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Hispanics Pledge Support To Pataki

Latino Voters' New Amigo

Hispanics Pledge Support To Pataki
Amigos de Pataki aims to help campaign for 3rd term


April 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002
ALBANY TIMES-UNION. All Rights Reserved.

Continuing his effort to make inroads into traditionally Democratic voting blocs, Republican Gov. George Pataki said Thursday that more than 100 Hispanic New Yorkers have signed on to help him with his bid for a third term this fall.

The governor and some of his new supporters gathered in Manhattan to announce the formation of Amigos de Pataki -- Spanish for Friends of Pataki, the governor's campaign committee. The Hispanic group will focus on building grass-roots support for the governor, not raising money, Pataki's campaign said.

"It's the first time that nearly every Hispanic group has unified behind a public official in New York,'' said Roberto Clemente Jr., son of the Hall of Fame baseball player, who was master of ceremonies at the event.

Hispanics' political clout has risen both in New York and nationwide since the U.S. Census 2000 figures showed they are America's fastest-growing ethnic group. The Census showed the number of New Yorkers who identify themselves as Hispanic jumped 29.3 percent to almost 3 million from 1990 to 2000. About 1.3 million are Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens and are eligible to vote.

Pataki has been courting the Hispanic vote for several years, traveling twice to Puerto Rico and once to the Dominican Republic, and joining the call for the Navy to stop bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Josh Isay, campaign manager for Andrew Cuomo, one of Pataki's Democratic challengers, characterized the governor as a Johnny-come-lately on Hispanic issues.

"No political event can hide seven years of ignoring issues of concern to the Latino community, from education to jobs to health care,'' Isay said.

Cuomo unveiled a plan Thursday to address New York's chronic shortage of public school teachers through a program that would provide 3,000 full scholarships to state universities and city colleges every year for students who pledge to teach in the public school system for four years after graduation. Students at private universities would be eligible for $5,000 a year.

The program would bring 5,000 new certified teachers into the school system annually, with federal funding covering $140 million of the program's estimated $170 million cost, Cuomo said.

Aspokesman for Cuomo's Democratic rival, state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, noted that McCall proposed a teacher recruitment and training program as part of a six-point education reform plan earlier this year.

Pataki Is Latino Voters' New Amigo

By Howard Jordan

April 2, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Newsday Inc. All Rights Reserved.

WHEN THE STATE'S most influential Latino, 1199 president Dennis Rivera, endorsed Republican Gov. George Pataki, shock and bitter disappointment rippled among progressive Latinos. Had Rivera, a Democratic trade unionist, gone loco?

Only months earlier, Bronx Democratic State Sen. Pedro Espada had announced that he was switching to the Republican Party - a change that years ago would have meant certain political suicide in his Democratic stronghold. Add to this scenario last week's indictment of Brooklyn Democratic Councilman Angel Rodriguez on bribery charges, increasing Latino disenchantment with the Democratic Party, and a central question arises. Do these shifting political alliances signal the further "Republicanization" of the Latino vote or merely the political accommodations of a labor boss and politician?

This "political fragmentation" of the Latino vote first surfaced in 1996, when Mayor Rudolph Giuliani did surprisingly well for a Republican, capturing slightly more than a third of the Latino vote. Last year, disgruntled by the Democratic primary loss of native son Fernando Ferrer, nearly half of the Latino electorate cast their votes for Republican mayoral candidate Mike Bloomberg. He had received endorsements and collateral support from Puerto Rican leaders such as Ferrer, then-Bronx Democratic Party leader Roberto Ramirez (both now endorsing H. Carl McCall in the Democratic primary for the governor's race), City Council Deputy Majority leader Joel Rivera and an array of elected Latino Democrats. A recent Quinnipiac poll indicated that the Republican mayor enjoyed the support of 58 percent of the Latino community.

Census 2000 figures put New York State's Latino population at 2.9 million, or just over 15 percent of the state. Latinos are now the largest and fastest-growing minority group, a fact not lost on the Republican political strategists leading the Pataki re-election effort. The governor has visibly courted the Latino vote. First, Pataki pushed through the Legislature a plan to have the state pay for 13-percent salary increases for Rivera's health- care workers, gaining the coveted 1199 endorsement. He has wooed Puerto Rican voters by visiting the island of Vieques and calling for the end of the Navy's bombing there. Pataki's popularity in the Latino community has shot up 52 percent in the last seven years, according to a recent Hispanic Federation survey.

The Pataki line of attack is strikingly similar to Bloomberg's in the mayoral election. He will increase his white ethnic base, promoting the racial schism between Andrew Cuomo and McCall, and siphoning off just enough Latino votes to guarantee his re- election. The McCall-Cuomo primary may deteriorate along racial lines, where white ethnics endorse Cuomo while the vast majority of Latinos and blacks go for McCall. Cuomo, like Mark Green, will then be hard-pressed to ward off attacks with "racial undertones." Pataki will be able to count on high-profile Latino "Republicrats" of this comprador class, such as Rivera or Espada, to defend his record.

But Cuomo and McCall could counter Pataki's newfound centrism by showcasing his real record - a history of neglect. The governor has repeatedly attempted to slash necessary social programs for the poor and communities of color, resulting in the state budget's being late year after year.

Pataki is playing politics with Latino and black children by appealing a court ruling that the state has violated the constitutional rights of city students through a discriminatory state-aid education formula. A recent release of standardized tests on Pataki's watch indicated that statewide there is a gap of 34 points between the percentage of black and Hispanic students meeting state standards in fourth-grade English and the percentage of white students meeting the standards.

Pataki has excluded Latinos from significant judicial appointments. Out of the 3,505 state judges, only 58 are Latino. While the governor has recently made two token appointments, Latinos remain drastically underrepresented in the state's judiciary, breeding a crisis of confidence in the system among Latinos.

Although still overwhelmingly Democratic, outnumbering Republicans 7-1 in registered voters, we Latinos are reexamining our options. The Latino vote has not become "Republicanized" but rather politically fragmented. Both parties have much work to do in our barrios. Democrats must battle to keep our souls and Republicans to win our hearts. The days are long gone when Latinos could be ignored or treated as junior partners by either party.

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