TRUMBULL — A choir-enthusiast attorney, a diversity-focused business consultant and a local teacher and preacher highlight the inaugural list of candidates for the Town Council’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

The council approved the task force in July as a volunteer eight-member group with a mission to “strengthen Trumbull’s identity as a diverse, equitable and inclusive community.”

Council member Ashley Gaudiano, D-4th District, was one of the primary supporters of the task force. She said news of the group’s formation had struck a chord in the community.

“We had a tremendous pool of interested community members,” she said. “For the most part, these individuals are newly involved, and the resounding sentiment for involvement was a desire to better an already wonderful community.”

The eight nominees include candidates of various backgrounds, professions, ethnicities and political affiliation. The group will make periodic reports and recommendations to the council.

“I believe strongly in the potential of this committee to make strategic recommendations for how to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion in the Town of Trumbull,” Gaudiano said.

Nominee Tara Figueroa, a New York-based global marketing professional, said she has committed herself to advocating for human rights for the past decade.

“As a first generation Filipina-American raising multi-ethnic daughters, the call to action is deeply personal,” she said. “Simply put, I am following my heart.”

Amanda DeCosta Wagner, a college admissions counselor and diversity workshop host, said she hoped her background in data collection and analysis would help make Trumbull policies and procedures more inclusive in language and intent.

“I decided to get into local politics because equity transcends all aspects of our lives and working on our local town's ability to increase inclusion would be a great step forward for the community,” she said.

Jonathan Tropp, a patent attorney, Anti-Defamation League Civil Rights Committee member and former president of the Friends of the Trumbull High School Choirs, was driven to become part of the task force by fatherhood, he said.

His daughters, now college graduates, began working to address equity, diversity and inclusion in the Trumbull public schools a few months ago, he said.

“The report they prepared with two others shows that we have work to do,” he said. “I’d like to help.”

Dan Wisneski, a flower shop owner and marketing specialist who has written for Bob Costas, Tim Russert and World Wrestling Entertainment, said his background as a board member for the Housatonic Community College Foundation made him a natural fit for the task force.

“As you know, HCC is the most diverse community college in the state, both ethnically and culturally,” he said. “The student body is also the most economically disadvantaged. Our task at the foundation was to give scholarships and support HCC initiatives and programs that led to real careers and actual employment, rather than necessarily just a degree.”

Trumbull native and business consultant Sue Neil volunteered because of concerns for her children.

“I am married to a Jamaican man, and my children are biracial,” she said. “Because of this, I feel I have a unique perspective to offer. I think there is a lot to be done in town in the area of race relations and in educating all on Black and minority history and issues.”

The other nominees are: Lincoln Johnson, an adjunct professor and director of RISE Ministries in Trumbull; Melissa Usseglio, a market research analyst; and Ashleigh Pascarella, a media producer.

The candidates are a mix of political affiliations, with Democrats Figueroa, Wagner, Tropp and Pascarella joining Republican Wisneski and unaffiliated voters Johnson, Neil and Usseglio among the nominees.

The council formed the task force during a July meeting that was at times contentious and stretched past midnight. Before the meeting, 15 members of the public spent nearly a full hour praising the idea of a committee. Some of the speakers referenced Trumbull-oriented social media pages and comments regarding the formation of the task force and the George Floyd rally that drew more than 1,000 people on Town Hall Green in June.

“Trumbull seems to have gotten more racist over the years,” Neil said during the public comment session of that meeting. “Especially having seen what people are writing. You hear, ‘They had the rally, what more do they need?’”

Figueroa also spoke about those opposing the task force’s formation, commenting that, “Privilege affords the luxury to feel like this is a choice. For minorities like myself, we don’t feel that luxury. This is an imperative.”

The council itself also had a spirited discussion on the topic, with Republicans Steve Lemoine and Carl Massaro each proposing similar amendments seeking to mandate a 4-4 split between Democrats and Republicans on the task force.

“A task force whose thinking is biased does not have everyone in the community’s best interests,” Lemoine said.

Gaudiano replied that the task force, as a creation of the town council, was subject to the council’s majority limitation rules and could not include more than five members of any political party.

Following a long debate, the council approved the formation of the task force without party limitations. The final vote was overwhelming and bipartisan, with only unaffiliated member Lisa Valemti and Keith Klain, a former Democrat who is now also unaffiliated, voting against it.

deng@trumbulltimes.com