for Latinos whose presence in the legislature has grown over the past decade.
The former Coast Guard officer also has found the reaction within the Latino community and legislature to be uplifting. “The love from colleagues across the state has been humbling,” he said
A New Jersey native of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent, Soto said he has been busy with meetings leading up to his new job. He will finish out his current term, but will not be sworn in to a new term in the House of Representatives.
Soto graduated from the Coast Guard Academy and served as the New London school’s boxing coach. After serving five years as a Coast Guard officer and subsequently earning a master’s degree from Brown University, the New Jersey native returned to New London to launch Higher Edge, a growing program that guides less affluent students to higher education.
Soto also developed a grassroots political movement that won him election to the state House of Representatives in 2016 and provided him with first-hand experience with the legislative process. Two years later, he ran unopposed for this seat, which he is forgoing to serve in the Lamont administration.
La Luz graduated from the The New School in New York City with a degree in urban and cultural studies and holds a a master’s degree in secondary education from Mercy College. She has experience in the private sector and as a teacher in addition to her work for Segarra and for state university system president Mark Ojakian.
The daughter of Jose Alejandro La Luz, who is a prominent labor and political activist in the United States and his native Puerto Rico, La Luz grew up in East Hartford where her mother now lives and is “very active” according to the communications professional. “I come from a long line of smart, hard working Latina women who will always be my first role model,” she said.
La Luz attributes her bilingualism to her Puerto Rican parents who made sure she learned Spanish as a young child. She describes the cultural perspective and sensitivity and her ability to work in two languages “as the icing on the cake” to what she brings to her new assignment.
She also holds in high esteem her previous and current bosses as well as both the present and incoming governors. “Segarra cared about the people and Hartford and the City is better because of some of the decisions he made, she said, adding, “I absolutely love my current boss. Mark has the unique ability to bring people together, listen and still make hard decisions,” she said.
The exiting governor, Dannel Malloy, La Luz said, “is a truly courageous person and leader and I believe he has been on the right side of history with his decisions.”
Regarding Lamont, his new team member said, “He seems comfortable in surrounding himself with folks who are different, whether they think differently, look differently or come from different backgrounds. He is successful in his own right, his wife Annie is incredibly successful in her own right and that affords them access to a range of talent, entrepreneurs, people from the business community that many traditional politicians may not have, at least not at first. It’s inspiring and a privilege to be around them.”
Another person who La Luz ranks high among her role models and mentors is the current Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman. “Her inclusive governing style and ability to coalesce everyone is incredible. She is warm, but also hard charging and can outwork fifteen-year-olds.”
La Luz also highly admires Wyman’s choice of footwear and, like the lieutenant governor, is a big fan of  high-heel stilettos footwear and planned to wear a pair to the inaugural ball January 9.