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Racial Diversity in Conn. Politics

August 14, 1998

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Some Connecticut voters may do double-takes when they step into voting booths in November.

For the first time in decades, the Democratic ticket could very well be all-white. On the Republican ticket, voters will see names like Santa Mendoza for attorney general, NAACP leader Ben Andrews for secretary of the state and black former Rep. Gary Franks for U.S. Senate.

Democratic state Sen. Alvin Penn of Bridgeport said minorities who have long played a key role in his party are questioning whether they are being taken for granted.

``The more Republicans become inclusive, the more people are going to look at them. You can only kick a dog so long before it’s going to bite you,″ he said.

Each ticket was decided at party conventions last month, although candidates who weren’t picked but still had significant support could wage primaries on Sept. 15.

Such is the case for the Democrats’ sole black candidate for statewide office, Hartford Treasurer Denise Nappier. She was nominated for state treasurer following last-minute vote changes.

Critics say the move came about because leaders wanted to avoid the first all-white ticket in nearly 40 years.

``Unfortunately, because the party hierarchy wanted diversity on the ticket ... it turned out that way,″ said Frank Lecce, a white candidate who has challenged Nappier to a primary.

The wrangling over race comes at a time when the state’s economic prosperity is helping minorities get a bigger taste of suburban life.

A physical move to the suburbs could mean a political move to the right for blacks, said David A. Bositis, an analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington.

But he said Republicans need to attract minorities by talking about issues they care about, not by simply putting nonwhite faces on the ticket.

Connecticut’s Republican slate has been dubbed ``Rowland’s Rainbow,″ after youthful Gov. John Rowland, who is running for his second term.

While Rowland signed off on the final party slate, campaign spokesman Dean Pagani said the effort was to select the best qualified candidate and not to recruit minorities.

But not all the Republican selections have been free of controversy.

Comptroller candidate Antonio Serbia stepped down after the Hartford Courant reported he had been acquitted of bank fraud charges in his native Puerto Rico and had embellished academic credentials on his resume.

And Andrews, a board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, disclosed Wednesday to The Associated Press that he is in a long-running dispute with the Internal Revenue Service, does not have a college degree and lied about his age to get into the Air Force.

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