State Representative David Aldarondo, middle, is facing a challenge today in a Democrat primary to control the 75th District town committee. Bottom line – Victor Cuevas is gunning to take Aldarondo’s seat in Hartford.

                          Story and Photographs By John Murray

   Super Tuesday might decide which Republican candidate squares of against Barack Obama for the presidency in November. Ten states hold primaries and caucuses today, and 419 delegates are up for grabs — more than all the contests to date combined. In Waterbury, far from the media spotlight, another primary is being waged in the south end of the city that may have reverberations on local politics for decades to come.

   It doesn’t sound dramatic at first glance – a Democrat primary to select 18 seats on the Democratic Town Committee – but this is a skirmish for political influence in the city’s burgeoning Hispanic community. The 7200 voters in the 75th District have a choice between two slates of candidates, one led by State Representative David Aldarondo, the other led by community activist Victor Cuevas. Which ever candidate gets more seats on the town committee will control the nominating process for state representative at the Democrat convention. The loser will undoubtedly force a primary in August. The winner of the primary is almost assured of winning the general election in November.

  Today is round one of a three-round fight.

Victor Cuevas, left, was energized two weeks ago when he opened his campaign headquarters on Grand Street in downtown Waterbury. Gerry Reyes is pictured to the right.

   David Aldarondo is a four-term incumbent in what should be considered a safe seat. In layman’s terms, Aldarondo has controlled the district. He sould be the state representative as long as he remained in good graces with the local Democrat Party.

   So what happened? Why is Aldarondo facing the stiffest challenge of his political career in a Democrat primary to select 18 town committee members?

   The biggest factor was a miscalculation by Aldarondo in last autumn’s mayoral campaign. Aldarondo did just about everything he could to infuriate the Democrat infrastructure. He wanted $50,000 to run a south end operation to get Democrat Neil O’Leary elected mayor. When the money was rebuffed, Aldarondo was instrumental in having the sole Hispanic candidate on the Democrat ticket resign, which left O’Leary with only eight aldermen candidates. To further compound a tense situation, Aldarondo then worked covertly behind the scenes to try and get Republican Mike Jarjura re-elected.

When Democrat aldermanic candidate, Ruben Rodriguez, middle, withdrew his name from the Democrat slate in September, tensions erupted in the Hispanic community. Rodriguez said his ideas were being ignored by mayoral candidate Neil O’Leary, but O’Leary had a different spin on Rodriguez’s departure. O’Leary was quoted in the Republican-American newspaper saying that State Representative David Aldarondo had engineered the defection after O’Leary had refused to put Aldarondo’s friends and relatives on his campaign payroll. 

   David Aldarondo overplayed his political hand, cost the Democrats one seat on the Board of Aldermen, and alienated Neil O’Leary and the entrenched power structure of the local Democrat Party. Aldarando’s miscues opened the door for new Hispanic leaders to emerge in the Democrat Party – Victor Cuevas and Gerry Reyes – and they are the driving force behind the primary.

Bitter feelings between Aldarondo, left, and Mayor Neil O’Leary, right, developed last autumn. O’Leary vowed to support a challenger to the four-term incumbent, and has followed through.

  The emergence of Victor Cuevas into Waterbury politics began with a sleight. The incident occurred during the bruising 2011 mayoral campaign when Waterbury mayor, Mike Jarjura, visited the River-Baldwin Recreation Center, where Cuevas works as the recreation director. There are several non-profits housed out of the center and Cuevas said Mayor Jarjura entered the scene and presented a $5000 check to La Casa Bienvenida, a non profit organization serving low income Hispanics over 60 years of age.

   “Mayor Jarjura told me that State Rep. David Aldarondo was helping his campaign, and had suggested he use some of the city surplus money to make a small contribution to La Casa Bienvenida,” Cuevas said. “The Mayor hadn’t been in the building since the last election, and I asked him why he didn’t spread the money around and share it with the other groups.”

   The Mayor’s answer didn’t sit well with Cuevas. “The Mayor told me that La Casa Bienvenida was effective at getting the vote out for Aldarondo, and at the end of the day, ‘your people don’t vote’.”

   Cuevas said the Mayor’s comment made him angry, and he sought out Jarjura’s opponent, Neil O’Leary, and vowed to help O’Leary rally Hispanic voters to defeat Jarjura. Cuevas helped launch Latinos Unidos, and they held a rally at the Portuguese Club on Baldwin Street a week before the election that drew a packed house of young, and until that point, disenfranchised Hispanic voters.

The Latinos Unidos rally in the South End of the city galvanized Hispanic support for the O’Leary campaign.

   On election day Latinos Unidos worked the South End to get out the O’Leary vote, and successfully delivered more than a 1000 votes than had been cast in the 2009 municipal election.

  “We are working hard to get the youth involved in the election process,’ Gerry Reyes said. “If we are successful I believe we will have an Hispanic mayor in Waterbury in ten years.”

   The key to the youth movement might be the work Cuevas has done at the River-Baldwin Recreation Center the past 23 years. His work has brought him in direct contact with more than 3000 families in the South End.

Cuevas, front row, second from the left, has assembled a diverse group of candidates for the town committee. Several he mentored at the River-Baldwin Recreation Center.

   Today’s primary won’t settle the issue between David Aldarondo and Victor Cuevas, but it will be a litmus test on which candidate is more successful at motivating his supporters to get out and vote. And more importantly, the primary will give Waterbury a peek into Hispanic politics in the city. Is the sleeping giant beginning to stir? We’ll find out shortly after the polls close at 8 pm.