The two men seeking to replace an AWOL Fair Haven aldermen made their pitches to neighbors—and left to round up votes on their own.
Candidates Alberto Bustos (in left photo) and Santiago Berrios-Bones (right) made their pitches during a candidate forum at the Grand Avenue branch library Wednesday evening.
They’re vying for Fair Haven’s Ward 14 aldermanic seat, which was left vacant when Gabriel Santiago resigned earlier this month.
The two candidates will square off in a special election for the seat on Feb. 22.
Neither candidate will go into the election with the backing of the Democratic ward committee, which can play the role of king-maker or at least provide crucial organizational backing in aldermanic elections.
Rafael Ramos, a ward committee co-chair, said the election is coming up too quickly for the committee to meet and decide which candidate to endorse.
Ramos made that announcement after Bustos and Berrios-Bones introduced themselves to neighbors at the library. Over a dozen people braved the biting cold to hear what the candidates had to say.
Berrios-Bones, a 64-year-old Wilbur Cross High School biology teacher, said the number-one issue that he’s been hearing about is public safety: “There are people who seem to be prisoners in their own homes.” He said he’d like to tap neighborhood institutions like schools and churches to “integrate the community” to combat crime.
Bustos, who is 62, runs a Grand Avenue travel agency called Expresso Latino; he formerly ran a Spanish-language newspaper called Los Andes. Bustos told the crowd Wednesday night he’s concerned about young people in the ward and what they’re doing after school. He also mentioned public safety, and the importance of keeping the streets clean.
Several neighbors asked the candidates about their views on the idea that the shuttered Strong School be converted into a community arts space. Both candidates said they favor that plan. Berrios-Bones suggested renting out some of the space to businesses, which could subsidize arts programming. Bustos agreed.
Asked what aldermanic committees he would like to serve on, Berrios-Bones mentioned Finance. Bustos said he is undecided.
Both candidates promised that they would carve out the necessary time to attend all the meetings required of an alderman. They sought to reassure neighbors who had an absentee aldermen for most of 2012. They gave out their cellphone numbers to all present.
Ramos asked how the candidates will bring Fair Haven’s sizable immigrant population into the political process. Bustos, who’s from Peru, said he has been working with immigrants already. “They move our economy,” he said. “We need to support them.”
Berrios-Bones, who’s from Puerto Rico, said he worked with immigrants as part of Elm City Congregations Organized (ECCO) and now Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT). “They’re here and they’re part of us.” He said he’s in favor of allowing immigrants to have driver’s licenses and to pay in-state tuition for college.
Kermit Carolina, principal of Hillhouse High School, asked what can be done to address the high drop-out rate among immigrant students. Teens need to have a vocational education option, Berrios-Bones replied. Bustos said parents have to work together with schools.
Ramos asked the candidates who their backers are.
Bustos said his campaign manager is Nilda Martinez. “I don’t have any support” from outside groups, he said.
Berrios-Bones said he’s supported by Alderwoman Migdalia Castro, state Rep. Juan Candelaria, former Board of Aldermen President Tomas Reyes, and Celestino Cordova, Democratic co-chair in Castro’s Ward 16.
“I think we have two very good candidates,” said Carmen Reyes, Ward 14 co-chair. The race comes down to “how many doors they knock on.”
Reyes declined to personally endorse either candidate.
Ramos was not so shy. “I like Bustos,” he said.
“He’s an immigrant,” he said. “It’s good to have immigrant representation on the Board of Alderman. ... Just like we love Barack because he represents a minority. It’s nice to have representation as a minority.”