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THE NEW YORK TIMES
After Backing Bloomberg, Latinos' Hopes Are High
By MIREYA NAVARRO
December 23, 2001
Michael R. Bloomberg, right, and Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat,
Latino New Yorkers voted Republican in significant numbers for the first time in this year's mayoral election, becoming a significant factor in Michael R. Bloomberg's victory. Now they want results.
From average voters to political, business and grass-roots leaders, many said they expected the new administration to appoint Latinos to high-ranking positions and increase their numbers in city government to a share more reflective of their population in the city. Currently, Latinos make up about 27 percent of the population, and about 15 percent of the city government's employees.
"Numbers count," said State Senator Olga A. Mendez, a Democrat and one of the few Puerto Rican elected officials who endorsed Mr. Bloomberg in the mayoral race. She said she has lobbied for her own preferences, including Tino Hernandez, who was just reappointed chairman of the city Housing Authority.
Another priority is shielding schools, hospitals and public housing from budget cuts.
"I can't see any more cuts than we've suffered in the past eight years," said Luis Garden-Acosta, a Brooklyn community leader who is on the mayor-elect's transition committee. "That would be unconscionable."
Mr. Garden-Acosta said the mayor should reward Hispanic voters by spending on services, even if that means Police Department cutbacks or tax increases, which Mr. Bloomberg ruled out during his campaign. Mr. Garden-Acosta said the police could save money by reducing waste and duplication and altering its use of some personnel. And he said Mr. Bloomberg should expand after- school programs, even if doing so required a surcharge on taxpayers.
But Ms. Mendez said she trusted that Mr. Bloomberg would use his business skills to creatively address problems without extra spending by attracting private money, for example, or striking favorable deals with state and federal officials as he tackles rebuilding the city's economy after the trade center attack.
"We have to look for reasonable solutions because there's no money," she said. "The budget deficit is going to be terrible. I have faith that he'll come up with new ideas."
In neighborhoods like Corona, Queens, where up to half of the mostly Democratic Latino electorate defected to Mr. Bloomberg's camp, voters did not have to think hard when asked what the new mayor should do: fix public schools with crumbling buildings and inadequate teaching, do something about six- week waits for doctors' appointments and household budgets squeezed by jumps in rent of $350 or more.
In political circles, meanwhile, the initial focus has been on trying to turn the Hispanic Bloomberg vote into real gains by getting Latinos appointed to commissions and high- level posts.
Those interviewed were hesitant to give specific numbers, but said they expected more representation in decision-making positions, and more diversity in agencies that need it.
"We need people at Bill Cunningham's level if the constituency is going to get its due," said Juan Figueroa, president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, referring to William Cunningham, a top aide of Mr. Bloomberg's.
Expectations among Latinos range from high to nil. Political leaders like Roberto Ramirez, the Bronx Democratic Party leader who supported Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer's mayoral bid, said he had never spoken to Mr. Bloomberg nor shaken his hand and personally expected nothing from him.
Some Latino supporters of Mr. Bloomberg's said that the mayor- elect did not really owe them anything, that he never made any promises beyond building an administration of "the best and the brightest" to reflect the city's demographics.
To that end, some members of the mayor-elect's transition committee said they had made sure to offer the names of qualified Latinos for consideration for every available position, and to give their opinion of other candidates being considered for important agencies, like the Human Resources Administration.
"We were as concerned about Latinos being in the mix as we were that other candidates were Latino- friendly," one committee member said.
Angelo Falcón, a senior policy executive with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the onus was on the Latino leadership to push its agenda.
"We got people's attention," Mr. Falcón said. "The question is what do we do now with that attention? That's not real political power."
He added: "It's not like he's going to repay us and we can sit on our hands. If we don't put the issues in front of his face, he's not going to deal with them."
So far Mr. Bloomberg seems to be off to a good start with his Latino constituency. Symbolic gestures, like traveling to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and holding a breakfast meeting with Mr. Ferrer, the Democrat who lost to Mark Green in the party primary, right after his election, have signaled a new, more inclusive style of leadership than that of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, some Latino political leaders said.
Many also praised him for the high number 10 and diversity of Latinos in his transition committee, from Mr. Garden-Acosta and Susana Torruella Leval, president of El Museo del Barrio, to the labor leader Dennis Rivera and Andy Unanue, chief operating officer of Goya Foods.
Mr. Bloomberg also appointed a Puerto Rican woman, Carol A. Robles-Roman, his deputy mayor for legal affairs.
"He has shown he's putting aside electoral politics and wants to work with all the sectors," said Miguel Martinez, a newly elected member of the City Council who was born in the Dominican Republic and whom Mr. Bloomberg asked to accompany him to the Caribbean last month, even though Mr. Martinez had endorsed Mr. Green in the election.
The Rev. Ruben Diaz, a councilman who also supported Mr. Bloomberg's candidacy, said, "We're getting access to City Hall." He said he expected the mayor's commissioners and deputy mayors to be reachable as well.
Mr. Bloomberg won 47 percent of the Hispanic vote, voter surveys showed, even though most Latino voters are registered Democrats and their turnout in the Democratic primary was a record high of about 28 percent, prompted by a viable Latino candidate.
But that candidate, Mr. Ferrer, a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, narrowly lost the primary runoff to Mr. Green, who offended many Ferrer supporters with his negative advertisements.
Hispanic voters struck back by either staying home or splitting the vote between Mr. Green and Mr. Bloomberg. Mr. Green won 49 percent of the Hispanic vote, voter surveys showed.
Now many Hispanic New Yorkers are optimistic that Mr. Bloomberg will come through for them.
"People's expectations are higher and rightly so," Mr. Figueroa said. "We haven't been at the table and we're barely touching it, but we're touching it."