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The Problem With Mayor Bloomberg

By Angelo Falcon

March 25, 2002
Copyright © 2002
AMERICAN LATINO. All Rights Reserved.

When Mayor Mike Bloomberg started making top level appointments to his new administration, the Latino community felt that he would take into account the important role that the Latino vote played in his upset election. 

There was also a widespread recognition that with Latinos now making up almost one of three New Yorkers that the new mayor would want to make sure that there would be a significant Latino presence at City Hall.

Two months into his administration and he has named most of his top people. The big surprise to most Latino leaders is that Latinos were almost shut out of these policy making positions, particularly within City Hall itself. 

Of over 51 policy-level positions Bloomberg has filled, only 7 have been Latino (13.8 percent of the total), despite Latinos making up 27 percent of the city's population.

Among his closest advisors in City Hall itself, there is only one Latino, Deputy Mayor for Legal Affairs Carol Robles-Roman. The mayor is quick to point out that one of his five deputy mayors is Latino - which he likes to equals 20 percent. But he provides no information on how many Latinos are on his City Hall staff of more than 500, which under Mayor Giuliani was 19 percent Latino.

There are a few second-tier policy-level positions yet to be filled. The most prominent of these is as follows: Department of Buildings; Department of Business Services; Office of Emergency Services; Department of Environmental Protection; the Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting; the new Department of Immigrant Affairs; the Department of Mental Health; Tax Commission; Taxi and Limousine Commission; Trade Waste Commission; and the Department of Youth and Community Development. 

But the Mayor has already determined the nature of his team by naming his deputy mayors and the heads of the largest city agencies - and Latinos are barely present.

The problem also goes beyond Latinos. More than two-thirds of the Bloomberg team is made up of whites, while two-thirds of the city's population consists of non-whites. Still, Mayor Bloomberg tells the media that he is committed to diversity. 

His actions say otherwise. Mayor Bloomberg has, unfortunately, maintained the status quo by ignoring a majority of the city's population. 

To make matters worse, whenever he is asked about the lack of Latinos in top positions in his administration, he immediately says that he is looking for qualified people and not a person's race or ethnicity. To most in the Latino community, this comes off as extremely condescending. 

Since when is anyone telling the mayor or his people to hire unqualified Latinos? Why does the Mayor seem to think that being qualified and being a Latino are in conflict? This is especially galling when his Latino appointees are saying the same thing, as if they are above this distinction. Quite frankly, they owe their positions to the fact that they are Latinos who happen to be qualified.

Given the importance of making sure that Latino voices are an integral part of city government, the deafening silence among Latino leaders on this Bloomberg problem is frightening. While the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund has raised the issue publicly, most of the Latino leadership hasn't said a word. Even the Latino media, which usually takes up these issues for our community, have, for the most part, been silent or wishy-washy on the matter.

At a breakfast for Latino journalists held by Mayor Bloomberg last week, of all the news people present, the critical question of the lack of Latino representation in his administration was raised by only one person; a reporter from Bloomberg News, of all places. 

But the Spanish language media was silent, despite being aware of the issue. A couple of weeks ago, a major Latino social agency and Spanish-language national publication held a tribute for the then six Bloomberg Latino appointees. While this event acknowledged the terrific Latinos that Bloomberg has brought on board, it was not used to remind the mayor that the Latino leadership is not at all happy that there are so few of them. It is as if the Latino leadership is asleep or has become too complacent to tackle this issue in a serious way.

Last week, representatives from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund met with Deputy Mayor Robles-Roman and her assistants to prepare for a meeting we had requested with Mayor Bloomberg himself to discuss this problem. 

The meeting was pleasant and productive, but it was not at all clear that the Mayor was interested in meeting with us. After all, he was doing extremely well with Latinos in the polls, most of the Latino leadership is fawning over him, and the Latino press is not doing its job of holding his feet to the fire. There apparently are too many Latino "leaders" waiting for city jobs or using their community to hustle business from the city to bother to represent the interests of their people.

Not all of our leadership or media is dropping the ball, however. There are a few courageous journalists raising these issues. There are a few Latino leaders working behind the scenes to let the Mayor know there's trouble in paradise. 

At the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, for one, we will continue to press the issue and seek a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg. We also are meeting with many of our leaders in the next few weeks to develop ways to hold the Bloomberg administration accountable to the Latino community. 

Our message to our leaders is simply this: If we don't look out for our own community's interests, no one else will. At a time when the Latino population of this city is so large, and the Latino vote is so potent, it is ironic that the Latino leadership has become so timid. That is something we can't blame on Mr. Bloomberg, but only on ourselves.


Angelo Falcon, a political scientist, is Senior Policy Executive of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, where he also directs the PRLDEF Institute for Puerto Rican Policy.


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