Candidates line up to succeed Rep. Santiago

March 29, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Ezequiel Santiago only died two weeks ago, but the election calendar does not wait for a mourning period to end. Potential successors are launching their campaigns.

Santiago’s fellow Democrats from the city’s South and West ends and downtown gathered Thursday night to nominate Antonio Felipe for the May 7 special election.

When Santiago died suddenly on March 15 at age 45, he had represented Bridgeport in the state legislature for a decade.

Felipe is 23, and has worked behind the scenes during elections.

“Experience comes at different levels,” City Council President Aidee Nieves said following Felipe’s quick nomination. “What Antonio is able to bring to the table is a youthful insight of what the city needs. He understands the Bridgeport community; much of his work has been helping others push their agenda forward.”

Felipe said he and his family were close to Santiago.

“Zeke was a friend of the family, a good friend of mine,” he said.

In a prepared speech, Felipe offered a moment of silence for the late lawmaker and noted he would be “honored” to take on the “impossible” task of filling Santiago’s shoes.

“I know that Bridgeport’s best days are ahead of us, and that my background as a Park City native and a son of the 130th District has prepared me to fight for our city up in Hartford,” he said.

Because Felipe’s family recently relocated to Stratford, he is getting ready to rent an apartment in the district.

While the city is currently run by Mayor Joe Ganim, who stopped by Thursday’s event at the party’s normal gathering spot, Testo’s Restaurant in the North End, Felipe has ties to the Democratic faction Ganim ousted four years ago.

He is the son of Ruben Felipe, an aide to former Mayor Bill Finch, who Ganim defeated in a bitter 2015 Democratic primary. The Felipes are also close with another Finch-era employee, state Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, a good friend of Santiago. Antonio Felipe was Rosario’s campaign manager.

Brett Broesder, Finch’s former communications director turned consultant, stopped by Testo’s to wish Felipe well and said he will likely be assisting with the campaign.

The Felipes also have close ties to the sometimes controversial charter school movement. Ruben Felipe is the state director for the Northeast Charter Schools Network and Antonio Felipe was treasurer for the charter school-linked Build CT Political Action Committee.

The election to replace Santiago will not be uncontested.

Ex-state Rep. Hector Diaz, who was also present Thursday at Testo’s, said afterward he is considering gathering the 36 signatures necessary to petition onto the special election ballot.

“I respect and like his family,” Diaz said of Antonio Felipe. But, he added, the 130th “was my district before.” Diaz was a legislator there from 1994 until 2000.

Diaz, 58, acknowledging the age difference with Felipe, said, “Age breeds leadership.” Diaz is currently a city’s Police Commission.

And Republicans, though severely outnumbered in Bridgeport, have nominated their own young contender for the 130th District seat. Joshua Parrow, 29, moved to the area from New York state in 2009 to attend the University of Bridgeport.

He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there, then became a university staffer. He has held a handful of positions, including recreation center supervisor, the center’s assistant director, head of recruitment and, most recently, assistant director of development.

“This is my first time running for political office, but I’ve been very involved in the community,” Parrow said, noting he is vice chairman of the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone and a member of the Bridgeport Generation Now civic group.

Parrow said he may be a Republican, but he has supported some Democrats, and never wanted to challenge Santiago.

“He was a great steward of the community,” Parrow said. “That ball has to be picked up. I believe I can definitely do that.”