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Dead Heat In 4th District: A Wakeup Call?

Maybe incumbent Roldan hasn't paid enough attention to constituents

Helen Ubiñas

August 12, 2010

You know voters aren't happy when you find yourself in a too-close-to-call race against a convicted felon who doesn't even have a driver's license.

Of all the surprises from Tuesday's primary – and there were plenty – one really left me scratching my head.

Sure, there was Linda McMahon's smackdown (sorry, I couldn't resist) of her U.S. Senate opponents. Friends from as far away as Chicago were sending incredulous late-night e-mails:"How on earth did Linda McMahon just get a nomination in your state?" In short, weak opponents and money – lots of it.

And then there was uber right winger Martha Dean's decisive win for the attorney general nomination against party challenger Ross Garber. Guns don't kill political aspirations, Ross. Lack of votes does.

Not to mention the trouncing Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ned Lamont took from Dannel Malloy, despite Lamont's being ahead in the polls for most of the race – which may actually say more about polls than anything else.

But in Hartford, the shocker was the dead heat in the city's 4th House District Democratic primary between incumbent Kelvin Roldan and petitioning challenger Angel Morales.

On one side, there was Roldan, a private-school educated, trilingual (English, Spanish and Chinese) protégé of former Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez. And on the other, an ex-con-turned-unemployed contractor who used public campaign funds to rent a Lincoln despite not being able to legally get behind the wheel.

Even with the issues I've had with Roldan over the years – his promotion, thanks to Perez, to a $100,000-a year schools job, his solve-nothing sex-offender proposal – I didn't think Morales stood a chance.

Roldan probably didn't either. And yet, at least according to the registrar of voters, only nine votes separate Roldan and Morales, who was incarcerated five times since 1988 and whose criminal record includes a conviction for second-degree larceny in 2003 that resulted in a four-year prison sentence.

I called Roldan to chat about the recount, but he was MIA Wednesday. And based on comments he made – or didn't—Tuesday night, I'm guessing he's somewhere out there still trying to figure out just what went wrong.

Maybe I can help.

I talked to people all over the city Wednesday about the surprising turn of events. Certainly his connection to Perez, who was recently convicted on corruption charges, didn't help. But, they all agreed, this stunning squeaker is all on Mr. Fancy Pants.

Let me explain. Sure, Roldan may have talked up his background as one of eight children raised by a single mother when he ran for office. His experience with homelessness before settling in the Stowe Village housing project, he often insisted, made it easy for him to relate to his fellow Hartford residents.

But all of that was belied by an increasing disconnect with his constituents and a demeanor that almost everyone I talked to described in one word: Arrogant.

"Angel may have his issues,'' said former Councilman Steve Harris. "But to many, they could at least relate to him. They didn't feel like he's talking down to them."

Milly Arciniegas, who canvassed the 4th District for Lamont, said she heard many residents express frustration with leadership. "They talked a lot about feeling neglected,'' she said.

And that criminal record that many figured counted Morales out as a serious opponent may actually have helped him.

Kevin Brookman, Morales' campaign manager before they recently parted ways, said that for many residents, Morales' criminal record wasn't important. "In Hartford, I think it was something that the average person could relate to and that they don't necessarily hold against someone."

"It's about second chances," said Luz Sullivan, a resident and Democratic town committee member who voted for Morales after, she said, she grew increasingly disillusioned with Roldan.

And who knows, Roldan may still get a second chance.

If he does, this should be a major wakeup call, not just for Roldan but for all the other politicians who too often forget who put them in office.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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