Latino Politicos Caught In The Election Crossfire

Bill Sarno
Shortly before Christmas, Christopher Rosario learned that he would not be part of Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim’s administration. The recently elected mayor had eliminated Rosario’s position of director of anti-blight and illegal dumping initiatives, although Rosario had been lauded by many for his tenacious approach in tackling the city’s blight issues.
Rosario, who also is a first-term state representative and had supported Ganim’s opponents in the Democratic primary and November’s general election, was philosophical about the mayor axing the job he had held for four years under the previous Mayor Bill Finch. “Transition happens in politics and it comes with the territory,” he wrote Dec. 16 on Facebook.
The firing and hiring of municipal administrators after an election is not a new practice.   This time around however, as Latinos continue to increase their numbers in politics and in higher positions around the state, the loss of several prominent Latinos in key posts is noticeable.   Not only in Bridgeport,  where Ganim returned to power a dozen years after going to prison for public corruption, but also in Hartford, where Luke Bronin is the new mayor, who successfully stressed during the campaign that he could do a better job running city government than the incumbent Pedro Segarra.
Among the first casualties was Segarra’s chief of staff Juan Figueroa, who is a long-time political activist and during the spring had taken a temporary leave of absence to serve as the incumbent mayor’s interim campaign manager. He has been replaced by Thea Montanez, who had directed the North Hartford Promise Zone under Segarra.
Meanwhile, the Ganim administration’s public position on the elimination of Rosario’s anti-blight job discounted political motivation. “This is part of a larger reorganization of city government,” said Av Harris, the mayor’s communications director and senior advisor on public policy.
However, the mayor’s dismissal of another city employee, Iris Molina, from her $100,000 a year job as director of social services was attributed to “budgetary reasons,” according to the Only in Bridgeport blog.  The city reportedly has to close a $20 million deficit, but Molina’s  ouster has raised some eyebrows because Ganim supporter, former Bridgeport Town Clerk Alma Maya, according to a Connecticut Post Report, is expected  be Molina’s replacement.
Molina is, however, fighting to keep her job through the local civil service board, so Maya, who had risked and lost her position as town clerk to back Ganim, is uncertain about her future.
In Hartford, once elected, Bronin moved quickly to get his new administration ready to roll with his inauguration and announced several significant personnel changes, some involving Latinos, weeks before he was inaugurated. He named Thea Montanez as chief of staff, Samaia Hernandez as director of communications and chose Reginald Freeman as fire chief to replace Carlos Huertas, whose tenure had been marked with controversy.
“It was important for the mayor to have his own team in place that shares his vision for Hartford,” Hernandez said. “That being said,” she added, “the vast majority of city employees are civil servants who continue to do their job serving the residents of Hartford regardless of administration.”
Bronin has reappointed several department heads, who he said have been doing exceptional work, his communications director noted. Marilyn Cruz-Aponte was promoted to director of public works and Jose Colon-Rivas is the head of Families, Children, Youth and Recreation.
But also on the outs in Hartford, is Maribel LaLuz, a seasoned communications specialist, who had been Segarra’s spokesperson.   She has now moved on and is the new communications director for the state Board of Regents for Higher Education.
But beyond the matter of who joined or left the municipal lineups, is whether there may be an impact on city government
In Bridgeport, over the last four years, Rosario had been an influential and highly visible player in the effort to rebuild and rejuvenate badly worn sections of the Park City.
He also is a very popular figure, especially in the east Bridgeport neighborhoods where he has built a strong political base by going door-to-door, attending community events and helping provide assistance to those in need, such as the residents who lost their home in a devastating condominium fire recently.
It was a “mistake” for Ganim to let Rosario go, said one prominent civic figure speaking off the record, adding “Chris has our community’s support.”
Last week, Rosario celebrated his 37th birthday and kicked off his re-election campaign for state representative with a fund-raising party at a local restaurant. The attendees included Molina and Andres Ayala, who shares the status as a Latino politico  or politicians without a government job due to his recent resignation as state motor vehicles commissioner.