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MA Politics

Norwalk's Eloisa Melendez To Take Her Candidacy Straight To The Voters

Eloisa melendez 1

Bill Sarno

Eloisa Melendez’s voice overflows with enthusiasm and optimism when talking about politics and serving her hometown, Norwalk, and even in the wake of a recent intraparty setback to her campaign to retain her seat on the City Council she exudes confidence and a commitment to civic engagement.  The Democratic Town Committee may have passed over the the 21-year-old Latina in rubber stamping its endorsements for Council candidates Thursday night in District A after some controversial political gamesmanship,  but she is seen as having a good chance to successfully surmount this obstacle at the September 16 primary election.
In taking this more difficult route to the ultimate ballot in November, Melendez has been buoyed by the overwhelming support the district’s rank and file committee members accorded her the night before and by the  boost she has received from supporters since running into the DTC roadblock.  By Saturday, the Democratic incumbent was busy attending community events and working on political matters in anticipation of the primary.
Melendez categorizes the DTC snub as “unfortunate” but views as past tense the  maneuvers orchestrated by district chairman David Watts, who was her running mate in 2013, to steer the party line endorsements to others.  “I can’t dwell on the past, she said, expressing optimism that she will prevail at the primary and stressing that party unity is a “big thing” with her.
This response is “a testament to how Eloisa has grown in the last two years,” observes Joseph Rodriquez, the chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
“For her it is all about doing good for Norwalk and moving forward,” said Rodriquez, who heads the statewide organization of Latino politicians and party mainstays.
Melendez “stands a strong chance of upsetting the DTC decision,” according to Nancy Chapman, a veteran journalist who runs the government oriented website with her husband Mark.
For Norwalk Democrats, the endorsement process is generally a two-step process. First, in each of the city’s five districts there is a meeting of registered Democrats. Those who have attended three committee meetings get to vote on candidates.
In District A’s case, which basically is Central Norwalk and has one of the city’s larger Latino concentrations, the candidate preference was overwhelmingly clear.  Melendez and Steve Serasis, an ex-councilman and former councilman mayoral candidate were chosen for the district’s  two council nominations, with only one other candidate in the mix. Yvel Crevecouer, a college professor with a doctorate in special education, was nominated for the board of education slot.  These nominations are not binding and are seen as recommendations which are usually respected by the DTC, with the seven members elected from each district voting who gets the party line on the general election ballot. However, this time, Watts, the district chairman, and four other committee members gave the endorsements to three other people.
This surprising outcome has generated a lot of chatter on social media, with some strong objections, particularly to the snubbing of Crevecouer, appearing on Norwalk Parents for Education, a closed Facebook group with more than 1,200 members, according to the nancyonnorwalk website.
Moreover, Melendez learned she has many supporters in Norwalk. “A lot of people reached out to me Friday morning,” she said. ” I got more phone calls than I did when I was elected.”
The next step for the local college student is to find 168 people to sign their ballot petition by August 12. While the number is not daunting, the process is complicated by the requirement that those who sign be registered Democrats who live in her Central Norwalk district. Melendez noted that many Norwalkers vote Democratic but are registered as unaffiliated.
On the plus side,  the three rejected candidates have learned they can run as a slate, and can submit one petition instead of three, Melendez said. This should make the process easier.
As for the primary, Rodriguez expects Melendez to do well. “Elections are won on the street,” he said, and “she has been doing a great job in the community and a great job working with the mayor (Democrat Harry Rilling).”
Melendez had some practice with the art of political persuasion before she formally entered that  arena. Her first success was converting her Colombia-born mother and her now retired father, whose parents came from Puerto Rico, from being Republicans to her Democratic view of government.
At the same time, she said she learned something else important at home. “It was mom who taught me how important it is to vote,” Melendez said. She hopes that by seeing someone like her in government will motivate more Hispanics, who have historically been less politically active than in their homelands, to see the point why they should register and cast ballots.
Melendez, who was born in this country, grew up and attended school in Norwalk, finds herself cast as both an American and Latina. In  her mother’s South American homeland, she is perceived as more of the former, she said, but in her hometown many consider her to  be the “the Latino council member.”  The latter is notably prevalent  among Norwalk’s more than 20,000 Latinos where  there is an awareness that Melendez speaks Spanish, a gift from her parents. Consequently, she receives calls from Hispanics from throughout the city,  not just her constituents, who are more comfortable speaking their native language with questions and requests for help, which she is happy to address.
At the same time, Melendez believes that she should not be the only candidate being asked about Hispanic concerns, since Latinos are now spread throughout the city. “Everybody running for office should be asked questions about issues that affect that community,” she said, since they all seeking to serve constituencies that include Latinos and other groups.
“At the end of the day, it is important that we all represent everybody,” she said.  According to Rodriquez, this is what Melendez is doing. “She is for Norwalk, not any particular constituency,” the New Haven Democrat said.
Rodriquez is also impressed with how Melendez is able to balance politics, serving on the council, attending college and friendships and family.  One way Melendez accommodates these interests is by taking morning classes at  Norwalk Community College so she will be free later in the day for government work.  Eventually, she hopes to attend the University of Connecticut campus in Stamford. She is a devoted student of U.S. History and is especially interested in the powerful role played by the Supreme Court. She plans to major in political science and for a minor, Spanish is a strong possibility.
For now, she expresses thanks that she has been able to begin her political career on the local level. “Here you get a chance to work with everyone, even the other side,” she said. “I get along with Republicans and we respect each other,” she added.  Melendez views Rodriquez, who will soon be 29 but has been in politics more than a dozen years, as one of her several political mentors. As for role models, she says there are many, each contributing some attribute. But mention the name of Sonia Sotomayor and there is little doubt that the first Hispanic elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court ranks at the top of the most admired list.
Melendez sees herself in politics for the long run. However, if she ends up in the White House, she jokes, something has gone wrong

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