Racial politics

Published on March 27, 2011 by

The 2010 census numbers are out—and what it shows is not all that surprising.

In total, the state’s population increased from 3.41 million to 3.57 million—up by 168,532 since 2000.

Connecticut also increased in racial diversity. Caucasians are down by 0.3 percent but they still make up more than three-quarters of the state’s population. Those indentifying as Hispanic are up by almost 50 percent.

African-Americans grew 17 percent to 362,300 and now represent 10.4 percent of the population statewide with the nationwide percentage standing at 12.9 percent.

The Asian population–the fastest growing, is up by nearly 65 percent to 135,600.

Racial identities have been modified since 1997 when the OMB issued new standards recognizing five race categories. They include White, Black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.

The Census Bureau also issued a sixth category: Some Other Race.

Those who consider themselves biracial or multiracial in Connecticut jumped 23.8 percent from 10 years ago.

Fairfield County has the highest population in the state at 916,829, up by 3.9 percent.

Bridgeport holds its rank as the state’s biggest city, with 144,229 residents. That’s up by 4,700 or 3.4 percent since the 2000 Census—its first population gain since the 1950s.

Population shifts within cities and towns mean that boundaries for state and local election districts must be redrawn.

Within the Park City, Hispanics and African Americans have increased in numbers while Caucasians have declined. Caucasians, Hispanics and African Americans now each make up one third of Bridgeport’s population.

This demographic trend is not new. It’s been happening in the city since the early 1990s, but the fact that the trend is growing begs one important question.

Why is it that Bridgeport–even though Caucasians have been a minority for years now–hasn’t elected an African American, Hispanic or other minority mayor? Unlike Hartford, the same candidates seem to recycle. Even ex-con Joe Ganim is making noises about running for his old job again.

When Ganim paid the tab from his federal corruption conviction, he took the necessary steps to be able to vote–which means he can still run for office.

“From the beginning, this country was based on white supremacy and the people were conditioned to believe that whites are superior—even minorities themselves,” said Charles Tisdale, director of ABCD in Bridgeport and a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for mayor last cycle.

Yet if that’s the case, how does Tisdale explain the presidency of Barack Obama?

“It’s different on a national level,” he said. “Local leaders in local communities pick minorities who support their policies. Maybe I’ll run for office again in 3050. I’ll be in a place then where I can win.”

However, Mario Testo, Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee disagrees with Tisdale’s assessment of racial politics.

“While the Mayor is white, Bridgeport’s City Clerk, Town Clerk and Registrar of Voters are Latina,” said Testo, also a restaurant owner on Madison Avenue. “We don’t have control over the Republicans, but we Democrats don’t discriminate against minorities or women.”

Democrats outnumber Republican registered voters eight to one in the Park City. So, in light of Hispanic population trends, will Republicans try to recruit them to run for office–especially those who own small business or who are Evangelical or Pentecostal Christians?

“We realize that we need to do more outreach to minorities—both nationally and locally,” said Marc Delmonico, Chairman of the GOP party in Bridgeport. “Democrats in Bridgeport have minority and union populations. So we need to do more outreach. We are the party of Lincoln. And churchgoers have conservative values. We have a couple of Latinos and Hispanics now nationally—Rubio in Florida did very well, so the message is there. If you look at the Governor’s race, Foley lost by 6,000 votes and we would have been better off with him. As Republicans, we haven’t done good job in the past to reach out. We are working to fix that.”

Republican Rick Torres, who ran unsuccessfully to fill Chris Shays old seat in Congress also blames his party for not being more inclusive.

“They didn’t come to me, I came to them,” said Torres. “They don’t do lots of outreach. You can’t continue to be a growing minority population like Hispanics and blacks and not be recognized in leadership positions. But it also has to do with Latinos themselves. They haven’t chosen their path yet and a lot of them are illegal immigrants–Mexicans who don’t vote.”

Despite his issue with the GOP, Torres says he will run again for office.

“What we see as a minority is actually a majority,” said Democrat and mayoral candidate John Gomes. “When you look at minorities they’ve been desensitized, are not part of the process and have decisions made for them by the upper echelon. But now that they’ve seen job losses and have had personal impact, people will say they have to hold elected officials accountable. That’s what’s great about America–we all have a voice.”

Gomes, a businessman an immigrant from Cape Verde was director of the CitiStat agency and Deputy Chief Administrative Officer in Bill Finch’s administration but was let go after a confrontation with police at a raucous Halloween party.

“When you have leaders in the community who tell you to vote a certain way and then don’t keep their promises, something different should be done,” Gomes added. “We have a body of government here who is in it only for themselves. They work for the city but have conflicts of interest because they owe favors. I’m a minority but I’m a qualified minority and you need qualified minorities that represent the needs of everyone. But we don’t have a quality of public service that represents the community.”

Maybe it’s a more nebulous reason that keeps the usual suspects in power here.

“It is true that Bridgeport’s growing minority population
has not resulted in the election of a mayor from one of
the city’s minority communities–at least not yet,” said Professor Gary L. Rose, Chair of the Department of
Government, at Sacred Heart University. “Precisely why this
is the case is difficult to pinpoint. One explanation is that the city’s Democratic machine through the skillful use of patronage has to some extent included minority interests within the context of the governance process. As a result, the minority population in Bridgeport has not felt marginalized or neglected. Thus, racial minorities have not
felt a burning need to politically mobilize against the establishment.”

Rose says there is also reason to believe that racial minorities in Bridgeport with political aspirations are more attracted to service in the Connecticut state legislature, rather than serving as the city’s mayor. 

“Quite frankly, one can often do more for the needs of minorities as a state law maker, as opposed to serving as the mayor of Bridgeport,” said Dr. Rose. “The city of Bridgeport has produced a series of excellent minority state legislators who likely pursued a seat in the Connecticut General Assembly, rather than the mayoral office, due to the projects and services they could secure at the state Capitol for minority constituents.”

So get ready for the fun, 2012 is just around the corner.