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Floridas Gubernatorial Candidates Vie To Attract Hispanic Voters, New Yorks Give Pataki A Thumbs Up
Gubernatorial Candidates Vie To Attract Hispanic Voters
BY OSCAR CORRAL
August 12, 2002
They've blasted Fidel Castro on Spanish-language radio in Miami, handed out campaign literature in Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Orlando, and welcomed throngs of Argentines and Colombians in Broward with ``Bienvenidos!''
Recognizing the growing influence of Florida's Hispanic voters, the three main candidates for governor, Jeb Bush, Bill McBride and Janet Reno, have spent a lot of time in the past few months campaigning in the state's diverse Hispanic communities.
It is a testament to the power of numbers. Seventeen percent of the state's population -- and about 12 percent of registered voters -- are Hispanic, and blocs within that population can easily tilt a close election.
No longer are Cuban Republicans in Miami the one-stop-shop for statewide candidates courting Hispanic voters. Today, Puerto Ricans in Central Florida and non-Cuban Hispanics in South Florida also have grown in number and are attracting attention from candidates.
''It's obvious the influence of Hispanics is growing in the state of Florida and the Democratic party,'' said McBride spokesman Alan Stonecipher. ``It's very important to politically establish close ties there.''
But the three candidates have taken different approaches to attracting Hispanic voters. Bush has focused on shoring up support among Miami's Cuban-Americans; Reno has strongly courted Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics in Central Florida; and McBride has reached out aggressively to Hispanic Democrats in the South Florida and Tampa Bay areas.
Their efforts are reflected in the endorsements they've received.
Reno has been endorsed by Eddie Diaz, a Puerto Rican candidate for Congress in Orlando. McBride has won the support of Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez and former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré, both Hispanic Democrats; and Bush is receiving boosts from figures such as Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, several state legislators and a group of mayors of cities in Puerto Rico.
Although Miami-Dade's Hispanic voters are predominantly Cuban Republicans, there are more Hispanic Democrats in the county, 100,000, than in any other in the state, a point that is well understood by McBride, who will face off against front-runner Reno in a Democratic primary Sept. 10.
As recently as this week, McBride was on Spanish radio in Miami, asking listeners for their vote, and has been quietly meeting with Cuban Democrats for endorsements. He says the law firm he managed, Holland & Knight, has more Hispanic partners than any law firm in the country, which he partially attributes to a minority initiative he helped launch.
''The Hispanic vote is so important now because the numbers are so significant,'' McBride said in a recent interview.
Analysts agree that the Hispanic vote may have an especially large impact on the primary, when total voter turnout is expected to be lower than in the November general election.
''If the race between them becomes very close at the end, McBride may have Democratic Hispanics in Dade to thank for his victory,'' said veteran pollster Rob Schroth, who has conducted polling for the governor's race for The Herald. ``Anyone that can gain a strong base among a group of 100,000 voters in a Democratic primary is going to be very happy on election day.''
While Reno's camp has launched its own outreach effort in the county -- forming a loose-knit group called Cubans for Reno -- the former U.S. attorney general has focused her efforts on the northern parts of the state, courting mostly non-Cuban Hispanics in cities like Orlando.
Census figures show that the Puerto Rican population of Florida totals 482,000 -- nearly twice as many as were counted in 1990. Most of the growth has occurred in Orlando and its suburbs along the Interstate 4 corridor.
Reno was in Orlando Sunday once again courting Hispanic voters. Speaking in Spanish, she greeted a crowd of about 80 people at a park. ''Nosotros podemos ganar noviembre,'' Reno said, then repeated in English, ``We can win in November.''
The crowed responded with cheers of ``Latinos for Reno.''
Reno later walked the predominantly Hispanic suburb of Southport with Congressional candidate Eddie Diaz. While some residents vowed to vote for Reno, not everyone was impressed.
''Just because she knocked on my door doesn't mean I'm going to vote for her,'' said Carmen Padilla, a Puerto Rican housekeeper. ``They always come and knock on your door and say hi. But what is she going to do for our community?''
In a recent interview, Reno said ``The Hispanic community is very important to me, not just for its votes but for the contribution it has made to the country I love and our state.''
Reno reminds people that she handpicked Katherine Fernández-Rundle, a Cuban-American, to succeed her as Miami-Dade state attorney. Reno's campaign office manager and receptionist are both Cuban-American women. Reno also likes to say one of her favorite breakfasts is hot Cuban bread.
Miami-Dade's Hispanic Democrats, although a large bloc, are often overshadowed by the county's 230,000 Hispanic Republicans who are expected to heavily favor Bush and tend to turn out in high numbers.
The governor, who lived in Miami before winning the election in 1998, rarely passes up an opportunity to appear on Spanish-language radio stations in Miami. He is the only one of the three main candidates fluent in Spanish and he is married to a Mexican-American woman.
