Ward 3 Alderman Juan Candelaria won the overwhelming support of the Democratic Town Committee Wednesday as the Democrats’ 95th district General Assembly candidate. Candelaria was nominated to replace state Rep. John Martinez, who was killed in a car accident nearly two weeks ago.
Candelaria defeated Ward 16 Alderman Raul Avila, the only other candidate for the nomination, by a vote of 42-5. He will face Republican challenger Duffy Acevedo next month for the seat in Hartford.
Candelaria’s nomination was largely expected. He received two thirds of an unofficial “straw” vote at a meeting of the 95th District’s voting members Sunday. Nevertheless, Candelaria was surprised with how lopsided the victory actually was.
“I didn’t know that I was going to have that much support,” he said.
The town meeting began with a prayer led by Martinez’s younger brother Ariel. Then Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Susan Voigt took nominations.
John Dye, the chairperson in Ward 5, formally nominated Candelaria, calling on him to honor Martinez’s legacy.
“He [Candelaria] will replace one of the great leaders in this city,” Dye said. “Let it fall to him to complete the mission of John Martinez.”
Candelaria’s nomination was then seconded by several speakers.
Avila was nominated by committee member Menen Osorio-Fuentes, who expressed concern about the vote.
“I believe that there is a large number of people I called who support Raul Avila,” Osorio-Fuentes said. “This has to do with a vendetta of a certain elected official.”
Osorio-Fuentes did not elaborate on who this official was and left immediately after the vote. But Voigt was willing to speculate.
“There was a very sharp primary here between Mr. Martinez and Mr. Avila,” Voigt said. “I think its always hard to heal after a sharp primary.”
Despite Fuentes’ comment, Voigt expressed her hope that supporters of Avila would stand behind Candelaria during the election.
After the vote, Candelaria accepted the nomination. He began his brief speech by remembering Martinez and asking for a moment of silence in his honor.
“We lost a good friend; we lost a leader; we lost a brother,” Candelaria said.
Candelaria went on to describe the problems he would try to face if elected, including joblessness and the scarcity of affordable child care. He then delivered a strongly worded call for unity within the Democratic Town Committee.
“We’re going to have zero tolerance for people who don’t work as a team, who don’t serve the community.” Candelaria said amidst applause.
After the speech, Candelaria said the most important issue of his platform was re-establishing the drug courts in Connecticut. He said that without the drug courts, African Americans and Latinos are sent to jail in very large numbers.
“We need an alternative for those individuals,” Candelaria said.
Candelaria’s aldermanic ward is part of the 95th District, which includes most of the Hill and Fair Haven neighborhoods.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who attended the meeting, said he was happy to see consensus in the vote and praised Candelaria.
“Juan is someone who just entered elective office last year,” DeStefano said. “It’s great to see a guy as young as Juan rising to a leadership role in the city.”