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Analysts: Minorities Moving Away From Lockstep Party Affiliations


November 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

NEW YORK (AP) - When Gov. George Pataki won his third term, he did it with the support of a Latino labor leader who once served on the Democratic National Committee, and the black pastor of a prominent Harlem congregation.

Dennis Rivera, leader of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, and the Rev. Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, a congregation once led by Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., were among the minorities who supported Pataki. In doing so, they passed over Democrat H. Carl McCall - the first black person to be a major-party candidate for governor.

Their support, and that of other minority leaders, is a sign that Latinos, and to a lesser extent blacks, are moving away from lockstep political party affiliations, analysts said.

"I think that the Hispanic vote has been up for competition for a few years now, and I think ... in particular Pataki has made a strong play," said Steven Cohen, director of the Executive Masters of Public Administration Program at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

"To vote for one party all the time regardless of the quality of the candidate would be foolish," said Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, professor of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College. "Latinos are going to be a swing vote for a long time."

Pataki started courting Latinos some years ago, speaking in Spanish and coming out against military bombing on Vieques , a popular stance among Puerto Ricans , who make up over a third of the city's Latino population.

While no exit poll breakdowns by race or ethnicity are available, unofficial results put Pataki's support in the city, home to most the state's minorities, at 39 percent. In 1998, he got 33.2 percent of the city vote in 1998 and 28 percent in 1994.

He also made inroads among non- Puerto Rican Latinos with his courting of unions, which Latinos heavily support, said Philip Kasinitz, professor of sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

Kasinitz said it wasn't surprising that a moderate Republican like Pataki was able to connect with Latinos, many of whom are recent immigrants and who don't have the same historical connection as blacks to the Democratic Party and its involvement in the civil rights movement.

"Nationally, you would have seen stronger inroads if it were not that Republicans did things to get in the way of that," Kasinitz said. "There was no inherent reason why these people were Democrats. The anti-immigration Republicans made them that."

The move away from the Democratic Party by blacks is not nearly as dramatic, given the strong ties between the party and that community over the last several decades. What's happening in the black community is a shift away from the near-100 percent locked-in support of Democrats.

"What you're seeing, at most, is the beginning of the end of the 90-plus lockstep in the African-American community," Kasinitz said.

The shift among minorities mirrors, in part, a trend among all people nationwide, said Cohen.

"You have to look at party identification nationally; it's much much weaker than 20 years ago," he said. "New York state has many more party identifiers as Democrats rather than Republicans, but I think the number of people willing to cross party lines is getting larger."

But part of shift is a product of the Democratic Party ignoring its constituents, the Rev. Al Sharpton charged.

"We don't have ... the personal attachments to the party leadership" as past generations did, Sharpton said. "We don't have the same kinds of connections."

And while blacks may not become Republicans en masse, they can still leave the Democrats in another way, he said.

"Low voter turnout is defection," he said. "The Republicans gain when the Democrats can't bring their vote out."

State Democratic Chairman Herman Farrell said low black turnout hurt Democrats this year. "I don't think we lost the black vote - the turnout was not where it was supposed to be. That's my concern," Farrell said.

But he disputed contentions that the party has ignored its constituents.

"We have to be constantly moving forward, always renewing our contract with friends and constituents and I will be doing that," he said. "But we won't focus on the fact that we lost a few here or a few there."

The patterns for all voters has changed, Farrell noted, with people increasingly making decisions based on local issues and the candidates' personalities.

"Candidates are as important as the party," he said. "It used to be the party that did it."

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