Norwalk’s young freshman Council member says she’s up for another term

Eloisa Melendez celebrates the Democratic victories in November at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Eloisa Melendez is sworn in as Norwalk's youngest Common Council member in November 2013.
Eloisa Melendez is sworn in as Norwalk’s youngest Common Council member in November 2013.

NORWALK, Conn. – After a year of tackling tough Norwalk problems – one of which started before she was born – Common Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) says she’s on board for another term.

“There’s been times where it’s been easier, times that it’s been harder, but at the end of the day it’s been a really great year for me. You’ll probably see a little different side to me this year, but nothing too different, and I will be running for re-election,” Melendez said Saturday.

The 20-year-old Latino woman is going to have competition – former Councilman Steve Serasis is planning to run, according to the draft minutes of the Jan. 7 District A meeting,written by Elsa Obuchowski. Councilman David Watts has not decided yet whether he’ll seek re-election, but stressed over and over during the meeting that Dems need to support Dems, the minutes show. Several people have reached out with interest to run to represent District A on the Council, according to Watts, as reported in the minutes.

Serasis and Watts did not respond to Sunday attempts to contact them. Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho said that candidates need to receive the endorsement of a majority of the DTC members of that district, or obtain a requisite amount of signatures to force a primary.

While, according to the minutes, “Watts said it is important to prevent people from flipping the council, to not endorse a candidate who can’t be trusted to work with Democrats,” Camacho spoke in less partisan terms.

“In my view, it is important that both parties field candidates who bleed green (for Norwalk) first, and blue or red secondarily.  We are a diverse city, and for its part, the Democratic Party is a diverse party. We intend to field candidates who reflect that diversity, and embrace it,” Camacho wrote in an email.

Norwalkers might assume that Melendez would be aligned with Watts, given her age and his well-publicized support of her election as a recent high school graduate. But, when there’s been a split among the Democrats, Melendez has voted with John Kydes and John Igneri, not Watts, Travis Simms, Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman and Sharon Stewart.

At a recent Mayor’s Night Out, Watts arrived after the event again and looked at two empty seats. Watts did not take the one next to Melendez, and did not speak to her.

Melendez declined to comment on her relationship with Watts. She talked extensively about her first year, a “great year,” more so than being just 20 years old.

Norwalk Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez takes part in discussion during a meeting.
Norwalk Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez takes part in discussion during a meeting.

“I live and breathe Norwalk, but then actually seeing all the things that go into running a city, the city I love so much, is obviously eye-opening but amazing, too, despite the good and the bad times, the good and the bad issues,” Melendez said. “… You can read every story on city government, you can read all the minutes, you can go to all the meetings, but until you’re there – it’s just completely different. Because it’s on you, you’re responsible for running a city.”

But you might find a hint of an opinion about the dark underside of her year in this comment.

“I love politics, but I also hate it,” she said. “I hate the state of it, I hate the money and I hate the power, the need for power that some people get involved in politics for. There are some good politicians and there are some bad politicians. Like anyone, they’re humans, we’re humans taking office. But for me I’d love to see my generation get involved, just politically informed, just kind of getting good people involved for the right reasons and not just people who want another title. What is another title if you’re not going to do anything with it?”

NancyOnNorwalk has been trying to catch up with Melendez since November to ask about her first year as an elected politician, but she’s been busy – it had to wait until a break in her second year as a Norwalk Community College student, and for the family oriented-student to enjoy the holidays.

“The best thing I would say about my life right now is the different perspectives I am getting,” Melendez said, explaining that her days begin with people her age at NCC and end with people two or three times her age in city meetings. In between, she babysits 10 and 11-year-olds, so she’s seeing it all, she said.

She thinks it’s important for a City Council to have diversity in its age brackets, as she can pass on experience when she gets older, like veteran Councilman Doug Hempstead does now, she said.

“I want to be kind of like ‘a Doug’ for somebody someday,” she said. “I think it has been really interesting to be elected with the mayor, also. Because it’s his first year, too, but his first year was filling the spot of someone who has been there for eight years. That I think is so hard. Obviously the mayor is not perfect … but I think he’s done a good job and I think being with him has helped me, too,” she said.

Mayor Harry Rilling has helped her directly, she said.

“I think more than anything I was nervous about how people were going to treat me, how hard I was going to have to work for that respect because of my age, my gender,” Melendez said. “But, not that I have been surprised, but I have honestly been really blessed that I have never felt that they are keeping me out of conversations. If anything, they are putting more effort into keeping me in conversations. The only downside is obviously the drama. People saying to me, how do you deal with that circus? I didn’t want to get involved for it to be a circus.”

