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Hispanics Becoming A More Powerful Voting Bloc, NM Elections, Bloomberg Trip Illustrate Growing Influence

Hispanics Becoming A More Powerful Voting Bloc, Leaders Say

By David Cázares

JULY 25, 2002
©Copyright 2002 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All world rights reserved.

Leaders of a leading Hispanic civil rights group said Wednesday that Democrats and Republicans must begin paying better attention to Latino issues or risk losing the votes of the nation’s fastest-growing population.

Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, which wound up a five-day conference on Miami Beach, decried what he called the "piñata politics" of Republicans and Democrats who seek Hispanic votes with visits to Mexican restaurants and Spanish-language radio spots.

"What we see is a lot of focus on public relations, on photo ops, on learning how to speak Spanish – a few phrases here or there," Yzaguirre said. "It’s style over substance. Our voters are a lot smarter than that."

Both political parties are courting Hispanic votes, Yzaguirre said, but unless their votes on immigration, education, health care and other issues reflect the concerns of Latino communities, the parties will lose ground.

Hispanic voters are increasingly showing a willingness to cast their votes based on a candidate’s stand on the issues, not his or her political party, he said.

Although Democrats have traditionally won the support of Hispanics, especially among the large Mexican-American population, the GOP is increasingly making inroads.

"Our vote is very much in play," Yzaguirre said.

To prove those points, La Raza released a report Wednesday that points to the growing political clout of Hispanics. The study estimates the number of Hispanics casting ballots in a presidential election will increase from 5.7 million in 2000, when 79 percent of Hispanic registered voters went to the polls, to 7.9 million in 2004.

But with 20 million Hispanics of voting age, La Raza hopes an aggressive education and registration effort could produce an increase of more than 3 million Latino voters.

After the conclusions were released, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas moderated a panel featuring Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and three candidates who last year narrowly lost bids to become the mayors of their cites. Those candidates, Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, Fernando Ferrer of New York and Orlando Sanchez of Houston, all said divisive racial and ethnic politics figured in their defeats.

Villaigrosa said neither party truly fights for Hispanic interests. But the harshest criticism came from Ferrer, the former Bronx Borough President who lost a crucial Democratic primary to Mark Green.

Green appealed to the anxieties of white New Yorkers about police protection and the economy, Ferrer said. As a result, 48 percent of Hispanics and 25 percent of blacks voted for Republican Michael Bloomberg in the general election, he said.

"The Democratic Party has been hemorrhaging white votes for over 30 years," Ferrer said. "How have they been making that up? With African-American and Latino votes. When you get them angry, you lose."

Guillermo Meneses, director of Hispanic media for the Democratic National Committee, said Hispanic voters understand Democrats have traditionally voted for Hispanic interests.

"Out of the 5,000 Hispanic elected officials in this country over 90 percent of them, more than 4,500, are Democrats," Meneses said." If that doesn’t speak volumes about the relationships and the bonds that unite the Hispanic community and the Democratic Party, I don’t know what does."

Annie Mayol, director of Hispanic Outreach for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Republicans are fighting to win a greater share of support.

"It’s the fastest-growing population," Mayol said. "It’s a critical vote."

Villaraigosa, however, thinks the two parties’ effort will continue to fall short until more Hispanics go to the polls.

"We’re going to push legislation that is going to make new citizens and new voters out of the immigrants who come to this country," Villaraigosa said. "That above all is going to ensure that Fernando Ferrer will be mayor of New York, that someone in Los Angeles who speaks Spanish and has a Spanish surname will be mayor."

NM Elections Illustrate Growing Hispanic Influence

Sergio Bustos, Washington Bureau

JULY 8, 2002
©Copyright 2002 El Paso Times. All world rights reserved.




ALBUQUERQUE-- The billboard high astride I-40, a busy interstate slicing through Albuquerque, features the smiling face of Republican gubernatorial candidate John Sanchez -- larger-than-life evidence of the growing political clout of Hispanics in New Mexico.

