The gymnasium of St. Anne / Immaculate Conception Church on Park Street was the venue for a true community dialogue about the history and current state of the Latino vote in Hartford. The dialogue did not dwell in the past, nor did it center on the panelists’ contributions, as audience members readily joined in.
Evelyn Mantilla, who served as the event’s moderator, explained that of the approximately 54,000 individuals registered to vote in the city, 38% are Latinos. Of the small number who voted in the 2012 primary, only 13% of those voters were Latino.
“Why don’t more Latinos vote in Hartford?” was the question that held this conversation together. Everyone had theories.
Panelist Victor Quinones said, “we are not educated politically.” People will vote all Democrat instead of thinking about the individual candidates.
“There is also the hours,” he said. Very few people stop by the polls between 6-9am, and then people work all day. He said the polls should open and close later.
Panelist Charles R. Venator Santiago, an assistant professor at UConn, said that in Puerto Rico election day is a holiday, a day off. Olga Delarosa Moya, native of the Dominican Republic, said in that country people vote on Sunday.
Audience members offered their own reasons. One registered voter said, “there is no transportation. There is no communication with citizens to take them to vote.”
Another person from the neighborhood indicated that transportation was a barrier. She said, “I also registered. I came to the school [that served as the polling place]. We were not on the list. We had no transportation to go somewhere else. That’s three votes lost.”
These are individuals not too cynical to consider voting, yet they are not participating in the electoral process.
There is a clear disconnect felt between politicians and the community. Quinones said that in Puerto Rico, politicians show up everywhere. “Here, you only see the politicians during the time of voting,” he said.
Others were less restrained in their criticism. A resident who identified herself as being 52 years old said, “I hate to say it, but Segarra is one of them” who “turn their back on people once elected.”
Barbara Ruhe of Wethersfield, who challenged John Fonfara for his State Senate seat in 2010, pointed to the lack of elected officials in the room. Notably absent: John Fonfara and Minnie Gonzalez. Only Robert Cotto of the Hartford Board of Education was present.
As if on cue to drive home to point that too many serving politicians were absent from this conversation on absence, in walked former Mayor Eddie Perez.
Not all thought it reasonable to expect presence of elected officials. Rico Dence, who recently ran for the State of Connecticut House seat in District 4, said “there’s unrealistic expectations of the government sometimes.”
Debunking the myth that the current mayor is nowhere to be found, Dence said “I’ve seen him all over the place,” but politicians can’t be expected to knock on every door in the city.
“We actually have to get out more” and deal with issues like crime ourselves, Dence argued.
The politician/resident disconnect notwithstanding, voters are not feeling compelled to get to the polls. Madelyn Colón, one of the panelists and a political analyst, said in the past, “there was a need to vote.” She said people were motivated “because of discrimination in housing, police brutality,” and other pressing issues.
Puerto Ricans, she said, “were able to make enormous gains because we were politically motivated.”
“There was an activism,” panelist Ana-Maria Garcia said. “I don’t see it today.”
Some of the solutions offered ranged from promoting the use of absentee ballots to educating children about the political process. Garcia said, “spread the word,” because “it doesn’t cost anything.”
This program was sponsored by the Hartford Public Library and Hartford Votes ~ Hartford Vota Coalition.