While Watts talks of “fake Dems,” Melendez says it’s great to be in city politics, where party affiliation takes second place to what is good for the community.

“Everyone has their opinion, but to me, when I go out there, I don’t see red and blue,” Melendez said. “I don’t look at the other 14 and see red, blue. I see 15 different experiences, opinions, perspectives. They’re all very important and when you limit yourself to your party, then … It’s all about Norwalk, it’s about who is going to make the best decision for Norwalk.”

The first year has been one of intense learning, Melendez said. In promising that Norwalk will see a different side of herself, Melendez said she’ll be speaking up more.

About her silence, she said, “There is so much going on you kind of have to take a step back. Your silence is not always consent, but sometimes it’s necessary.”

She hasn’t been alone in her quiet – Councilman Glenn Iannacone (R-At Large) is similarly silent at Council meetings.

Her first controversy on the Council was the vote, a year ago, on the contract to lower Rowayton Avenue. Former Councilman Kevin Conroy spoke at that meeting, saying the project had first become a gleam in someone’s eye in 1993 – before Melendez was born.

“A lot of politics is trying to clean up someone else’s mess while trying to make your’s as small as possible,” Melendez said, explaining that she voted against it because the residents didn’t want it.

“It does look nice, but I didn’t vote for it,” Melendez said. “They didn’t want it. I have gotten so many emails. There are 15 of us sitting there physically, but there’s actually close to 90,000. We have to represent these people and what they want done.”

The vote to settle the lawsuit with the Al Madany Islamic Center was obviously the toughest thing, she said. That involved many, many long meetings, as today’s leaders sought to catch up with what had been done in the past, she said.

It affected her constituents, and she was familiar with the spot because she drives through there several times a day, she said.

“I don’t care what anybody says, I was nervous about the traffic. … I thought the perfect solution would be for them to get their mosque, but for them not to have it there,” she said.

“We did kind of look like, patting each other’s backs a little bit too much at that meeting where we figured it out, but you have to understand there were so many meetings trying to figure it out. Everyone wasn’t happy, but it was kind of a win-win in a sense,” she said. “I learned a lot from the experience. having Professor Hamilton come was really cool. I liked her a lot, she was cool.”

Her mother gave her a book by Professor Marci Hamilton as a Christmas gift, Melendez said. Hamilton is the nationally recognized Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act expert hired as an attorney by former Mayor Richard Moccia to help the city navigate the suit filed by the Al Madany Islamic Center  against Norwalk and the Zoning Commission.

The vote on the Maritime Aquarium’s lease was important to her, as she comes from a low-income family and spent a summer learning at the Aquarium, she said. Before the vote, she contacted then-Aquarium President Jennifer Herring and “had her really sit down and walk me through everything, which I found extremely informative,” she said.

Watts made a stand against the lease. Melendez voted for it.

The vote on the lights at Nathan Hale Middle School was important to her, she said. “That Nathan Hale thing was big when I got to tell my friends that I was part of approving the lights for it, because they got to play on the old field,” she said.

Eloisa Melendez leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the 66th Annual Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner for the Connecticut Democratic Party.
Eloisa Melendez leads the Pledge of Allegiance at the 66th Annual Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner for the Connecticut Democratic Party.

Beyond City Hall, she’s had experiences she’ll never forget, she said. She got hugged by First Lady Michelle Obama and shook hands with President Barack Obama, she said. She led the Pledge of Allegiance at the 66th Annual Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner for the Connecticut Democratic Party in August, she said.

She’s impressed that the state party has been supportive, she said, later adding that she is a memb

er of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic Caucus, and Chairman Joseph Rodriguez is her mentor.

She was on a Girl Scouts panel along with some highly accomplished women, where she talked about issues, and has spoken at the Carver Center several times, she said.

“I mostly talk about the importance of being involved,” Melendez said. “… They listen to me, but what is cool is they listen to me because to them I am half an adult, half one of them.”

She recently spoke at a Norwalk High School career day; two students asked for her card afterward, she said.

Her friends ask her how she doesn’t get bored at meetings, she said. “I learn something new every time,” she said.

“This has been one of the biggest years in my life; I have learned so much,” Melendez said. “So I’m really happy, that’s why I want to do it again. I don’t care about the drama, it’s not something that would stop me. But one thing I would say is if people read your stories, or watch the videos, or read (the daily newspaper), they see it. It is politics, but if you are going to see that you also have to see the people who are working together, too. You’re dealing with people, it is politics. Not to say ‘it’s all politics, anything is acceptable,’ but at the end of the day everybody is trying to figure out the best way to help Norwalk.”


