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The Streets vs. the Corner Office

An aide to Mayor Perez and a rebel Democrat square off in an Aug. 8 primary vote as to who will succeed 4th district state Rep. Evelyn Mantilla

August 3, 2006
By MEIR RINDE, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer

Angel Arce´s campaign talk is like a jagged cry from the heart of the city.

Ask him about his beloved Hartford and he pours out laments and advice on helping children help themselves, on slumlords, on the ills of public housing.

Despite his passion, Arce, a 47-year-old grandfather and Hartford Housing Authority commissioner, is the underdog in the race to succeed 4th district state Rep. Evelyn Mantilla, who is leaving office.

Mantilla´s anointed heir is 27-year-old Kelvin Roldan, an aide to Mayor Eddie Perez Roldan has the party endorsement and the support of his boss and of Mantilla, who is running his campaign.

Arce and Roldan will be competing for the Democratic nomination for the seat in a primary vote on Aug. 8.

Like Senate challenger Ned Lamont, who he supports, Arce is the outsider candidate, a Democratic town committee member who announced early he would run against Mantilla. If he represents the cry of the street, then Roldan, like Lieberman, is the embodiment of the political machine -- a private-school scholarship kid, a quiet technocrat and one of a several young people Perez has installed in his office.

One afternoon last week a tired and unshaven Arce sat in his campaign headquarters, the barely furnished downstairs of his home on Norwich Street. He talked about the woes of poor renters: ¨Landlords are coming from outside the state, buying buildings, jacking up the rent, and then what happens? They don´t fix, they don´t do anything. I would like to take you someday to the building next door, on the next street. I never thought I could see cockroaches so big.¨

He spoke about homeless drug users: ¨Let´s find ways so they could kick their habits, let´s find ways to put them into some programs and become successful. Sometimes these people are just reaching out for help, and they´re not being heard! They´re being ignored!¨

And on young people: ¨The problem to the solutions of our youth is that they´re not included. We cannot look at the youth as the problem, we got to look at them as the problem-solvers.¨

Like Roldan, Arce is from a big Puerto Rican family that came to Hartford when he was a child and lived in public housing. He went to trade school, worked first as a machinist and then running youth programs for the housing authority. He joined the authority board and now is the public relations director at a nursing home company.

His supporters include state Rep. Art Feltman, who said Arce has spent years helping his fellow Hartford residents with the nitty gritty problems of poverty. ¨His grass-roots experience better qualifies him, more than working for another politician,¨ Feltman said. ¨I just don´t see what Kelvin has done for the neighborhood on his own.¨

Roldan works out of a former travel agency, a comfortably air-conditioned office on New Britain Avenue. As a boy, he won a scholarship to Avon Old Farms School, was profiled in the Hartford Courant , and attended Hartford Conservatory and Middlebury College, studying in England and China along the way. After college he started working for Perez.

¨I oversee initiatives for the mayor,¨ said Roldan, an ingratiating bear of a man in professorial spectacles. ¨I´ve pretty much done everything: research, development, implementation and capitalization, of all the mayor´s initiatives, which have included homeownership, his educational initiatives, the newly established Office for Young Children, and the Healthy Communities Initiative, which aims to provide some kind of medical care for individuals who have no medical insurance.

¨As I look at this district, there´s a significant elderly population here that has significant needs in terms of health care and in terms of quality housing that is affordable to them, and is affordable to the people of the 4th district as a whole,¨ Roldan said. ¨This particular district is challenged by many things.¨

Roldan also spoke about the importance of education, the need to help young people involved with the judicial system, and the state´s poor funding of youth job programs and reentry services for ex-prisoners.

¨There´s a very, very clear difference between the candidates, one of which is, the ability to grasp complex issues, the ability to achieve results,¨ said Matt Hennessy, the mayor´s chief of staff. ¨Those are things Kelvin has proven he can do.¨

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
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