Mirna Martinez could be New London's third-party voice in Hartford

It was New London's art scene that first drew Mirna Martinez and her husband, an artist, to the city, when they stumbled on one of the open gallery events that used to be held regularly downtown.

Martinez, who was born and raised in New Jersey — her mother was from El Salvador — said the young couple was looking for a place to relocate, and a wide real estate search had brought them to look at a stone house in New London, listed for $135,000.

They were so impressed with what they saw here on the art stroll, they agreed to buy the first house they looked at the next day, on Prospect Street, a charming neighborhood of 19th century homes on the perimeter of downtown.

Eighteen years later, the couple still lives in the same house, with their 13-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. Martinez's mother lives in an apartment in the same house, live-in help with the grandchildren.

I was curious to learn more about Martinez's relationship to New London because she is uniquely poised to become at least a small footnote in the city's political history. If she were to win the four-way race in the unfolding special election for the 39th House District, she could become the first New London legislator from the Green Party sent to the General Assembly.

Martinez, a three-term member and past president of the New London Board of Education, a bilingual teacher before she took time off to raise her kids, is running as the endorsed candidate from the Green Party against endorsed Democrat Anthony Nolan, endorsed Republican Kat Goulart, and petitioning candidate Jason Catala, a Democrat.

In these times of polarized politics and battle-entrenched Democrats and Republicans, I have to say that a third-party voice in Hartford seems especially welcome.

Martinez, in her first two bids for the Board of Education, was endorsed by city Republicans. After chatting with her about some of the issues of the day, however, she seems comfortable on a lot of the Democrats' turf.

Take tolls, for instance, which seem to be squarely on the policy fault line between Republicans and Democrats in Connecticut. Martinez says she believes tolls at this point are inevitable but she would like to shield Connecticut residents and make those with out-of-state plates pay. She said she would be especially opposed to tolls that would impact commuters, particularly students commuting to class.

While a Green Party legislator would stand out in Hartford, it is hardly a stretch to consider that New London voters might send a Green to represent them in the General Assembly. The party has been active and involved in city politics, in some ways more successful than city Republicans.

When I asked how she was drawn to the Green Party, Martinez cited some of the basic philosophical tenets of the party: equity, diversity, women's rights, environmentalism. But she said it was also particular to New London and the people she first met here, members of the party, whom she admired for their commitment to social justice in an urban setting.

Martinez certainly recognizes that there is a surge in national politics of women like herself, concerned about broad issues of social justice. But she notes that her own candidacy is more a natural progression from the political work she already has been doing for a number of years.

She says she is obsessive about doing research on topics she thinks she should better understand, and she will be grateful for this campaign, even if she is not successful, for the things she has been able to learn.

As a third-party candidate, Martinez certainly would seem to be an underdog in the race. Unlike the two candidates representing the major parties, which had candidates in the last race, she has to collect signatures, on a sliding scale of up to 20 percent of votes in the last election, to qualify for public campaign financing up to $21,100, depending on how many signatures are collected.

Still, she does have an established political name in the city.

She also would seem to benefit from the state's and city's growing Latino vote. She showed me the voter information card, in Spanish, that she hangs from doorknobs when she comes to empty houses while canvassing.

After all, Chris Soto, who resigned from the 39th District seat after being named legislative director for Gov. Ned Lamont, did well leveraging the Hispanic vote when he wrestled the seat away from Democratic party stalwart Ernest Hewett in a primary.

Soto, however, has endorsed the Democrat in this race and not the Spanish-speaking female candidate from the Green Party.

It will be interesting to see how the four candidates do in the debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters and The Day on Feb. 20.

It's great that there is a wide field of four candidates to discuss the issues, at the start of a very challenging legislative year in Hartford.

I think it will be especially refreshing to hear from a different party on the challenges facing the state.

And it is encouraging to know that New London could be the community that, in a small way, could change the program of business as usual in the General Assembly, with a new voice and a different political party with at least one seat at the table.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

Editor's Note: This corrects an earlier vesion to explain the candidate, if elected, would be the first legislator from New London representing only the Green Party to serve in the General Assembly.

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