16 responses to “Norwalk’s young freshman Council member says she’s up for another term”

  1. Lisa Thomson

    The BOE could sure use Eloisa. Having recently graduated from NPS, her youthful perspective might help refocus some of her fellow Dems on the REAL matters at hand – the students.

  2. Wineshine

    It’s wonderful to see this energy, and enthusiasm in a young person. Wish there were more like her.

  3. Ms Ruby McPherson

    Do you really, Did she vote for the BOE members that are fighting for her community also.

  4. Mike Mushak

    Nice hat In the top picture Eloisa! (I let her wear my hat AFTER she stole it off my head)!

    Best wishes for whatever you do in life. You really are a great role model for anyone of any age, and you truly care about making the world a better place for everyone. Thank you for your dedicated service to our community.

  5. Kathleen Montgomery

    I wish to add that Eloisa seems to be a great role model for anyone elected to serve on a board/council. She seems wise way beyond her years.

  6. EveT

    This idea of “fake Dems” is counterproductive. There are some members of political parties who try to insist “we all need to stick together” when what they really mean is “I want everyone to agree with ME.”
    There is nothing “disloyal” about thinking for oneself, seeking facts and accurate information, and considering the wishes of the voters and the common good, as Ms. Melendez seems to be doing.

  7. NorwalkVoter

    Good job Eloisa! So happy you are running again. You will succeed in being re-elected. Keep up the good work. Listening and learning is vital.

  8. Bill

    I was extremely skeptical of her when she first said she wanted to run, but after seeing her mature this last year on the city council, I could not think of someone better suited to sit on the council. I will vote for her any chance I get.

  9. To make it clear, I’m a firm supporter of Miss Melendez, she brings freshness, and a “Norwalk comes first perspective”. This is the kind of person I want on the council, not ego driven or a personal agenda. There’s too much of that in Norwalk, and politics in general. My interest in running for council is for the same reasons…I care about Norwalk, and the people who live in it first, and foremost. I will not primary some one like Melendez, who should run, and be supported 100% for re-election as a District A Common Council person.

  10. LWitherspoon

    Let’s hope that Ms. Melendez continues to distance herself from Mr. Watts and his “fake Dems” comment. How ironic that the person who said “Dems need to support Dems” himself ran a primary against a sitting Democratic state legislator. I guess the rules don’t apply to him when it’s a question of his own personal advancement.

    I originally had serious doubts about Ms. Melendez on account of her lack of life experience as well as what appeared to be a close association with David Watts. If in fact she’s rejecting Mr. Watts’s and Dave McCarthy’s brand of petty partisan politics, I would change my opinion. Let’s see what she has to say over the next year or so. Talk is easy; real bipartisanship takes work.

  11. Lisa Thomson

    Steve Serasis, I would welcome your presence on the BOE as well, should you choose to serve. Please consider that our school system represents more than half of the city budget. I have never understood why so many candidates choose to serve on the Common Council when education reform and the reputation of our school district has such a significant impact on everyone’s property values. Please work with Eloisa and fellow District A Dems and consider your candidacy options.

  12. Nora King

    Eloisa is an amazing Council Woman. She is bright, kind, has her own opinions and votes based on choices she feels is in the best interest of the city. This is the type of person we want in politics. She is going to do amazing things with her life! We are lucky she is willing to serve our city.

  13. piberman

    Would be helpful to have posted a list of legislative accomplishments for this freshman Counci member and “platform” for the coming election. Any views about property taxes for example ? Adequacy of public school budget funding ? City need for “police reform” ? Down town Mall ?

  14. WHAT!!!

    Eloisa is a wonderful young woman with strong family ties and has a love and respect for our community and all in it(upbringing I believe,thank you Fanny) “Melendez says it’s great to be in city politics, where party affiliation takes second place to what is good for the community” that statement says it all! She really cares about all of us, and is mature beyond her years, only wish all politicians were more like her. Please stick with it and don’t let ANYONE get you down. Can anyone say Mayor Melendez?

  15. New Era

    Hey I am glad to see that Eloisa is running again doing something that she loves. She really wants to out Norwalk first. I love she see thing in long run. I am glad for her!

  16. Sheri

    truly amazed by Elo’s wisdom beyond her years. She has shown the city of Norwalk what it means to look at all sides of the issue. Her enthusiasm should be contagious. She should be re-elected!!!! I’ll help her anyway I can.

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