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Program encourages Connecticut residents of color to run for office

Florida law permanently strips felons of the right to vote and other civil rights, including serving on a jury, running for public office and sitting for the state bar exam.
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A training program designed to build the skills of people of color wanting to run for public office.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Campaign School at Yale are hosting a training program designed to build the skills of people of color wanting to run for public office.

The program, called "Representation Matters: Running for Local Office and Civic Engagement", is a free, two-day virtual training session scheduled to take place on Saturday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, March 4.

Joe DeLong, executive director and CEO of CCM, said he saw that there wasn’t enough diversity among elected officials and wanted to change that.

“All of our mayors and first selectmen were white and predominantly male,” DeLong said. “And so that’s why we thought it was important that we started offering not just encouragement for diversity in our elected offices, but also going that step further and actually giving those communities the tools and resources they needed to get elected and govern successfully.”

Patti Russo, executive director of the Campaign School at Yale, said the focus this year is on local races, because there are several local elections happening this campaign cycle.

“It offers everything that you need to effectively springboard your campaign, either as a candidate or campaign manager,” Russo said of the training.

The Campaign School at Yale will run the first day of the program with a keynote presentation by Russo followed by a panel discussion of alumni talking about how the school helped them become leaders in their community. It will conclude with a networking event and a closing presentation from Russo.

The second day of training will be led by CCM, and will open with a presentation by state and local leaders, followed by a panel of local leaders that will discuss leadership best practices.

“We’re changing the world one individual at a time,” said Russo. “We have to participate in a political structure in our country that was not made for us to succeed. It was not made for people of color to succeed. It was not made for women to succeed. We want to make sure all voices are being heard.”

Bridgeport City Council President Aidee Nieves, the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in the position, said she is participating in a panel in March to help people find their start or just want to develop their voice in government — which is traditionally dominated by white males.

"The power of participation changes the political landscape to ensure there is always a conversation of equity and equality," Nieves said. "We have to be [...] the only authentic voice in the room when addressing issues impacting people of color."

Before serving three terms, Nieves had also attended a one-day course. "There were lots of women but very few of color," she said. "This training is a capacity builder for future leaders of color."

Xenia Gonikberg is a former news intern at WSHU.