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Orlando Sentinel

Playing Politics With Race Card Is Losing Game

Maria Padilla

Feb. 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

There really is no difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party when it comes to playing the race card. Neither party's members are averse to using the ploy when it suits them; they just target different voters.

The news that Orlando mayoral candidate Pete Barr Sr. may or may not have used the n-word when referring to blacks is aimed at revving up the Democratic Party's black base.

When Republicans use code words or gestures, they are throwing meat to their base of conservative, non-Hispanic white voters. The words "old Orlando" allude, for instance, to the white-male establishment that dominated the city for decades. Different group; same outcome.

The Democratic Party must retain the enthusiasm of black voters in order for Orlando mayoral candidate Buddy Dyer to win the Feb. 25 runoff. Nearly nine of every 10 black voters are Democrats.

Although Dyer originally had a sizable lead over Barr, the latest Orlando Sentinel/WESH-Channel 2 poll shows the two are neck and neck. If blacks aren't enthusiastic about Dyer, they won't vote against him; they just won't show up at the polls.

The n-word -- or any issue implying racial bias or unfairness -- may light a fire under many black voters in a way that, say, the economy or light rail does not. But, for the two candidates to be even in the polls, the n-word also may have turned off a sizable portion of Dyer supporters.

The proof is in former candidate Derrick Wallace's endorsement of Barr this week. Wallace, who obtained 10 percent of the vote, is a Democrat, and he is black.

This underscores how the race card is a risky ploy for any political party to use. I would like to think its days are numbered.

The subject did manage to vanish from the screen momentarily during a candidate debate organized by the advocacy group Latino Leadership last week. No one said a word about it, which is weird. Latino Leadership should have forced Barr and Dyer to address the issue.

People who use the n-word usually have a "colorful" vocabulary to describe other minorities, including Hispanics, Asians and gays. And a political party that resorts to the race card to manipulate voters shouldn't be let off the hook.

Latino Leadership asked softball questions, to which the candidates answered "sure, sure and sure." In fact, Latino Leadership asked the candidates the same set of questions in last week's debate that it asked in its first debate among the original eight mayoral hopefuls -- as if nothing had happened in between. At the least, the audience should have been allowed to ask questions.

Last week's debate reminded me of how polite Hispanics can be -- to their own detriment. Let's not be imprudente, which is to say rash or reckless. How many Hispanics didn't hear that while growing up?

Politics is not polite. Public figures are fair game. A debate is an appropriate forum for asking sharp questions.

Speaking of political cynicism, the Democratic Party did it again last week by filibustering the nomination of Miguel Estrada for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.Estrada is Honduran, and the Democrats think major Hispanic groups such as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans aren't paying attention or aren't upset.

Think again.

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