RTC member Enrique Santiago dedicated to public service, wants at-large Council berth

Republican Council at-large candidate Enrique Santiago answers a question at the recent League of Women Voters debate.
Republican Council at-large candidate Enrique Santiago answers a question at the recent League of Women Voters debate.
Election Day is Nov. 3.
Election Day is Nov. 3.

NORWALK, Conn. – Enrique Santiago is not the typical poster boy for the Republican Party. The 30-year-old pharmacy technician at Norwalk Hospital and Norwalk native is of Puerto Rican descent, is bilingual and is a member of an ethnic group that, nationally, has polled overwhelmingly as Democratic Party supporters.

But Santiago is a Republican. He worked on recent campaigns for former Mayor Richard Moccia, State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and former unsuccessful U.S. Rep. candidate Dan Debicella. He has a seat at the table as a member of the Republican Town Committee.

He also is a member of Norwalk’s Fair Rent Commission and Latinos United of Connecticut (LUC). He was educated at Norwalk Community College and University of Connecticut.

Santiago says he enjoys serving others.

“I’ve always volunteered for a lot of stuff. … Community service is my life,” he said. “I find my pleasure in doing that. It’ not about money or anything like that. … Politics should not be ‘what can I get out of politics,’ it should be ‘what can I do for people.’”

He said his decision to join the Republican Party was a natural outgrowth of his beliefs.

“I went with the Republican Party because that’s important to me, my religion. … Everybody always used to say ‘You must be a Republican’ because of my views. But it’s only been the past two years I’ve really been involved with politics.”

That does not mean he is rigidly in step with partisan politics.

“I can be bipartisan. I can go to bat for both teams,” he said. “If it’s not against the stuff that I believe in,” he said, he’s “more than happy” to consider an idea or proposal. “Unless I’m strongly against it, I’m sure we can work something out and please both people – both parties.”

The incoming Council may have to make some decisions when it comes to funding new or rehabilitated schools. Superintendent Steven Adamowski has been quoted as saying the schools, overall, are at 100 percent capacity.

“Not every school’s overcrowded,” Santiago said. “Some schools are barely surviving. Why can’t we just move the kids around?”

He agreed that “Something needs to be done in the short term, and the long term,” and that overcrowded classrooms are “Not good for the students. They’re not getting individual attention like they should be. … Teachers want to give the kids individual attention, but if you have 30 kids in a classroom…”

Asked what he sees as the biggest issues are facing Norwalk, Santiago took a moment before responding.

“A lot of people consider others racist, and I don’t think that’s true. If you’re going to say that, you should have evidence to prove your point of view,” he said. “I’ve never had a problem here in Norwalk. Or anywhere. Yeah, we joke around, but at the end of the day we’re having a beer together.

“The problem’s been there forever; it comes up every couple years. You think we’re out of that hole, but a couple months later it comes up again. It’s a shame. We all have great ideas, you just have to compromise somewhere. We all bleed red.”

He said he thinks Mayor Harry Rilling does not communicate what’s happening in his decision-making process.

“You don’t know what’s going on. I’d like to think he’s doing a great job, but a lot of things (that are happening) were under Dick’s (Moccia) command, things in place that are happening now,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, I know he’s doing his job. I just don’t know what he’s doing.”

He mentioned Waypointe as an example of projects that Moccia was responsible for, and The Pearl, still under construction on Washington Street. POKO Partner’s Wall Street Place and the mall (“Let’s hope something goes up there!”).

He said Moccia “did a great job with the South Norwalk train station,” and that the city needs to make the area more welcoming for visitors.

“Growing up, that was not a great place to stop and take the train,” he said. “The first thing you’d see (for visitors) was South Norwalk and you’d wonder, ‘Do I really want to get off here?’ You have to walk down a few blocks to SoNo and it’s beautiful, but maybe put in something presentable there – it would be great.

“And getting off the highway and seeing nothing but that hole in the ground,” he said of the 95/7 property that has sat idle for decades. “… You go to Stamford, you see nothing but buildings. I don’t want Norwalk to be like that. Yes, buildings, but maybe something, maybe trees, something like that. The Connecticut feel that people think of – the fall time, beautiful trees. People sometimes think Norwalk is South Norwalk/SoNo. That’s it. They don’t realize – go right behind the hospital; West Norwalk, Broad River, Cranbury… There are some very nice areas around here, although I like the South Norwalk area. I don’t see anything really wrong with it. I’ve never had any trouble.”

He heaped praise on the Norwalk Police Department, saying it does an “awesome job.”

“I’m taking the Citizen’s Academy; it’s incredible what the police department does,” he said. “… The chief said I should come down, Jerry (Petrini, Council president) said I should do it, so I’m doing it.”

He had a police ride-along scheduled for the weekend, he said.

The Council and the Redevelopment Agency gave a thumbs-up to the mall proposal recently, but the Council took the unprecedented step of retaining some approval of the design for what’s underneath the controversial North Water Street overpass. Santiago suggested the Council should encourage public input on that.

“They should hold public meetings. People should know what’s happening, give them some options and let them pick. If you’re in town, you should have a say.”

He’s in favor of charter reform – four years for the mayor and Council. Of those who complain about the time commitment that would come with a four-year term, he said, “You spend six months campaigning. You know what you’re getting into. If you don’t like it, you serve your term and don’t do it again.”

And he said people need to be more involved with their government. He urged people to come to Council meetings or contact the Council if they have issues.

“Get a group together, come to the Council meetings. It’s not fun,” he said, but it is the way to try to get things changed. Simply complaining about it won’t do the trick, he said.

“If you want something to happen, get a group together. Send some letters,” he said. “Do something. Don’t just sit and complain. Nothing’s going to get done.”


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