Updated, 5 p.m.: Addition of YouTube video of Kadeem Roberts, titled “Future Mayor of Norwalk Connecticut;” punctuation adjusted in story. Correction, 2:23 p.m.: Eloisa Melendez was a Bernie Sanders delegate.
NORWALK, Conn. — Three Norwalk Democrats have been pounding the pavement in their quest to represent District A on the Common Council.
The verdict will come in Tuesday with the only primary being held this year in Norwalk, a competition for the Democratic endorsement.
Chris Yerinides and Eloisa Melendez, an incumbent seeking a third term, have been active in District A politics for years although both are in their early-20s, and were endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee. Kadeem Roberts, their challenger, said Sunday that he is motivated by a passion to serve the city and expressed pride in forcing a primary.
“I worked really hard for it, knocking on doors,” Roberts said. “Not just saying, ‘Can you sign this piece of paper?’ – I knocked on doors, I talked to numerous voters, I explained my passion and what it is I want to do for the city and for my district, of course.”
All were born and raised in Norwalk. Roberts is in his mid-20s.
Melendez is known for being Latina and Norwalk’s youngest Council member in memory, having won her first election to the seat when she was just 19 years old. She had to fight for her re-election two years ago; in a complicated bit of city politics, the District A Democratic Committee voted to endorse her but the District A members of the Democratic Town Committee went in another direction, a move that some called unprecedented.
Having won re-election in a landslide for Democrats, she was appointed chairwoman of the Ordinance Committee.
“There are things I want to continue to see through,” she said last week, naming the progress that’s been made on revising the noise ordinance, a possible ban on fracking waste and the possibility of making more Norwalk quasi-governmental bodies into permanent fixtures of city government.
Yerinides and Melendez attended the Democratic National Convention last year, both as Bernie Sanders delegates. Minutes for recent District A Democrats meetings show that Yerinides has taken a leadership role.
“I am excited that I do get to be running with Eloisa,” Yerinides said Sunday. “She has been a really good partner in the fact that she has been able to introduce me to a lot of the people and really make sure I am educated on the issues. There is always going to be a learning experience and she has been a great asset.”
Yerinides is on the Fair Rent Commission.
He said he’s been involved in Norwalk politics for two years, and the only time he lived outside of Norwalk was when he attended the University of Connecticut in Storrs, graduating with a degree in history a year ago.
“I kind of just really have a big appreciation for the city. It played a pivotal role in my development as a person,” Yerinides said, explaining his desire to make a difference.
“I attribute a lot of what I am” to attending Columbus Magnet School, he said, explaining that he learned about diversity from a young age. “It really gave me a respect for people of all types. We have a little bit of everything here, I think that’s what makes Norwalk so great.”
He was asked to run, he said, calling education his biggest issue.
Norwalk schools are overcrowded and the Board of Education has made the right steps in its effort to build two new schools, he said.
“I don’t have kids right now but this is something I think about and I know a lot of other families think about, is making sure our school system is good because that affects property values, it affects every part of our city aside from just having a well-educated public,” Yerinides said. “You know, we’ve been knocking on a lot of doors and that seems to be one of the really hot issues. There are a lot of people who are entertaining sending their kids to other school systems just because we have so many here.”
“The things I find most important in a Councilperson are accessibility, accountability, and outreach,” Yerinides said in his letter of intent to the District, promising to be accessible and have good attendance. “…I will be transparent in all that I do as Councilperson. I will only abstain from votes when not given enough information, or should there be a conflict of interest, and in doing so, will make sure that District A has a strong voice in the Common Council. I will not enter any vote affected by personal bias, and will not make a decision until all facts and sentiments are presented. I will also take ownership of and explain my votes. I also look forward to working with our other Councilperson to truly capitalize on what we can accomplish for District A.”
Asked about the time commitment involved in being a Council member, Yerinides said he has been to every Fair Rent meeting in his time as a Commissioner and he has flexible hours in his full-time employment with a small business in Darien. He’s talked to Norwalk’s elected set and he “really got a feel for what the work flow is,” he said.
