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Luke Bronin: Confident He Can Win Over Hartford's Latino Voters

Luke Bronin

Photo provided by Luke Bronin Campaign

Bill Sarno
Slowly making a dent in a midday meal of carne guisada and and yellow rice at a crowded Puerto Rican restaurant on Hartford’s Park Street, Luke Bronin expresses confidence that by focusing on jobs, education and neighborhoods he could snare the Democratic mayoral nomination in a mostly Hispanic city from incumbent Mayor Pedro Segarra, who has Puerto Rican roots and has the endorsement of several prominent Latino political leaders.

At the Comerio Restaurant, Bronin seems comfortable, barely looking at the menu before ordering.  He selected the location for the interview he said,  “Because it’s good, cheap, walking distance from home and I had been there a few days before, so it came to mind.”
Bronin, who until recently, served as the governor’s general counsel, said his vision for the city’s future and the new energy he offers, would hit home with all of Hartford’s diverse population.
The message Bronin plans to deliver to Hartford residents, and which he plans to do often in person, is that improving the quality of life in the capital city revolves around their neighborhoods, not just downtown. “For the last year,” Bronin said, “The Segarra administration has focused almost exclusively on a baseball park and has not been paying attention to the city’s neighborhoods.”
Moreover, Bronin said that developing key intersections in the city outside of downtown should be a priority. As an example, he pointed to an intersection a couple of blocks from the restaurant, where two fenced lots sit virtually empty flanking the eastern entrance to the city’s prime Hispanic business district. “Park and Main Street is one of the most important corners in the city and has been a priority for years, but nothing has been done,” he said.
Bronin’s focus on education resonates with what several surveys have shown is a primary concern of the state’s Latino population. He said more attention needs to be devoted to neighborhood schools, which despite the growth of magnet schools, are where more than half the local children still attend.  “Parents want to send their children to good neighborhood schools,” he said.
While Bronin is one of three officially announced candidates for the Democratic mayoral nomination, his candidacy has clearly created the most buzz in political circles. In addition to Bronin and Segarra, who has been mayor since 2010, John Gale, a member of the Democratic town committee, is aiming for the city’s top spot. City Councilman Joel Cruz also is running under the Working Families Party banner.
Segarra has been active in politics locally for more than two decades and has the support of two of the city’s three Hispanic members of the state Legislature, Reps. Edwin Vargas and Minnie Gonzalez. Segarra’s  bid for another term has also been endorsed by the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
Bronin, who has never previously run for office but worked in campaigns, dismissed these endorsements as not necessarily representing what voters want. At community meetings and elsewhere, what Latinos and others have told him, he said, is that they have heard a lot of promises from the Segarra administration but not a lot has been delivered, particularly in job creation.
The opportunity to go out and meet voters is an advantage of running for office in a relatively small city, Bronin said, and that is what he plans to do in every part of Hartford. “This campaign will be won by knocking on doors and talking to people,” said the candidate.
As for connecting with the Hispanic population, Bronin, who currently practices law in the city said he does not speak Spanish although U.S Census figures report that many of the city’s Hispanics speak English. According to the Bronins’ 2007 wedding announcement in the New York Times, his wife, the former Sara Galvan, is a fifth generation Texan of Mexican-American descent.  The Bronins and their three children live in an Elm Street brownstone they rehabilitated before moving in two years ago.
Soon after Bronin announced his candidacy, the state’s Hispanic Democratic Caucus was quick to raise objections, not so much about him they claimed, but that his former boss, the governor, was slighting the mayor by not endorsing Segarra, who just months before received much praise from Malloy during the  gubernatorial campaign when he needed critical votes from Hartford in the tight gubernatorial race last fall. The caucus has since endorsed Segarra for mayor.
Segarra supporters also say that Malloy’s public stance of non-involvement until the Democrats chose their mayoral campaign, amounted to an endorsement of his former aide because the governor has endorsed candidates before local primaries. Bronin’s association with the former mayor of Stamford goes back to 2006 when he worked on the then Stamford mayor’s first bid for governor.
Bronin downplayed the influence Malloy has when it came to city politics and that the race in Hartford was about local candidates for office and who best can improve life in the neighborhoods.
Critics of Bronin’s candidacy have painted the  the 35-year-old, who was raised in Greenwich and attended prep school in New Hampshire,  as being essentially a newcomer and having little experience as an urban administrator, as compared to the 55-year-old Segarra, who was born in Puerto Rico, came to Hartford in 1975, is also an attorney and has been involved in city government since 1991.
Bronin, a Yale graduate who studied law and economic history at Oxford University where he and his future wife were both Rhodes Scholars, said he lived in New Haven for seven years and first moved to Hartford in 2006 when his wife got a teaching post at the University of Connecticut law school. He temporarily left the city to work for the Obama administration in Washington, D.C.  and participated in what has been described as a  security related project in Afghanistan. He said these jobs  contributed to his administrative experience,
Since settling in Hartford, the Bronins have active been in various civic organizations. Mayor Segarra appointed Sara Bronin, who teaches law at the University of Connecticut and also has an architectural background, to the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission in 2013.  She became chairman last year.
The new baseball stadium being built in the downtown north area with the city’s financial backing is seen by Bronin as essentially a done deal.  He does warn however that the current administration’s numbers regarding revenue from the stadium are misleading. “The city will be paying out significant money each year for the ballpark.”
He said that while the ballpark  is scheduled to open only a few months after he would take office as mayor, what is important is how the rest of the DoNo Hartford project is developed.
One of the issues raised by Latino and north Hartford leaders is whether apartments  in the privately built DoNo Hartford will be affordable to existing city residents. Bronin did not address this issue directly, but said he would like to see the city focus more on expanding housing opportunities in the various neighborhoods.
Regarding the campaign, Bronin said his first objective is obtaining the endorsement of the 78-member Democratic Town Committee this summer, but also building support among the rank and file. “The primary is really what matters in Hartford,” he said.
Unlike Segarra who already has dismissed two campaign managers, Bronin, as of last week, had not retained one, explaining he wants to keep expenses down. He does have a finance team in place for fundraising.
Meanwhile, Bronin is enjoying city life with his family. He said the location of his residence is great for his two daughters and son because because they can walk to Bushnell Park and other downtown attractions are within walking distance of their home.
Bronin, whose musical genre is country, appreciates that Hartford has a “rich, vibrant culture” and moves to the “beat of many rhythms.” He said one of his priorities was to promote the arts and culture in all parts of the city, “Latino and West Indian, across the board,” not just downtown.
“We need to embrace each other’s culture,” he said, citing as an example the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. This  event should be attended by more than  Puerto Ricans, but making that happen, he said, takes leadership.

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