His opponent, Democrat Bill Richardson, couldn't help but take notice on a late June campaign trip.

"The fact that two Hispanics are fighting to win in a key battleground Southwest state is a testament to the maturation and growing power of Hispanics," said Richardson, 54, who rose to become Energy secretary and U.N. ambassador in the Clinton administration.

Come November, residents are assured of electing their fifth Hispanic governor since New Mexico became a state in 1912. New Mexicans also could send the first Hispanic female to the U.S. Senate, although she faces an uphill battle.

Scores of Hispanics may win seats on local school boards and in the state Legislature. New Mexico already has the nation's third-highest number of elected or appointed Hispanic officials, behind Texas and California. And New Mexico's senior senator has quietly lobbied the Bush administration to appoint more Hispanics to key federal jobs.




"I think it's a function of the numbers and our tradition of political participation," said Gloria Tristani, whose grandfather Dennis Chavez was one of only three Hispanics in U.S. history elected to the Senate -- all of whom were New Mexicans. She is challenging popular Republican Sen. Pete Domenici.

For both major parties, New Mexico offers a glimpse into the future of a burgeoning bloc of voters slowly gaining political power. Both parties see the Richardson-Sanchez contest as a laboratory for discovering the right message to appeal to the nation's 35 million Hispanics in future elections.

Hispanics make up almost 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they represent 42 percent of all New Mexicans, according to the latest census reports. Hispanics are almost 39 percent of the New Mexicans of voting age, the highest percentage of any state in the nation.

But Hispanics still have obstacles in reaching political power commensurate with their numbers. Much of New Mexico's Hispanic population is either too young to vote or has not registered. Although New Mexico's 42 percent is the largest percentage of Hispanics of any state, only 30 percent of the state's registered voters are Hispanic. Three of four are registered Democrats.

Unlike burgeoning immigrant populations in California, Florida and other states, New Mexico's Hispanic population is well established. Many claim bloodlines to Spanish conquistadors or to Mexican ancestors who settled in the area long before it became part of the United States. A majority were born in the United States and feel far more comfortable speaking English than Spanish.

Sanchez's father's family has been here generations; his mother was born in Mexico. He is not fluent in Spanish, but Richardson is.

Richardson was born in California but was raised in Mexico City by his Mexican mother. He moved to New Mexico in 1978.

Immigration not an issue

Although nationally, immigration ranks among the top issues in states with growing immigrant populations, Hispanics in New Mexico care more about water, jobs, education and taxes, according to statewide polls. Although strongly aligned with the Democrats, Hispanics also have a history of crossing party lines.

Phillip Solano, 54, of Pecos is typical.

"I'm a Democrat because in this state you grow up Catholic and Democrat," said Solano, a Vietnam War veteran. "But every election year I vote for the individual I think can do the job, and it doesn't matter whether he or she is Hispanic or not."

Nobody took notice of the New Mexico governor's race outside the state until early June. That's when Sanchez, 39, a roofing company president with GOP ties that go back several generations, defeated Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley in a nasty primary. Sanchez's victory marked the first time since 1918 that two Hispanic candidates would compete to be New Mexico's governor.

Both candidates could spend $10 million, making it the most expensive gubernatorial campaign in state history.

Nationally, Republicans and Democrats view New Mexico as a test of their respective parties' popularity among one of the country's most sought after bloc of voters. President Bush, who barely lost the state to Vice President Al Gore, won support from 35 percent of Hispanics in 2000.

The Republican National Committee already has launched a 30-minute Spanish-language TV news show -- "Abriendo Caminos" ("Forging New Paths") -- in Albuquerque, one of five cities chosen nationally for the program.

Speaking recently to a group of Hispanic publishers, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe criticized Republicans for giving Hispanics little in return for their votes.

