This year’s general election offers an opportunity for some breakthroughs for Connecticut Latino politicians and may also provide an indicator of how far this growing population has progressed in gaining a fair share of local leadership roles.
The Nov. 3 voting also will begin to answer to the question of where the Latina candidates are, an issue recently raised in the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy (https://ctlatinonews.com/2015/10/19/where-are-all-the-latina-candidates/) in regard to the low representation of Hispanic women in state and national office.
There are not many Latinas at the top of municipal ballots Tuesday, but there are several candidates worth watching who, if successful locally, could move up in their political careers.
These include Democrats Eloise Melendez, a Norwalk council incumbent; Republican Emanuela Palmares, a school board candidate in Danbury; Wildaliz Bermudez, a Working Families Party council candidate in Hartford, and Ligia Marroquin, running for the school board in Stamford.
The biggest attention grabber Tuesday night will be the results in Bridgeport where a former mayor, Joseph Ganim, who was driven from office and into prison for violating the public’s trust, is attempting a political comeback. His major opponents are another Democrat, Mary-Jane Foster, a TV commercial actress and sports team owner who is running as a petitioning candidate, and Enrique (Rick) Torres, a Cuban businessman from the Black Rock section with a long history of local political involvement.
Another notable race is in Waterbury, where Puerto Rico-born Jose Morales, a Republican, is the first Hispanic to seek that post
in the city’s history. His opponent is a two-term Democratic incumbent.
In New Haven, there are several Latino Democrats running for the Board of Alders, mostly unopposed.
What follows is a glimpse at some of the races across the state involving Latinos:
Ganim and Foster have been slugging it out since the former knocked incumbent Mayor Bill Finch out of the race in the September primary. Meanwhile, Torres, making his third try at being elected mayor has been has downplayed his Republican label and even has attached the image of Democratic icon John F. Kennedy to his campaign. Only In Bridgeport blogger Lennie Grimaldi characterizes the Torres strategy as an attempt to “transcend political party” and to find “a broader audience in a heavily Democratic city.”
Another twist to the Bridgeport political drama is that Torres is also one of a bevy of Hispanics running for the City Council. He currently is the lone Republican on the council.
Also, in Bridgeport, Democrats Lydia Martinez, a former council member, is running for Town Clerk, and Milta Feliciano, the city’s director of veterans affairs, is trying to keep the council seat she won by one vote in 2013.
When Luke Bronin defeated incumbent Pedro Segarra in the Hartford Democratic mayoral primary he sent to the sidelines one of the nation’s most prominent Puerto Rican officeholders. For the general election, Bronin has the resources, the organizational strength and the blessing of the city’s political insiders as well as his former boss, Governor Dannel Malloy, and is expected to easily brush aside his Republican opponent, Theodore Cannon, and other opponents.
However, Tuesday’s ballot in the capital city also features the independent mayoral candidacy of Joel Cruz Jr., which should at least draw some interest in the city’s large Hispanic community, if not some votes. A city council member, Cruz has mounted a somewhat quixotic, low-budget campaign depending more on personal appearances than expensive media spots or party support. He also has chosen to run without the Working Families Party label which got him elected to the city council.
James Sanchez and Julio Conception are among the six council candidates on Bronin’s Democratic slate and are expected to sweep into office. Bermudez, under the city’s minority representation rule, needs to finish among the top nine voter-getters overall to be elected.
Morales is cast as a relative newcomer politically, although he did run successfully for the board of education a few years ago. Morales, a former Democrat, who also is running for alderman in District 5 and says he has friends in both parties.
This year’s Board of Alderman election also represents a first for Waterbury. Thanks to a charter change all 15 members will be elected from districts rather than citywide.
Joining Morales on the Republican slate are Jay Gonzalez, District 4, and Ruben Rodriguez in District 2. Both Gonzalez and Rodriguez are leaders of the National Republican Coalition of Connecticut that debuted earlier this year. They also are members of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission.
The Democrats also have Hispanics on their ticket. Incumbent Victor Lopez Jr. is running in District 2, and newcomer Sandra Martinez-McCarthy in District 5. An independent, Luis Muniz Sr. also is running in District 5.
A possible wild card in Waterbury is how the recent drunk driving arrest of Rep. Victor Cuevas, a Democrat, will impact his party candidates. So far most of the damage has been to his standing in the state legislature, but Republicans hope the bad publicity may affect some of the local candidates he is supporting.
Eloisa Melendez survived some backroom political maneuvers to retain the Democratic nomination for council in District A1. She also was nominated by the Working Families Party. Seeking her second term at age 21, Melendez, a college student, is considered one of the rising stars of the party and her race is among those being closely watched by Joseph Rodriquez, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Caucus. “Norwalk is important to us given the growing Latino population and our good friend and member Eloisa is running,” he said.
There have never been more than two Hispanics on the town council but this could change Tuesday. Michael Cardona, a Democrat, is running for an at-large seat and if elected would join another Democrat, Miguel Castro, elected last year, on the governing body.
Tuesday’s ballot also features incumbent Mayor Manny Santos and the unresolved question of whether the Portugal-born Republican should be characterized as a Latino or European.
There are Latino candidates on both the Democratic and Republican tickets who are members of the New Britain Latino
Coalition, reports Carmelo Rodriquez, a prominent Republican who is chairman of the coalition. The Republican slate includes Willie Pabon, who is running for his second term as Ward I alderman, Kristian Rosado in Ward 2 and Griselle Aponte, who is up for a school board seat. Rodriquez described the 23-year-old Rosado as the “new rising star” of the party.
The Democratic slate includes Jahaira Jiminez, running for alderman-at-large, and Manny Sanchez seeking his third term as alderman. Carlos Pina is a school board candidate.
Another race that Rodriguez is watching involves a Republican, Emanuela Palmares, who is secretary of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. This 31-year-old Brazilian-American is running for the school board.
Among the other Latinos on the ballot is Elmer Palma, a local restaurant owner and a Republican who is seeking re-election to the council from Ward 2.
Ligia Marroquin is running for the Board of Education on the Democratic ticket with Angelica Gorrio. “It’s the first time Stamford can vote for a Hispanic woman,” she said, adding that 39 percent of the children in the public schools are Hispanic and the last time there was a Latino on the board was 2002.
Marroquin has gained the respect of Democrats, such as Melendez of Norwalk, for her work on the staff of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes where her roles include Hispanic Outreach coordinator.
Another Democrat, Virgil De La Cruz is seeking to keep his District 2 seat on the 40-member Board of Representatives that he received last year by appointment.
Mayra Berrios-Sampson, a Democrat, hopes to become the first Hispanic elected to the city council, although she did hold a seat by appointment several years ago. Berrios also was the first Hispanic to be town chairman.
Efrain Dominguez Jr., a Democrat, is seeking re-election to the city council where he serves as president pro tempore. The school board candidates include incumbents Aracelis Vazquez-Haye, a Democrat, and Mirna Martinez, nominated by both the Republican and Green parties.
The Windham Democratic Town Committee has four Hispanics running. They are Luz Osuba and Juan Flores Alvarez for school board; Nectaliz Martiniz, for town council, and Jose Cruz for Zoning Board of Appeals.
Democrat Ram Aberasturia, a Cuban-American, is seeking to keep his seat on the town council.
Michael Gonzalez, a Democrat, is an incumbent candidate for the Board of Education.
The Democrats have two candidates with Hispanic origins. They are Anthony Lopez for school board, and Frank Farricker whose grandparents were from Spain, who is running for first selectman.
Eva Bermudez Zimmerman, a Democrat, is seeking re-election to the 12-member Legislative Council from District 2.