“I think the campaign season is the most draining part, from what I hear, and I think we are doing a very good job with that,” Yerinides said, explaining that he and Melendez have been knocking on doors all day, for weeks.
“The door knocking experience has been phenomena; I actually really enjoy it. So that’s why I haven’t had a problem with going out every day after work and spending my weekends doing it,” Yerinides said.
The pair have a lot of help, he said.
“We are doing this as a team and I think that is what is going to make us very successful,” Yerinides said. “We are not just running for personal agendas, we are kind of coming collectively together, this specific group of people who really do just care about Norwalk. We have discussions, and are able to put our heads together, come up with good plans and challenge each other. I think that’s really what makes us as successful as we are.”
Roberts said he has knocked on 3,000 to 4,000 doors.
“My name is definitely getting out there and I appreciate everybody that is pulling (for me),” he said.
“In order to have anything successful you have to have a dream. I believe I am the change that the city needs and the district needs, and with my ideas we will all be successful,” Roberts said.
“Kadeem Roberts will continue to move Norwalk onward and upward by creating a community where the people can live and thrive from one another,” his flier states.
“We can actually be together as one, and to be transparent and inclusive to a lot of feedback, or responsiveness, to what’s going on with the community and give back and help other citizens,” he said Sunday. “… My values, that people can believe in, is definitely honesty from the start; determination to move forward with everything; commitment for leadership to get everybody involved. So everybody doesn’t feel left behind. I want everybody to know that they can be a leader, or they’re going to be a leader some day.”
“Responsiveness to issues” means “people need to understand that if they have a problem, they don’t want to feel like they are scared to talk to that person or that person won’t get back to them. So, that’s one of the main things that I believe in, 100 percent, responsiveness to feedback.”
“I graduated in 2014 from Virginia Union University and attended law school, now a student at Fairfield University receiving my graduate degree in Public Administration,” Roberts said in his letter of intent to District A. “Speaking to those within my city and helping orchestrate many community outreach programs has always been my passion but it is the service that has always been the main focus and what makes me stand out as a person. At Fairfield University I am the Graduate Senate, and a Deans list receptions. I have excelled in my ability to have a positive influence on the community and will continue to embodied my ongoing community service, educational speaking engagements and most importantly public service to those in Norwalk Connecticut.”
Roberts said he would always support quality education.
“Kids come, and they learn, from different backgrounds on a day to day basis and I just want the teachers to understand that,” he said, mentioning that Norwalk teachers do a wonderful job.
And, “Safer neighborhoods of course,” he said. “Not with crime because the Norwalk Police Department does a wonderful job,” but with, “Street lights, pavement and infrastructure, make sure everything is set to the highest standards” so that people can walk their dogs at night and feel safe.
Transparency and inclusiveness is important as, “Nobody should feel like they are left out.”
“This has been my dream,” Roberts said.
Melendez said a lot more people were aware there was a primary going on two years ago, as there was also one in District B. Now, “It’s just a random Tuesday the biggest challenge is making sure that people remember so we have engaged with voters. People know, they want to vote for us, they are excited but it’s all about remembering. Our constituents have busy schedules,” she said.
The Ordinance Committee, under her leadership, crafted legislation to make the Arts Commission an official governmental body, made the Bike Walk Task Force an official governmental body, worked to increase police presence at traffic sites, and has been studying noise issues with an aim to updating the existing ordinance.
The primary is part of the process, she said.
“Last time around I was actually the challenger, I was the one primarying, so I have been on both sides now,” she said.
She is a member of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, the Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of Connecticut and of the Norwalk/Darien YMCA, and is in her first year as a University of Connecticut student after graduating from Norwalk Community College this spring.
Melendez chose to attend UConn in Stamford so she could stay active in Norwalk politics, and took more than two years to complete her NCC students because of her role in Norwalk government.
Asked about her continued service, she said, “There are things that I want to continue to see through and I feel like regardless of what my schedule is this is something that I will always make work, because this is what I want and this is what I want to do, I want to represent the district that I live in.”