Some Skepticism, But Hartford Latinos Begin To Embrace New Mayor


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Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and his wife Sarah. Photo credit:
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and his wife Sara. Photo credit:

Bill Sarno
On Three Kings Day, Jan. 6, Mayor Luke Bronin and his wife Sara are expected to be part of the city’s festivities in the heavily Latino Park Street area. This will be the first time since 2001 that this celebration takes place with a non-Puerto Rican mayor in attendance.
How the Puerto Rican community greets the new mayor may offer one measure of whether any  resentment lingers about how they believe that  his former boss – Governor Dannel Malloy – and Democratic power brokers orchestrated the ouster of his predecessor, Pedro Segarra.
But if there is any remaining bitterness among the rank and file,  Latino political leaders are saying  they are putting that political saga behind them and plan to work with the new mayor.  “There are no enemies in politics,” explained Joe Rodriguez, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus and a strong Segarra supporter last year.
However, Rodriquez also shares the sense that Hartford’s Latino population and leadership will keep a close eye on what the Bronin administration does to address their concerns.
Attending Three Kings Day with the Spanish-speaking first lady may earn points, but what will count much more, they say, is how his administration meets employment, housing and public education challenges.
“It “may take a year or two before we can take a measurement” of how the Bronin administration is doing, said State Rep. Edwin Vargas, whose district includes the heavily Hispanic south end of the capital city.
Vargas, who actively backed the Segarra campaign, now is ready to work with the new mayor. “We have to support him,” Vargas said. “Anything else would hurt the city,  we need to give the guy a chance to turn the city around,” the Democratic legislator said.
A harbinger of the new beginning came before the Jan. 1 inauguration ceremony with Bronin naming several Latinos to key positions in his administration and to his transition team. “It is refreshing to see a new mayor come into office having a diverse administration with Latinos in key positions,” admits Rodriguez.
The new lineup at City Hall includes the appointment of Thea Montanez as chief of staff.  A Hartford native, Montanez is highly regarded in many circles.  Most recently, Montanez has served as director of the North Hartford Promise Zone, an urban revitalization partnership between the city and the federal government that was one of the major highlights of the Segarra administration.   “This is an awesome appointment,” said Joel Cruz Jr., who ran against Bronin in the general election as an independent. “I have a lot of respect for her,” said the former council member about Montanez.
Montanez served as President of the Board for the Hartford Public Library, and numerous other high profile community boards including the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
The city’s new communication director, Samaia Hernandez, like Bronin, had worked in the administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy. She was a press secretary and he was the governor’s general counsel. Hernandez moves into City Hall after having been communications director for U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty and holding numerous other jobs over the years.
A Latina, for the first time in Hartford and perhaps around the country in a major city,  has been appointed to lead Hartford’s Public Works department.  Marilynn Cruz – Aponte was named Acting Director in Bronin’s first round of appointments.
The transition team’s personnel committee includes Luis Caban, former executive director of the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance, and the financial review and audit committee includes Raul De Jesus, Jr.,  a city councilman. Both Latinos endorsed Bronin early on during the mayoral campaign.
Cruz said he hoped Bronin would bring Hartford together after an election in which the results showed the Hispanic south side generally favored the Puerto Rico-born Segarra and the white and African-American north and west ends put Bronin over the top.
“I hope the new mayor will put the same energy he devoted to his campaign into uniting our city,” said Cruz, whose council term ended Dec. 31.
Any ongoing ill will regarding the election is likely to focus on local party power brokers who backed Bronin over an incumbent mayor and on Malloy who did not support a mayor he had praised during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
Segarra said during a recent interview that what the Latino community needs to do is to work to overcome what he called “machine politics” in Hartford.
Cruz noted that if there is any anxiety about the new administration, it is that “most of Bronin’s campaign money came from big shots.” The question becomes, he said, is whether he is going to connect” with the community.
City Hall was quiet during the final days of the Segarra administration, with numerous politically connected job holders anticipating they would be replaced.
One of the main issues in the mayoral campaign centered around what critics decried as a lack of leadership from Segarra and, Cruz said, that “translates into the people who are under you.”
Cruz said that he was happy that Bronin appears to be open to diversity, but his appointments “have to be purposeful” and also connect with the African-American community. He also was pleased that the choices announced late in 2015 were a mixture of “new blood and wisdom.”
Bronin has promised “a good amount of change,” but also has been quoted as saying that it makes sense to maintain some continuity where it is valuable.
Vargas said that sometimes by putting new people in there (city hall), “it creates a buzz” and this can translate into people, for at least awhile, “putting their best foot forward.”
It’s clear however,  that not all Latinos are disappointed with the results of the election and welcome changes at City Hall.
A cartoon by the Hispanic political satirist Soso, whose identity is unknown, recently posted in Viva Hartford News, a Spanish
Photo courtesy of Hartford Viva News
Photo courtesy of Hartford Viva News

language newspaper, shows the sun smiling on City Hall as a couple characters carrying briefcases make a quick exit. There is a sign that says “karma” and the caption in Spanish essentially translates to “New Beginning and Let’s Clean House! Happy 2016!”