"The Republicans are pouring all this energy and resources into what is essentially a marketing campaign," he said.

Democrats claim that their national efforts, dubbed The Hispanic Project, have resulted in successes: registering newly naturalized citizens, recruiting Hispanics to run for office and buying time on Spanish-language television to criticize President Bush's economic and immigration policies.

Republicans might learn something from Domenici, who was first elected in 1972 and has beaten two Hispanic candidates during his Senate career.

He is actively pushing to recruit more Hispanics into the Bush administration and contributes money nationally to Hispanic Republicans running for office through his political action committee. To date, he has forwarded a stack of résumés of nearly 100 New Mexico Hispanics to the White House, said James Fuller, Domenici's Senate campaign manager.

"We don't have a quota to fill with Hispanics," Fuller said. "We seek their advice, recruit them for leadership positions in the party, and we ask them to be involved in our campaign."

An uphill battle

In New Mexico, Sanchez will have to peel away part of Richardson's support among Hispanics, win over non-Hispanic Democrats and energize Republicans in his own party, said Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research and Polling Inc.

Sanderoff said having a Hispanic as the GOP candidate is "the best strategy to court and receive the Hispanic vote."

Sanchez is betting on a proven formula, courting conservative Hispanic Democrats. He used it in a state legislative race in the 2000 election to defeat Raymond Sanchez (who is not related), a powerful 30-year veteran who had risen to be speaker of the state House of Representatives.

John Sanchez, in appealing to such voters, often tells his life story: He was one of eight children who grew up poor in Albuquerque but climbed out of poverty to become a successful businessman. He argues that the assistance he and his family got from the federal government -- his mother received welfare temporarily, and he was enrolled in Head Start as a child -- was "a hand up, not a handout."

"To conservative Hispanic Democrats, it doesn't matter whether you are Republican or Democrat. They have the same value system, I believe, as Republicans -- strong ties to family and personal responsibility," he said. "That message resonates."

But Richardson, who represented northern New Mexico in Congress for 15 years before joining the Clinton administration, remains popular, Sanderoff said.

Richardson claims that the "anointment" of Sanchez as the GOP choice is causing resentment among some Republican voters and that Richardson's support among Hispanic Democrats remains strong.

"They are my biggest and my most loyal base," he said.

F. Chris Garcia, interim president at the University of New Mexico and an expert on Hispanic politics, said Sanchez's story could reap some political dividends. But, he said, Hispanics are like most voters and want to know a politician's position on issues they deem important.

"I think it is still going to take a long time, maybe even generations, for Hispanics to change their voting patterns from Democratic to Republican," he said.

Bloomberg's Trip To Caribbean Points To Rising Stature Of Latinos


JULY 26, 2002
©Copyright 2002 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All world rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, P.R., July 25 – Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg flew a delegation of Puerto Rican politicians, mostly City Council members, here on his private jet today for a sweltering celebration of the island's commonwealth status. On Friday he joins a group of Dominican officials in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and after a day of events will escort them back to New York, again on his private jet and at his own expense.

Since his election, Mr. Bloomberg has consistently made symbolic gestures aimed at Latino residents. But this two-day trip is his most expansive gesture yet to a community that is increasingly on the radar screen of politicians as it grows in size and stature.

What is also notable is the object of much of Mr. Bloomberg's largess: the City Council. Long a stepchild of municipal government, the Council was neglected by the previous mayor, Rudolph W. Giuliani – and even Mr. Bloomberg has taken a swipe at it as a body. Earlier this week, he accused members of 1960's thinking and pandering for votes and campaign contributions, should they support a measure that would provide job protection to striking Queens bus drivers.

But Mr. Bloomberg, a Republican, has gone out of his way to reach out to Latino members of the Council – who by and large are Democrats – inviting them to dinner at his East Side town house, attending their ceremonial events, and praising them publicly and by name.

