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State Hispanic chairman promises to campaign with Melendez

Common Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A).
Common Councilwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A).

Correction 2:51 p.m., Melendez is not an NCC graduate

NORWALK, Conn. – The expectant joy has turned to confused frustration when it comes to Norwalk’s youngest Common Councilwoman in years, a member of the Latino community.

“It’s truly unfortunate,” said Joe Rodriguez, chairman of the Connecticut Hispanic Democratic caucus, referring to the struggle Eloisa Melendez is having to get re-elected in spite of positive feelings among a majority of her colleagues.

Melendez was elected two years ago at age 19 to an enthusiastic reception from the press. The Latino press adored her, with articles in FoxNewsLatino and CTLatinoNews in addition to the locals.

She was aided in this by Councilman David Watts (D-District A), who bragged that he had recruited her with then-Councilman Warren Peña, and touted her as a great candidate despite her youth.

Now Watts has turned on her.

As chairman of District A Democrats, Watts led the district’s Democratic Town Committee members to do something unprecedented, to vote against the entire slate of district committee-endorsed candidates and install their own favorites. This, after Watts said incumbents should be given preferential treatment.

Now, Melendez and the two other jilted District A-recommended candidates are seeking to win a Sept. 16 primary. There’s also hope that she will be on the November ballot as a Working Families Party candidate.

“It’s unfortunate, especially from what I have read through the media,” Rodriguez said. “It’s truly unfortunate. I’ve done work in many communities across the state as chairman of the Hispanic Democratic caucus and typically, the process by which you choose (endorse) are rather straight forward. When a District A committee, in your case, in Norwalk, votes in favor of someone but then those district leaders decide that their opinion doesn’t matter and then goes a different way, it’s really unfortunate.”

Melendez shares a good relationship with most members of the Council, yet has been estranged from a block of Democrats, described by Watts as “the black caucus.”

The Democratic caucus became dysfunctional sometime during 2014 and split, so that there are few caucus meetings and, if there is a meeting, it is only attended by those with whom Watts is in alignment. The group has voted as a bloc on select issues, voting against the operating budget, previously authorized police overtime and the renewal of the Maritime Aquarium lease.

Melendez is close to Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D) and enjoys trivia games with David McCarthy (R-District E). Mayor Harry Rilling has very positive things to say about her and was first in line to buy her lunch on her birthday. John Kydes (D-District C) and John Igneri (D-District E), who are also outcasts from the Watts-led faction, get along well with Melendez.

Yet Watts made facial expressions of distaste as the endorsement vote neared, and he said she didn’t do enough for the “urban core.”

Many observers expected that the Norwalk Community College student would vote in lockstep with Watts once she got elected. She has not. Watts took to calling her a “fake Dem,” and Melendez finally stood up to him at a District A meeting, asking by what authority he had to make such a characterization, to decide who was a good Democrat and who was not, when the DTC chairman was saying no such thing.

Watts cited “freedom of speech.”

Rodriguez said he plans to help Melendez.

“Elections are won by the people, elections are won by knocking on doors, not by working inside,” Rodriguez said. “… I am willing to put on my sneakers and drive down 95.”

Rodriguez indicated that different cities have different political structures.

“Historically, though, if you are a leader that reacts to the folks you represent you would obviously follow suit and out of respect to that committee follow through and vote in favor of (their candidates). He decided for whatever reason had an issue with Councilman Eloisa Melendez. Basically he told the 16 or so folks that are in the committee, ‘Your opinion doesn’t matter.’ I don’t know how other to interpret it. … (He told) those 16 leaders, ‘Your opinion doesn’t matter,’ that ‘I am going to cast my vote the way I feel for whatever reason.’”

Rodriguez said he was encouraged to reach out to Melendez shortly after she got elected and she became an active member of the caucus.

“Through the caucus we were able to help her connect to other caucuses to statewide Democratic Party and I think she is doing great work,” Rodriguez said. “I think we should encourage young people to run for office and to work with them, and again, I think it’s unfortunate that David, who I believe helped identify and helped Eloisa get elected, it’s just unfortunate that he would be quick to run her out of office. That’s certainly not how I do my politicking. I’d rather sit down with someone, if I have a gripe with them or issue, let’s sit down and see if I can iron some of those issues out especially if I consider someone a friend. Let’s sit down and iron this out. So I can support a young leader who has a future, not vote the way he did.”

