Was Democratic Party Machine Too Much For Latino Candidates?


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Bill Sarno
Many of the state’s more prominent Latino political leaders learned in Wednesday’s primary that bucking the Democrats’ party machinery may take some doing.  Two of the major incumbents, Mayor Pedro Segarra in Hartford and Town Clerk Alma Maya in Bridgeport, were not able to stem the tide.
In addition, in New Britain veteran educator but a newcomer to politics, Violet Jimenez Sims was thwarted by three organization candidates, all incumbents, in her bid for a Board of Education nomination in New Britain.
In Norwalk however,  21-year-old Common Council member Eloisa Melendez provided one of the few bright spots with her victory as an unendorsed party candidate underscoring her status as a future star for the Democrats.
Melendez said Wednesday morning her unendorsed slate in District A “was lucky to have the support from a lot of people in the other districts.” She noted, “We had a team of people helping us door-knock, phone calls and getting the word out.”
In one of the state’s two most watched races, Segarra was not able to overcome the well-financed and organization-favored candidacy of Luke Bronin, who racked up big margins in the city’s west end and in both African-American and traditionally white precincts.   Bronin raised $834,000 in contributions from supporters outside of Hartford;  Segarra was able to raise less than half of that,  $369,000.
Segarra’s support in the central and south side precincts with larger Hispanic populations was evident, but not enough in sufficient numbers. Moreover, several leading Hispanic leaders such as state Rep. Angel Arce, had endorsed Bronin early in the race.
According to the numbers gathered by The Courant, Bronin received 5,110 votes, or about 55 percent of the total cast, while Segarra got 4,213 votes, or about 45 percent and the voter turnout, based on the number of ballots cast for mayor, was 26 percent.
According to Joseph Rodriquez, Chair of the CT Hispanic Democratic Caucus which endorsed Segarra,  they knew it would be an uphill fight. Rodriquez said,  “While I am disappointed in last night’s results, we knew this journey would not be easy.  Pedro was up against $800,000, two-thirds which came from out of state, but despite the out of state influence, Pedro stayed the course and worked extremely hard.”
In the other major mayoral contest, former Bridgeport mayor Joe Ganim showed strength in most parts of the city, the exception being the Black Rock section, to defeat the current incumbent Mayor Bill Finch by several hundred votes. Among those celebrating the Ganim victory was two-term incumbent Town Clerk Maya Alma who took a chance of running on the slate of a candidate who was returning to politics after serving several years in prison.
However, Maya lost to former state Representative Donald Clemens, who ran on the Finch ticket, by a couple hundred votes. On her loss, Rodriquez said,” I have much respect for Alma and I will continue to admire her ability to work with everyone.  Politics aside, I commend Alma for her years of public service”
In New Britain, where the turnout was only 9 percent, high school teacher Sims, who entered the Board of Education primary with little political experience, made the race interesting, drawing nearly 500 votes but falling about 130 short of gaining a place on the November ballot.
Melendez had been denied renomination by the District A  Democratic Town Commitee in a vote manipulated  by the district chairman, despite her support from many rank and file members. Melendez, a college student of Colombian and Puerto Rican descent  subsequently formed a slate with two other district candidates who had met a similar fate. She also received the nomination of the Working Families Party and would have been on the November ballot regardless of the primary.
It was unclear early Wednesday if Segarra, who had filed for the November ballot as a petitioning candidate, a sort of political insurance, would continue his bid for re-election. Maya also said Wednesday she was not sure if she would retire from the public arena.