When he stopped by the People’s Laundromat, Sergio Rodriguez encountered Maria, who had never heard of the position of New Haven city clerk or what jobs the position performs. So he patiently explained and asked for her support.
There are many Marias out there. That’s why Rodriguez launched his first citywide campaign with a long walk and drive through town Saturday afternoon.
After being briefly in the “exploratory” stage of a race, on Thursday the five-term Westville alderman officially filed to run for the city clerk position. He said it should be a more activist position and that the city clerk should get out into all the neighborhoods of the city.
He went on a 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. walk-and-drive Saturday from Fair Haven’s C-Town Supermarket along the commercial strip of Grand, past Farnam Courts and west eventually back to his aldermanic stomoping grounds in Westville.
Rodriguez is challenging a fellow Democrat, incumbent Clerk Ron Smith, in a Sept. 14 party primary. Smith has served for 10 years in what is a part-time, low-profile job that has not seen a competitive race in decades. Rodriguez is not only forcing a contest—he is raising money, hiring staff and looking for a campaign headquarters. Click here for a background story on the race.
In his company strolling down a sunny Grand Avenue at Poplar were two Fair Haven aldermen who have already declared their support, Ernie Santiago and Santiago Berrios-Bones.
Berrios-Bones recently won the 14th ward aldermanic seat in a special election to replace Gabriel Santiago. Berrios-Bones said he supports Rodriguez because the job “is not to be in the office but out in the community.”
“I like Ron Smith too, but Sergio brings more energy and experience as an alderman,” Berrios-Bones said. “He speaks Spanish too. Not that Ron can’t learn the language; he’s a smart guy. But it would help for the clerk to speak Spanish.”
At the People’s Laundromat, Rodriguez explained in Spanish to Maria [who preferred not to give her last name] how the clerk signs off on all official papers and legislation, and business licenses.
“I see it as much broader, more of a community connection,” Rodriguez said.The walk on Saturday was what Rodriguez called a beginning step for that vision.
Because the clerk licenses businesses in the city, Rodriguez’s group, which included campaign manager Ben Young, also stopped into small businesses along the way.
At 112-year-old Green Cleaners on Grand near Ferry, Rodriguez heard an earful about increased property taxes for the building. Rodriguez explained to the owner the aldermanic tax abatement subcommittee process.
He committed himself as clerk, to attend management team meetings and act as a go-between to the aldermen, bringing to them, individually and as a body, concerns or items the aldermen might have missed.
“We want to make it a more modern position,” said Young.
Rodriguez has hired Steve Rivkin to handle the social media side of the campaign. Fundraising is underway. (The City Clerk race is not eligible for the public-financing Democracy Fund. Rodriguez said he plans to rent a campaign headquarters, location still undecided.
The clerk’s job, technically called “city/town clerk” and a 20-hour-a-week position, pays $46,597 a year. The clerk conducts roll calls at Board of Aldermen meetings and technically oversees the clerk’s office, where people file official papers ranging from lawsuits and real-estate sales to committee formations and petitions to run for public office. A full-time staff deputy, Sally Brown, actually runs the office day to day. The office has a $471,808 annual budget.