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New London - For the first time ever, minorities will be in the majority on the City Council and on the Board of Education - a racial makeup that is more representative of the city's diverse population.
"It's historical," said City Councilor Wade Hyslop, who was re-elected to a fourth term Tuesday. "I think it means the Democratic Party has finally started listening and hearing us talk about inclusion - and that means including every ethnic group in the city."
On Tuesday, voters elected six Democrats and one Republican. The new City Council will comprise Hyslop, Anthony Nolan and Erica Richardson, who are black; Efrain Dominguez, who is Hispanic; and Michael Passero, Michael Tranchida and Martin T. Olsen, who are white. The Republicans endorsed a council slate that didn't include any minorities. Olsen was the only Republican elected.
For the Board of Education, voters selected four minorities for the seven-member panel - Sylvia Potter, who is black, and Mirna Martinez, Aracelis Vazquez Haye and Elizabeth Garcia Gonzalez, who are Hispanic. Also elected were Robert Funk, Scott Garbini and current board Chairwoman Margaret Curtin, who are white. All are Democrats except for Martinez, a Green Party candidate who was cross-endorsed by the Republicans.
"The Board of Education and the City Council candidates-elect now represent the make-up of the city," William Satti, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, said Thursday.
"Our job as the town committee was to work to get a team in place that makes up the diverse population of the city. Now it's their job to govern," said Satti, who is white.
In this city of 5.5 square miles, around 13,500 people - about half of the city's 27,000 residents - are racial or ethnic minorities. According to 2010 Census data, 28 percent are Hispanic and 17 percent are black. In about 30 percent of households, a language other than English is spoken at home.
"I think it's great," said Passero, who was elected to his third term and has served for the past two years as council president. "Since I've been on the council ... things have changed. We've gone from a very lopsided council, historically elected by the old sixth-district Democrats, to those from all over the city."
The "old sixth district," now the third in a total of three districts, covers the largely residential south end of the city.
Hyslop, who served in the state legislature for 14 years, believes that having more minorities in leadership roles will pave the way for more civic involvement.
"This is one of (the) things I've been saying at council meetings all along - it's about inclusion," he said. "When you look out and you don't see anyone who represents your community, there's a problem."
Jane Glover, the city's chief administrative officer, is among the minorities who have served on the council in the past. But, she said, it has been rare to have two minority councilors serving at the same time.
The Democratic Town Committee always has reached out to minorities and encouraged individuals to serve, she said. "I just think people are now just exercising their rights. It's always been available to them and the Democratic Party has always tried to include them. But you have to grow into the idea that you can be part of it. Now we have Obama, and they're seeing council members over the past few years, and they can see it's available to them, too."
Daryl Justin Finizio, the city's openly gay mayor, took some credit for helping to diversify the city's most important elected panels. Part of his campaign for mayor two years ago was to engage the community - no matter the ethnic or racial background or sexual preference - and to create an administration that was inclusive.
Finizio appointed Dominguez to the Water & Water Pollution Control Authority last year and supported Richardson, who served on the Police Community Relations Committee. As a member of the Democratic Town Committee, the mayor also encouraged minorities to run for office.
"The candidates themselves came forward. ... We just opened the door and once the door was open, they were ready to run through it," he said.
Richardson, who was elected to her first two-year term Tuesday, said Thursday that she hadn't noticed she was part of a historic event, but she is "happy and honored" to be part of it.
She cautioned that someone does not have to be a minority to champion issues that affect minorities. She said she has always tried to be fair.
"No matter who you are, or the color of your skin, you have to look at fairness when creating policies," she said. "You need to see how those policies can impact everyone. You can't have tunnel vision. You really need to always remember who your constituents are - and that's everyone in New London."
The new council and school board will be sworn in Dec. 2.