When Gerry Garcia ’94 SOM ’01 was an undergraduate at Yale, he helped to start the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. Now, as a Democratic candidate for secretary of the state, he, a Hispanic Jew, will use his multi-ethnic background to reach out to diverse communities of Connecticut and increase voter turnout, he told the audience of about a dozen local residents at Wall Street Pizza on Wednesday.

And he can bring communities together, he said he was told by a local resident, because he had the “chutzpah and cojones” for the job.

Garcia, the former alderman for Ward 9 and a self-described Puerto Rican Jew, outlined his platform at the 20-minute Wall Street Pizza event, which was sponsored by the New Haven chapter of Democracy for America, progressive political action committee. He explained that if elected, he would go to municipalities and working with local residents to head to the polls.

“This past Nov. 3, we saw 17.6 percent of the vote in Hew Haven,” he said. “I’m tired of shaking my finger at the TV screen.”

But before he could continue with his pitch, he needed to address his name, which bears a resemblance to Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia.

“It’s OK to laugh,” he said. “I’ve heard every joke.”

Garcia said the role of secretary of the state is to oversee a list of all the state’s small businesses and act as Connecticut’s chief elections officer. As secretary of the state, he said he would work to change Connecticut’s restrictive balloting policy, which limits access for those who are ill, physically disabled, on active duty or are simply “out of town.”

He added that he would also work to change the “ludicrous” state’s exploratory committee process, which allows potential candidates to raise funds with fewer restrictions than those who officially have declared their bids. He said that even though potential candidates can raise money in $375 increments while in an exploratory committee, once they are an official candidate they can only raise money in $100 increments, he said in an interview after the event.

As part of his campaign, Garcia said that during the presentation, he has signed up for the Citizen’s Elections Program, Connecticut’s new public financing option for candidates, becoming the first person to participate. The program both regulates spending and donations received during the campaign and provides public financing for qualifying candidates.

Seven audience members interviewed after the event said they support Garcia’s run.

“On a personal level, I think Gerry is young, and has a lot of energy,” said Aaron Goode ’04, co-chair for Democracy for America in New Haven, which has not yet endorsed a candidate. “And it’s great he’s Latino, which is an under-mobilized electorate.”

Garcia will participate at a Latinos for Gerry salsa event at the Playwright bar Wednesday Feb. 10.