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The Philadelphia Inquirer

Rendell, Latinos Experience A Setback

Benjamin Ramos' Withdrawal As Acting Secretary Of State Was Called "A Misfortune" And "An Embarrassment"

By John Sullivan

March 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Philadelphia Inquirer. All rights reserved. 

The resignation of acting Secretary of State Benjamin Ramos marked the first major stumble for the fledgling Rendell administration, and unraveled the governor's historic move to put a Latino in the state cabinet.

Several Latino leaders interviewed last week said Ramos' resignation dealt a serious, if temporary, setback to the Latino community.

"It's an embarrassment to the community and to him," said Victor Vazquez, cochair of the Pennsylvania Latino Voting Rights Committee and an administrator at Temple University who teaches Latino studies. "The expectation he created was so high as the first Latino appointed, and then to have to be withdrawn."

Julio Guridy, an Allentown city councilman, said the resignation "will have an effect because he gave the Latino community across the state a lift in state politics."

"For the first time you felt like you have a friend you can identify closely with at the state level," he said.

But Vazquez and Guridy said they did not think the resignation would have a long-term effect on the political standing of Latinos. Others agree, saying Rendell would most likely choose a Latino replacement for Ramos.

In fact, the Rendell administration has a short list for the post that reportedly includes Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Manuel Ortiz, both Philadelphians.

"The governor was proud he was able to break the important barrier of appointing the first Latino to the governor's cabinet and hopes he can make history by the time his final cabinet is in place," said Ken Snyder, a spokesman for Rendell. Snyder said Rendell hopes to name a nominee in March after he completes his proposal for tackling the state's budget woes.

Rendell appointed Ramos as secretary of state in January, but Thursday, even before his Senate confirmation hearing, Ramos resigned amid reports that he failed to file his campaign reports on time at least once in every cycle for which he ran for state office. He also racked up more than $1,000 in fines for filing late.

In a letter to Rendell Thursday, Ramos acknowledged his past violations, saying "the matter would continue to cloud the credibility of the department and our ability to enforce such regulations."

"I think the administration will choose a Latino to bring us forward because it's a shame it had to go this way," said Rep. Angel Cruz (D., Phila.), who defeated Ramos in 2000 in a race in the 180th District in Philadelphia.

Cruz said he knew both people on the short list of candidates and that they had strong qualities.

"They had an eye on Manny because he served as deputy mayor under Rendell," said Cruz. "But Maria is a young, qualified woman, and we need young people to prepare for the political future."

Quinones-Sanchez is the director of the governor of Puerto Rico's office in Philadelphia and a former executive director of Aspira, a Latino education and community organization in the city.

Ortiz is also a former executive director of Aspira and, like Ramos, a former deputy mayor under Rendell.

City Councilman Angel Ortiz said Ramos played a critical role in the advancement of Latinos in state politics, serving in the state House of Representatives from 1994 to 2000.

"His appointment was a signal that the Latino population will continue to play a role here," said Ortiz. "It's a misfortune for him, but for overall the progress we've been making will not be setback."

Ramos' resignation may mean more trouble in the long run for Rendell than Ramos, political experts said.

"For Latinos it may mean they get targeted as a group from which Rendell has trouble finding a qualified candidate, which is unfair," said Andrew Rudalevige, a professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., who has studied presidential cabinet appointments.

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