Bush and his brother, President George W. Bush, have backed up their pro-Hispanic rhetoric: The governor recently named Cuban-American lawyer Raoul Cantero III to the Florida Supreme Court. President Bush named Mel Martinez, former Orange County Commission chairman and also a Cuban-American, to head the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jeb Bush has made his own efforts to reach out to other Hispanics, meeting with mayors from Puerto Rico recently in Central Florida.
Despite the political differences between South Florida's Hispanic Democrats and Republicans, one main theme often comes up when choosing a candidate: Elián González.
For some, the controversy over the Cuban child reinforced a high level of respect for Reno, who as attorney general ordered the dramatic Little Havana raid to reunite the boy with his Cuban father. For others, it was a slap in the face that now serves to galvanize support for anyone but her.
''A lot of people here were very upset with Reno,'' said Gus Garcia, a Cuban Democrat who has decided to back McBride. ``Elián was the straw that broke the camel's back, but it's more than just that. McBride is really campaigning for the Hispanic vote. Reno seems to have given up.''
Former Miami Mayor Ferré, a Puerto Rican Democrat, says that backing Reno would be a sign of disrespect to the Cuban community in Miami because of Elián.
''When I was running for mayor, I said that I would not support Janet Reno out of respect for the Cuban community, and I'm sticking to that,'' Ferré said. ``I'm a firm and a good supporter of Bill McBride. Janet is a very fine woman, I think, who has earned the position she is in. But she is too liberal for me to support.''
Hialeah Mayor Martinez said he decided to back McBride in part because of his disdain for Reno, and in part because of his dissatisfaction with Bush. He said he received calls for endorsements from both Reno's and McBride's camps before deciding.
''I think that McBride has none of the baggage that Reno has,'' Martinez said. ``I think the Cuban Americans who are not totally committed to the Republican party will give Bill McBride a lot of their votes if they get to know what he stands for.''
On the campaign trail, Reno has fielded questions several times about Elián. She doesn't regret her decision, she says, because she believes it was the correct one, but says she understands that the raid stirred deep emotions among South Florida's Cuban-American community.
''The large number of Cubans who disagreed with me and who will vote against me probably would have voted against me anyway because they are Republican,'' Reno told a crowd of Democratic supporters in Lawtey last month.
But not all Cubans are against her.
Pedro Martinez, a Spanish-language radio commentator, believes the way Reno handled the Elián affair is a reason to support her now. Every day, he talks about Reno and Elián on his show on WOCN-1450 AM.
''I think she was more than generous in having come here to ask [the family] to turn over the child,'' Martinez said. ``From another point of view, we feel that Reno was born and raised in this state and knows the significance of the word Democrat.''
For Frank Avellanet, a Cuban-American businessman and inventor, the decision to back Reno was not easy. Avellanet said he marched on Eighth Street in protest in the days following the seizure of Elián and he disapproves of the way the early morning raid was conducted. But deep down inside, he thought the boy should be with his father.
''I thought this woman was acting from her conscience, not playing politics,'' Avellanet said of Reno.
``I believe she struggled mentally on her decision, and ended up doing what was best for the majority. That's how I've reconciled it in my mind to support her.''
Hispanic Voters Give Pataki A Thumbs Up
ELIZABETH BENJAMIN Capitol bureau
August 8, 2002
Albany Approval rating soars from 20 percent in 1995 to 73 percent today
The extra time and money Republican Gov. George Pataki has spent to woo New York's diverse Hispanic community has paid off, according to the 10th annual survey released Wednesday by a consortium of nonprofit organizations.
Pataki's job approval rating among Hispanics living in New York City's five boroughs has soared from 20 percent just a few months after he took office in 1995 to an unprecedented 73 percent in 2002, the survey commissioned by the Hispanic Federation showed.
"He really has worked the community," said Hispanic Federation President Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez, who expressed surprise at the survey's results. "He's a longtime incumbent. Usually you see their ratings go up and then decline."
Cortes-Vazquez attributed Pataki's success with the Hispanic community to his call to end the U.S. Navy's bombing practices on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques , expansion of state-funded health insurance programs for the poor and pro-immigration positions.
But, she warned, the governor still needs to be "careful" when it comes to two issues important to many Hispanics: public education and the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
Pataki's appeal of a court ruling that the state change its education funding formulas to benefit New York City Schools and his statement that he was "pleased" when the ruling was overturned could hurt him, Cortes-Vazquez said.
And although the survey found most Hispanics favor strong drug laws, they also support reform of the strict mandatory minimum prison sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. If there is no agreement on drug law reform, Cortes-Vazquez said, Hispanics' opinion of Pataki might falter.
In keeping with statewide polls, the Hispanic Federation survey found Pataki would beat either of his Democratic opponents: state Comptroller H. Carl McCall and former U.S. Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo. The telephone survey, conducted May 28 to June 16 with a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, showed Cuomo beating McCall among Hispanics 39-23. But another statewide poll of Democrats this week by WABC in New York City and WRGB in Niskayuna, which put McCall ahead 47-39. McCall spokesman Steven Greenberg said: "George Pataki spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars to promote himself. When voters learn he is pleased the court has said an eighth-grade education is good enough for our children, they will run."