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Working Families Party Candidate Makes History in Hartford

By JEFFREY B. COHEN | The Hartford Courant

November 07, 2008

Add Urania Petit's name to the list of people who made election history Tuesday.

Petit, a social worker and Working Families Party candidate for registrar of voters in Hartford, outpolled her Republican counterpart by more than 200 votes.

With that, city voters made Petit the first third-party candidate ever elected to a registrar's office in Connecticut, according to the secretary of the state. Hartford will soon have three registrars a Democrat, a Republican and a Working Families.

For Petit, it's all about participation.

"My goal is not to register 20,000 for the Working Families," she said. "When I get into city hall, it's not even about Working Families. It's about registering people, educating people and trying to increase voter participation."

State law says the state's two majority parties are guaranteed a registrar in each town. It also says that the candidates for registrar with the highest and second highest number of votes win the posts.

On Tuesday, Democrat Olga Iris Vazquez won her party's position with 21,272 votes. Petit finished second with 2,541 votes, and Republican Salvatore Bramante finished third with 2,315 votes. That means all three won jobs.

One of the unintended consequences of Petit's election is fiscal. Bramante said registrars now are paid $80,000 a year, their deputies get roughly $60,000 and assistants are paid about $40,000. Those salaries and benefits are all paid by the city. The adopted budget for the registrars' office this year which didn't anticipate Vazquez's victory is about $650,000. Last year, the office began with a spending plan of roughly $760,000 and, with cost overruns, wound up spending over $1 million.

To those who say a third registrar costs too much money, Petit says the cost of low voter participation is far greater.

"The reason people don't vote is because people don't know how to," said Petit, a native of St. Lucia who came to Hartford in 1989. "You need to teach people how to vote.

"In order for people to become engaged in the process, we need to educate them about voting, and that's why I want to be registrar," she said.

The Working Families Party gets much of its support from labor unions and backs issues that include living wages, access to health care, education, affordable housing and government transparency. The party has worked hard in Hartford recently. Two of the city's nine council members are from the Working Families Party, and one is the council's minority leader.

On the registration side, though, their numbers are small. According to Bramante, the city has 36,140 registered Democrats, 2,138 Republicans, 11,398 unaffiliated voters and 78 voters that are classified as "other" which includes Working Families voters.

But for Jon Green, the party's executive director for the state, it's as much about the party as it is about voter participation.

"She really enhances the city's ability to engage its own citizens in the political process," Green said of Petit. "And that's fundamentally a good thing."

Correction

November 8, 2008

A story on Page 1 Friday incorrectly said the Hartford registrars' budget did not anticipate the election of Democratic registrar Olga Iris Vazquez. The budget did not anticipate the election of Urania Petit, the Working Families Party candidate.

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.
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