Indeed, so close has his relationship become with the Rev. Ruben Diaz, a Bronx councilman, that Mr. Diaz has taken to introducing Mr. Bloomberg to his constituents as Miguelito, which literally means Little Michael but in this case is used as a term of endearment.

Latino officials here, while dodging the blistering sun during the midday celebration, basked in Mr. Bloomberg's attention.

"This trip, just like George Pataki's trips, just like Carl McCall's trips and Andrew Cuomo's trips, is an indication of the growing importance of the Latino community in New York's political landscape," said Adolfo Carrión Jr., the Bronx borough president and one of the members of the delegation flown on the Bloomberg plane. "And that's purely what it's about.

"There is a sense, and it's in the numbers, that Latinos are growing and they will continue to grow faster than any other group for a while," he said. "And if you have any political sense and business sense, which we know this man does, you identify with that reality and issues related to that community."

Mr. Bloomberg is not the first Republican politician to court Latino voters. President George W. Bush likes to show off his Spanish. Closer to home, Gov. George E. Pataki can frequently be found in Washington Heights, a center of the city's growing Dominican population.

Mr. Bloomberg started reaching out to the Latino community even before taking office. He went on a similar jaunt, promising closer ties with Puerto Rico and visiting Dominicans who lost family members on Nov. 12 in the crash of Flight 587. His first meeting after the election was with Fernando Ferrer, who had lost his own mayoral bid in the Democratic runoff. He has tried to learn Spanish.

For this trip, he was generous in his invitations, including a half-dozen Latino council members and other elected officials and politicians. Four council members – Maria Baez and Joel Rivera of the Bronx, Mr. Diaz and Hiram Monserrate of Queens – were at the ceremonies today. Two more council members – Diana Reyna of Brooklyn and Miguel Martinez of Upper Manhattan – will join in the Dominican leg of the trip.

The day began for Mr. Bloomberg with a breakfast with the editorial board at El Nuevo Dia. Meanwhile, Mr. Diaz, Ms. Baez and Mr. Rivera sipped coffee and nibbled on pastries in a hotel lobby along with Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr., the councilman's son. They had flown in late the night before with Mr. Bloomberg and his deputy mayor, Carol Robles-Roman. Mr. Diaz, the councilman, said that on the flight down they ate sandwiches, drank sodas and "talked politics," arguing among themselves over the status of the island commonwealth.

Later, the group, including Dennis Rivera, the labor leader whose support was considered critical to Mr. Bloomberg's electoral success, and State Senator Olga Mendez, joined the hundreds of dignitaries seated on the steps of the Capitol in San Juan for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico's Constitution. Mr. Bloomberg told the crowd of thousands that he was thrilled to be able to bring his delegation, representing a city with 2.5 million Latinos and Latinas.

Still, Mr. Bloomberg played down suggestions that he favors Latinos over New York's many other ethnic groups.

"I don't know that I feel more strongly of one group versus another," Mr. Bloomberg said. "Maybe I should try harder for those that didn't vote for me," he said, chuckling. Mr. Bloomberg took 47 percent of the Latino vote to get elected.

"Look, it is great to be able to come here and represent both here and in the Dominican Republic a very big percentage of New York City," the mayor added. "I hope to be able to go elsewheres. In the fall, I'm trying to put together a trip to go to Greece and to Turkey. There's a large Greek community. It would be great if I could go everyplace."

On Friday, he plans to tour the Dominican Republic with Ms. Reyna and Mr. Martinez, as well as Guillermo Linares, a former councilman he has endorsed for state senator.

The council members said a trip like this raised their profiles and their effectiveness.

"The Latino contingent in the Council is very united," Mr. Rivera, the council member, said. "We have regular meetings to discuss issues that affect our community – things that affect our areas. And especially getting the message out that we are becoming the majority population of the city of New York and therefore need to represent in that manner, and the way we do that is by keeping our voices loud and clear."

Having the mayor's support, he said, certainly helps.

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