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McCall Left Too Many Latinos Out in the Cold

By Howard Jordan

November 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Newsday, Inc.. All rights reserved. 

Howard Jordan is a political columnist for Hoy, a Spanish language city daily, and host of "Urban Affairs," a program on WBAI-FM.

If Dr. Jack Kervorkian was a leader in the Democratic Party, he could not have planned it better. On election night, the Democratic leadership nearly committed "assisted suicide" with, as the old song goes, "a little help from my friends." Gov. George Pataki gave Carl McCall un pela politica (a political whippin'), capturing at least 38 percent of the coveted Latino vote. Dios mio (my God), what went wrong?

First, the McCall campaign lacked a theme, a message and money. Carl "Carbon Copy" McCall ran as a Pataki wannabe. On taxes, crime and the budget deficit, he became a mirror image of the incumbent governor. McCall failed to cast his campaign in a manner that would appeal to working and middle class people. He had no strong message that people of color and progressive voters could rally around. Voters had ningun razon (no reason) to vote out the popular incumbent.

Second, Pataki was able to make significant inroads into Latino communities by identifying himself with symbolic Latino issues like the unpopular Vieques naval base and the heartbreaking deaths of so many Dominicans in the crash of Flight 587.

He captured the endorsement of Latino leadership, such as Dennis Rivera of 1199, the Bronx's state Sen. Olga Mendez and Assemb. Carmen Arroyo and Puerto Rico's Gov. Sila Calderon.

Why did McCall fail to reassemble the black-Latino coalition that gave David Dinkins his mayoral victory and made Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer a mayoral contender last year? The answer is simple. Outside of commercials, McCall never spoke directly to the Latino community, whereas Pataki even had a special Latino campaign organization, Amigos de Pataki. Compared to McCall's election results, even a dull attorney general like Democrat Elliot Spitzer garnered a higher percentage of the Latino vote against the Republicans' Puerto Rican candidate, former judge Dora Irrizary.

McCall was never able to convey a message that would resonate in the barrios, such as tuition-free college education, the placement of toxic dumps and power plants in poor communities, and the chronic lack of health care. Instead, McCall chose to align himself with Latino political consultants like Roberto Ramirez, and politicos like Fernando Ferrer, who made no real effort to get out the Latino vote for McCall. This same crew also gave Republican Michael Bloomberg his mayoral victory last year by pushing already "ideologically ambivalent" Latinos into the Republican camp.

Outside of pathetic, last-minute rallies, McCall got "greened" as this cast of characters took the same siesta for him as they did for Mark Green last year.

Now the finger-pointing has begun. Quien es culpable? (Who is to blame?) The state Democratic Party is in total disarray and the Charles Rangel-David Dinkins black political establishment is on its last legs. The Spitzer-Hevesi wins are poor consolation for the national Democratic Party's debacle and McCall's dismal showing here. Rev. Al Sharpton wants the resignation of Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAulliffe. (Rev. Al knows that Democratic regulars will not support his presidential ambitions because it would guarantee President George W. Bush's re-election, especially with the Republicans controlling the Congress.)

Sharpton and Ramirez, the new co-chairman of Sharpton's exploratory committee, are going to try to market, on a national level, the "flim flam" black-Latino politiqueria (shenanigans) they ran in New York City, pretending they "invented" a black-Latino coalition in New York. They will try to gain concessions from the national Democratic Party under the threat of pushing their constituencies further away from the party. Un problema, mis hermanos y hermanas (one problem, my brothers and sisters), is that it was essentially their guy, Dennis Rivera, arguably the most powerful Latino in New York State, who embraced Pataki. Why aren't Sharpton and Ramirez using the same venom they've directed against Terry McAuliffe against Rivera? Oh, that's right - Rivera is Latino. Okay, blame the white guy; racial politics at its worst.

Carl McCall lost the Latino vote because he deserved to lose it. Instead of creating the kind of righteous, multiracial alliance that led David Dinkins and state Sen. Eric Schneiderman (D-Manhattan) to victory, McCall let Pataki create the coalition. If the Democratic Party is to prosper, it must create a real pact that speaks to the interests of all working people and not be held captive by "racial and ethnic extortionists" dressed in progressive clothing. To paraphrase Shakespeare: "The fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves."

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