Comments

10 responses to “State Hispanic chairman promises to campaign with Melendez”

  1. John Hamlin

    Support for Melendez is understandable, especially considering the alternatives in the Democratic party in her district. We, the People (as opposed to “We, the Sheeple”) want elected officials who are reasonable and work to enhance the community.

  2. Pat Ferrandino

    David Watts, grow up! Your conduct has been despicable. As someone who witnessed, first hand, your pouting to Warren Pena, telling him that he had better talk to Eloisa and bring her back in line, your childish and want-to-be, boss-like behavior has no place in Norwalk. For the record, this took place at a reception with Governor Molloy in attendance at Harbor Lights. Remember? I do, along with others who witnessed your unacceptable behavior. Now your vengeful maneuver, attempting to unseat Eloisa, continues to demonstrate your lack of maturity.

    David, your “marionette” has cut the strings and you are not her “marionettist.” Get over it!

    Good luck, Eloisa! Marina and I are proud of you!

  3. Steve Serasis

    Having served on the Council, a community activist, and been a Mayoral candidate. I’m very proud to be on the same slate with Ms. Melendez. She has grown, learned, and applied herself to the office of Council Woman at an impressive rate. She truly cares about the community, all the issues that confront our city, and it’s residents. I’ve seen the impressive transition into a truly informed Council Woman, who should have the opportunity to continue her service to our city. She has my full support in the pursuit of re-election to the Norwalk Common Council.

  4. Gordon Tully

    It seems to me that the black community is not well-served by treating representation as a zero-sum game, because in the long run they will be the losers.

    It is understandable, however. Prejudice against African-Americans is thriving despite decades of progress toward integration. African-Americans have a right to be angry and worried about being screwed yet again.

    However, Watts et al should take notice of a huge change in demographics that is underway. “Mixed-race” marriages are increasing rapidly – we are friends with many such couples in our neighborhood. The old business of checking off “white,” “Hispanic”, “Black” etc. on forms is becoming obsolete. Norwalk is unique in this region in its acceptance of “mixed race” families with relatively little prejudice.

    I put “mixed race” in quotes because it is well-established that race is an artificial construct – we are talking about populations, not races. African-Americans are genetically much more similar to Europeans than are different populations of black peoples in Africa. And there are few if any “whites” who don’t have at least one “black” ancestor, especially Southerners.

    “Mixed-race” marriages are rapidly breaking down the artificial barriers between different populations. Many in the African-American community, who are proud of their identity as blacks, see this as a threat.

    But it seems to me self-defeating to fight to the last man against inevitable change. All this will accomplish is further alienation of the African-American community from the rest of the city and a reversal of Norwalk’s history as a relatively well-integrated city.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Gordon Tully

      There is no “screwed” here for the black community. A black man with a doctorate in Special Education — a college professor — is being shunned by a politically active group in favor of someone whose credentials have been kept secret. He would, if elected, fill a seat formerly held by a black person. The seat being vacated by a black man on the Council, if the District had its way, would have been challenged for by a white man, while a Latina had a chance to defend her seat. Instead we have this situation.

      And this wannabe black leader has said nothing in support of an intelligent, educated black man with a chance to unseat an appointed white guy in District D. Is there a reason accomplished, educated black men do not get David Watts’ support?

  5. Tish Gibbs

    Pat Ferrandino hit the nail on the head. Eloisa is an excellent councilwoman. She works for all of Norwalk and is valued by the leadership. She deserves reelection.

  6. Gordon Tully

    @mark, it is all truly sad and amazing.

  7. Rod Lopez-Fabrega

    By all accounts, Eloisa Melendez is exactly what we need to bring some life to our floundering Common Council: youthful energy, dedication to doing something positive for the city, enthusiasm and commitment–all qualities one could also see in Ana Duleep. We can see clearly with every report from the news media who on the current political scene is doing his utmost to further his own agenda, even if it means suppressing anyone who does not conform to that agenda.

  8. McKeen Shanogg

    @Mark, you ask an important question: “Is there a reason accomplished, educated black men do not get David Watts’ support?”
    Wish Mr. Watts would answer that question.
    For that matter, why does he also not support accomplished, educated black women?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Shanogg

      Thanks. Obviously I was commenting on the candidates, but yes, the question is a good one.

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