Two candidates have entered the race for the Ward 14 seat on the New Haven Board of Aldermen vacated by the long-absent Gabriel Santiago.
Santiago, who had not shown up to a board meeting for over five months, resigned the first week of January in a letter delivered to the Office of Legislative Services. City officials interviewed said they did not know the reasons for Santiago’s absence, as he has not responded to phone calls or emails — including from his constituents — since July.
Ward 15 Alderman Ernie Santiago — who bears no relation to the resigning Santiago — said that his colleague’s resignation might have to do with his having moved to an unknown location. He also cited Gabriel Santiago’s trouble balancing the position with his evening job as a possible cause of the former alderman’s truancy.
“The only one who can explain his absence is him, and he’s been unwilling to do that,” Santiago said. “What we do know is that this was a huge missed opportunity. He’s a young guy who was passionate about youth programs and could have been involved in politics for a long time.”
With the formal resignation received, the New Haven city clerk’s office will hold a special election for the vacant board seat on Feb. 22, said deputy city clerk Sally Brown. With candidacy announcements due this Thursday, two Fair Haven residents have entered the race.
One is Alberto Bustos, a 62-year-old businessman who first came to New Haven in 1981 from Peru and has since started a travel agency on Grand Avenue called Expresso Latino. Bustos said that his diverse experience in the community — founding a Spanish-language newspaper called Los Andes in 1985 and creating a citywide youth soccer league — will allow him to serve his neighborhood effectively.
“The people can trust me because I’ve been working with the community for more than 30 years,” Bustos said. “I know work needs to be done on the schools and safety. I want to work with the police department to make sure our neighborhood is more secure and drug-free.”
Bustos said he decided to run two weeks ago and plans to knock on every Ward 14 door to campaign over the next month.
Also vying for the seat is Santiago Berrios-Bones, a 64-year-old biology teacher at Wilbur Cross High School. Berrios-Bones moved to the city in 1987 from Puerto Rico, where he studied education and biology before being recruited as a bilingual teacher by New Haven Public Schools.
Berrios-Bones, who said he has been planning to run for alderman for over a year, will reach out to community members and city leaders, including Fair Haven Ward 16 Alderman Migdalia Castro, to ready himself for the race.
“I’m not ready to say which issues are most important because I’m looking to the people to tell me that,” Berrios-Bones said. “As of now, I know we need to look at traffic and trash problems in the ward.”
Ward 14 co-chair Rafael Ramos said he and his fellow co-chair will endorse one of the two Democratic Party candidates by this Thursday. A Republican or Independent challenger is unlikely because of the compressed schedule for the special election, he added.
“The endorsement will depend on which candidate we think knows more about the neighborhood and which will be able to fight for the important issues,” Ramos said. “Some of the important considerations are going to be waterfront properties along the Quinnipiac River, zoning and traffic.”
Above all, Ramos said, he hopes the new alderman will show up to work.
“Being on the Board of Aldermen is a big commitment, and you need to attend meetings in order to work with your colleagues and cooperate on policies that affect multiple wards,” he said. “Santiago was very young — maybe 21 or 22 — and he clearly just couldn’t make the commitment.”
“Now he’s resigned out of the blue and we have to choose between two candidates we know little about,” Ramos added.
According to the city’s charter, the clerk’s office has 45 days from the time a resignation is received to hold a special election.