With the backing of several current and former Fair Haven officials, and a former DeStefano campaign staffer, Santiago Berrios-Bones won a seat on the Board of Aldermen Friday night.
Berrios-Bones (at center in photo), a 64-year-old Wilbur Cross biology teacher, won a special election for Fair Haven’s Ward 14 aldermanic seat.
He beat Grand Avenue businessman Alberto Bustos (at right in photo) 186 to 140, counting absentee ballots.
Friday’s special election was the result of a mid-term resignation by Alderman Gabriel Santiago. He stepped down in January after months of absenteeism. Berrios-Bones will now finish out Santiago’s two-year term.
Click the play arrow to see the poll moderator announce the results.
Berrios-Bones won with the support of a number of well-connected current and former elected officials. His campaign was championed by Fair Haven Alderwoman Migdalia Castro. He also had the support of State Rep. Juan Candelaria and former Alderman Tomas Reyes. Berrios-Bones’ campaign was managed by Ben Young, who worked on Mayor John DeStefano’s successful mayoral campaign in 2011.
Bustos’ campaign was managed by Nilda Noble and Ward 14 Democratic committee co-chair Rafael Ramos, who took a personal day from his job at the Livable City Initiative to pull votes for the candidate.
Both Bustos and Berrios-Bones spent the day outside the polling place at Atwater Senior Center while their campaigns worked to bring in voters. It was an uphill battle. People don’t expect elections in February, and neighbors don’t have voting on their minds on a Friday evening. Both campaigns also had to contend with Winter Storm Nemo, which shut down operations for several days this month with 34 inches of snow. Turnout was low and every vote counted.
And the recent redistricting complicated the race. Ward boundaries have recently changed, confusing voters. Ramos, the ward committee co-chair, actually now lives in Ward 15. The new boundary in Ward 14 split up the Chatham Square Neighborhood Association, which had been very active in the ward, and cut out half of Front Street, where a lot of reliable voters live, Ramos said.
An hour before the polls closed, Berrios-Bones was outside in a belted trenchcoat, scarf, and gray knit cap, trying to convince voters to cast their ballot for him. “I have a vision,” he told a prospective voter who had asked about security. “We need to get the churches involved. ... We need to get everybody together.”
Berrios-Bones later said that public safety is the number one issue that he’s been hearing about during the campaign. He said people have been complaining especially about prostitution. “I’m going to talk to the police and see what can be done.”
Bustos, standing nearby in the dark outside the center, said he’d been outdoors all day, wearing three thermal shirts under his overcoat. He said his campaign spent less than $1,000 on the election. Young, Berrios-Bones’ campaign manager said his campaign spent about $1,000.
“We’ve been outnumbered, but we’re working hard,” Ramos said. As he pulled votes in the last hour, he found many people weren’t home. On a Friday night, “they’re out shopping, or partying,” he said. Ramos stopped by the former Tee-Off Cafe, now the Grand Cafe, in a desperate bid to find voters. Inside, he circled the room talking to people, and interrupted a pool game, but no one was registered in Ward 14.
Back at the Atwater Senior Center, Young’s red SUV passed by with a loudspeaker on the front. “Today is your day for change! Vote 1-D for Santiago Berrios-Bones.”
State Rep. Candelaria stopped by in a blue Mazda to deliver a voter to the polls. He said he was supporting Berrios-Bones because he was the candidate selected by a group of Fair Haven leaders. “We met with a group of us and went through a process.”
Joey Rodriguez, a former Fair Haven alderman, showed up. He said he’d been volunteering for the Berrios-Bones campaign as well.
After the results were announced at 8 p.m., Berrios-Bones was momentarily speechless. “I’m overwhelmed. That’s all I can say.”
Asked about his plans as an alderman, Berrios-Bones said, “I’m just going to consult.” He put his hand on Alderwoman Castro’s shoulder.
“Tell him! Don’t be afraid,” Castro said. “He’s a little shy.”
“I hope to do a good job,” Berrios-Bones said. “I’m going to consult with a lot of people.”
Berrios-Bones spoke briefly about crime and traffic calming. Castro piped up about Berrios-Bones’ plans for jobs. “He likes to think a lot. When he gets all the information, he’s very powerful.”
Castro said she will make sure Berrios-Bones is a good alderman. “I’m here to make sure that Fair Haven moves forward.”