Less than 10% of the registered voters in the 75th District voted in the last municipal election. The largely Hispanic population in the South End of Waterbury has historically voted Democrat, but this year both the Republicans and Independents look to take their own cut. The woman above was photographed at an Hispanic rally for Neil O’Leary on November 2nd at the Portuguese Club on Baldwin Street.

                                      Story and Photographs By John Murray

   The 2011 mayoral campaign in Waterbury has been a battle, but the trench warfare that has erupted in the South End has triggered an Hispanic awakening that might decide which of the three candidates emerges victorious tomorrow night. The controversy in the South End centers around four-term incumbent Democrat State Representative David Aldarando, and the influence he holds in the 75th District. The district is dominated by Hispanics from a wide array of Spanish speaking countries, including: Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, El Salvador and Guatemala. And contrary to main stream popular opinion, these groups don’t all like each other. Aldarando won re-election in 2010 by winning twice the number of votes as second place finisher Paul Nogueira, and appeared comfortably entrenched in a safe political seat.

   Aldarando was born and raised in Puerto Rico and received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Universidad Interamericana in 1992. Aldarando is one of the go to guys about Hispanic issues at the state capital and has risen to the rank of assistant majority leader. A search of  Aldarando’s website from the House Democrats touts several news releases announcing Aldarando appearing on WPRX radio with Governor Malloy in March, with Secretary of State Denise Merrill in April, and with Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman in July. More than half of the news releases on the site were dedicated to Aldarando’s interviews on WPRX, the first wholly owned Puerto Rican station in the USA. The station airs music from the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Spain, as well as news direct from Puerto Rico. 

   After seven years in Hartford, Aldarando had developed a reputation for bridging the gulf between the Hispanics and the political heavyweights in Connecticut. Governor Dannel Malloy, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Chris Murphy worked with Aldarando to help gain support in the 75th District, and when Democrat Neil O’Leary exploded on the Waterbury political scene, he figured to work closely with Aldarando, too.

   As the campaign swung into gear O’Leary said he began to field overtures from individuals surrounding Aldrandao requesting $50,000 to run the South End operation. O’Leary said he was stunned by the request, and said no. Months passed and overtures continued to come for a staggering amount of money – now $41,000. O’Leary continued to balk at the requests, and then he received a report from a local businessman who claimed Aldarando had stopped in his store to ask him to remove an O’Leary For Mayor sign.

Rubin Rodriguez, left, and David Aldarando, right, at the Democrat Convention at the AOH in July.

   Eventually Aldarando was given input into selecting a candidate to be on the Board of Aldermen slate, but not the $40,000. Rubin Rodriquez became an aldermanic candidate and it appeared that everything was okay between O’Leary and Aldarando.

   It wasn’t. According to O’Leary he continued to get requests for a substantial budget to get the Hispanic vote to the polls, and when he continued to say no, Rubin Rodriguez quit the Democrat ticket because he said 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.”

   Two days after the only Hispanic on the Democrat slate quit the ticket, a group of boisterous Latinos rallied in support of O’Leary on South Main Street.

   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.

   “It was a wild week,” O’Leary said at the time, “but this has really energized the Hispanic community. David Aldarando made a huge mistake. He took the only Hispanic off the ticket and that has really angered people in the community. Now they don’t have any voice.”

   Ricardo Cruz was the first executive director of the Hispanic Coalition, and the vice-president of the Spanish Action Council, and he wrote the Observer, “I commend O’Leary and the Hispanic supporters who simply stated the truth. This is how it has worked in the past, apparently it is no longer tolerated.”

Puerto Rican pride runs deep in the South End of Waterbury.

   There have been strong rumors swirling around political circles in Waterbury that Aldarando is now quietly working for five-term incumbent Mike Jarjura, and he has been given a working budget to help deliver the Hispanic vote. During the Republican wrap-up rally on November 6th, the Observer directly asked Mayor Jarjura whether Aldarando was now working with the Republicans. “No,” Jarjura said, “I wouldn’t say David is with us, but I know he’s not working for Neil O’Leary.”

   The Republicans and Democrats have no Hispanic candidates on their tickets, but the Independent Party has two. “We have the most diverse ticket in Waterbury,” Independent Party mayoral candidate Larry De Pillo said, “we have Luis Quiche Jr. (above) and Luis Muniz Sr. both running for the Board of Aldermen. If you want diversity then vote for the Independent Party.”

On November 2nd the Latinos Unidos held a rally to support Neil O’Leary for mayor, and to continue to show that their are other leaders in the South End besides David Aldarando. Victor Cuevas, right, hosted the event, and is considering a challenge to Aldarando in November 2012. Also pictured are Ronnie Vasquez Sr., and Michelle Castillo.

Attending the Hispanic rally for O’Leary was Hartford mayor, Pedro E. Segarra (middle), who implored the gathering to elect O’Leary, who has helped Hartford launch its own PAL program.

Some sections in the South End can be intimidating for middle-aged-white politicians to go door knocking, but the biggest population growth in Waterbury is in the Hispanic community, so the politicians will skirmish in every neighborhood for support. All three candidates believe they will win tomorrow’s election, but it might boil down to which campaign wins the Hispanic vote, and by how much.