Story and Photographs By John Murray
Two days after the only Hispanic on the Democrat slate, Rubin Rodriguez, quit the ticket, a group of boisterous Latinos rallied in support of Democrat mayoral candidate Neil O'Leary, on South Main Street in Waterbury. Rodriguez stated he quit the ticket because O'Leary wasn't receptive to his ideas and was disrespecting the Hispanic population in Waterbury. O'Leary countered strongly by stating that Rodriguez had quit the ticket because the campaign was unwilling to budget $50,000 to State Rep. David Aldarondo to get the Hispanic vote to the polls on election day. O'Leary called it a "shakedown" by Aldarondo. Mayor Mike Jarjura pounced on the issue and sent out a statement that said O'Leary "is unfit to lead a city with Waterbury's ethnic, religious and national diversity."
In the wake of two sensationalized front page articles in the Republican-American newspaper, a group of Hispanics issued a statement saying "In contrast to what the recent article stated, there a number of highly-educated and working class Latinos who are actively involved in the process. We have a cohesive group that represents the Latino Community at Large throughout the city. We have individuals from all of the political parties who put the city first, not politics."
The statement was signed by Geraldo Reyes Jr., George Tirado Sr., Félix Rodríguez, Ronnie Vázquez, Jose Narváez, Salvador “Ronnie” Vázquez, Víctor Cuevas, Tito Batista, Miriam Echevarría, Israel Lugo Jr., Normarie Martínez, Lisa Medina Booker, Michelle Castillo, Abdalla Johnson, Neil Crespo, Nisha Alves, Ivette Lopez.
The group organized a rally of support for O'Leary Saturday morning, and held a ribbon cutting ceremony at an O'Leary For Mayor office on South Main Street.
"It's been a wild week," O'Leary said, "but this has really energized the Hispanic community."
NBA player Ryan Gomes, a power forward for the Los Angeles Clippers, was on hand to lend his support to O'Leary. Gomes is from Waterbury, and is very active in the community.
Gomes is still in Waterbury because of an NBA lockout. Until a conflict between the owners and the players union is resolved, Gomes faces the possibility of his season being cancelled.
The official ribbon at O'Leary's headquarters at 649 South Main Street provided the former Waterbury police chief with one of the few laughs he enjoyed all week.
When O'Leary promised a victory on election day. and a great celebration afterwards, the crowd erupted.
Despite the outpouring of support on Saturday, a big headache remains for the O'Leary campaign. Rodriguez quit the ticket so late in the election process that the Democrats can't replace him. O'Leary strategized with Atty. Gary O'Connor and Democrat Party Chairman Ned Cullinan on what - if any - options they have.