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'Hue' & Cry For Mike… Pataki Eyes More Latino Support

Hue' & Cry For Mike


February 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE NEW YORK POST. All rights reserved.

Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are giving Mayor Bloomberg a huge thumbs-down - in sharp contrast to whites, a new poll showed yesterday.

The largely negative view of Bloomberg by blacks and Hispanics means that if the next race for mayor were held today, Bloomberg would lose to whomever runs as Democrat by a landslide, the survey found.

The poll of 889 registered voters, conducted Feb. 19 to 24 by Quinnipiac University, found the mayor's overall approval-disapproval rating had risen to 48-41 percent, up from its low point of 41-46 percent in November.

But racial and ethnic disparities were striking.

Sixty percent of white voters approved of the job Bloomberg was doing - but only 35 percent of blacks and 38 percent of Hispanics did.

"This is not a good poll for the mayor," said pollster Maurice Carroll. "The ‘billionaire mayor' tag is sticking."

City Councilman Hiram Montserrate, who represents heavily Latino neighborhoods in Corona and Jackson Heights, Queens, said his constituents are upset about threatened service cuts, CUNY tuition hikes and subway-fare increases.

"The message we hear is that this is not a mayor who's really connected," said Montserrate. "Talking about a fiscal crisis - we don't relate to that . . . We live a fiscal crisis."

Asked if Bloomberg "cares about the needs and problems of people like you," only 28 percent of blacks and 27 percent of Hispanics said he did, compared to 55 percent of whites.

Minorities were also more critical of the way the mayor was handling the budget, schools, taxes and crime.

The findings come despite Bloomberg's effort to reach out to blacks, Hispanics and other minorities.

Bill Cunningham, the mayor's communications director, said polls are snapshots in time that are subject to change depending on events of the day.

He pointed out that New York is overwhelmingly Democratic, with minorities more so, and "to get a third of that heavily Democratic group is pretty good."

Bloomberg, a Democrat-turned-Republican, consistently bristles at being referred to as a billionaire and has made a concerted effort to reach out to minorities.

At the same time, the mayor has told aides privately to do what they feel is right, even if it hurts his poll numbers.

City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, the city's top Democrat, said:

"I'm a Democrat. I've typically always supported Democratic candidates," Miller said.

"I think it'd be great if the mayor were to join our party and run as a Democrat."

Pataki Eyes More Latino Support / But Budget Plans Spark Major Debate


March 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Newsday. All rights reserved.


Page A23

Gov. George Pataki no longer speaks Spanish with the jerky rhythms of a novice driver trying to master a stick shift. Though still not fluent, he talked without halting for two minutes at one point in a Washington Heights ceremony last month. Pataki did not utter even a word of his native tongue until his third time at the microphone, when he said, in mock apology, "I just wanted to say something in English."

Pataki's linguistic skills are not the only things he has developed since last year's election, when he aggressively - and with a good deal of success -courted the voters in the state's Latino neighborhoods, including this Dominican enclave in upper Manhattan.

The recent ceremony celebrated the opening of a new state office geared to assist the area's mostly Latino businesses. It is just one of several initiatives the Pataki administration has launched early in his third term with an eye toward making additional inroads into New York's Latino electorate -even as his plan to reduce the state's schools and health care programs have deeply disturbed many of those same voters.

Many of the efforts have grown directly out of Amigos de Pataki, the Hispanic outreach effort created by the governor's re-election campaign. In January, the governor appointed the director of that effort, Teresa Santiago, as chairwoman of the state's Consumer Protection Board. There, Santiago has begun devising educational campaigns aimed at Latinos, including protection against identity theft and immigration scams, as well as the benefits of energy conservation.

Pataki's economic development agency is opening five community offices in five minority neighborhoods in the city, including the one in Washington Heights and another in Flushing, Queens.

"As the governor said, he loves this community, he lived in this community and he cares for this community," Jose Ithier, a one-time Democratic operative who is now executive director of Pataki's Community Network Offices, said at the Washington Heights event. "We open an office because he wanted it to happen here."

Simultaneously, Pataki is seeking out national issues that may help the GOP peel Latino voters away from Democrats. Most recently, the governor has taken a very public stand in support of Miguel Estrada, President George W. Bush's controversial nominee for the federal appellate bench, even penning an opinion piece for the Daily News.

The state Republican Party, which Pataki controls, also is engaged in longer-range Latino voter recruitment efforts. Party leaders plan to deploy state Sen. Olga Mendez, who was the first Latina elected a state legislator in the country and converted to the GOP last year, to help lead a high-profile effort, according to people familiar with the plan.

"A leader like Olga Mendez will be a huge help," said Sandy Treadwell, the state GOP chairman.

But as Pataki's outreach efforts have increased, he has been faulted by Latino leaders and others for his budget plan, which includes deep spending cuts for public schools, for tuition aid for needy college students and for medical care for the poor. The budget he submitted to the legislature last month restricts eligibility for Family Health Plus, one of the programs his campaign ads trumpeted in Spanish last year.

Since then, Pataki's popularity has plummeted. A Quinnipiac University poll released last month found that 47 percent of Hispanics approved of Pataki. That was 14 percentage points above his approval rating among blacks, but below similar ratings during the election. His approval rating with whites was statistically indistinguishable from his Hispanic rating.

"What the Democrats have learned is the Hispanics are a swing vote, and what the Republicans are going to learn is the Hispanics are a swing vote," said Hank Scheinkopf, a Democratic consultant who worked for Pataki's last challenger, H. Carl McCall. "Once the budget cuts are felt, they're probably going to the Democrats."

Ana Garcia-Reyes, the community affairs adviser to Dolores Fernandez, president of Hostos Community College in the Bronx, said the cuts are expected to hurt the Dominican-American community. "Most of the students who attend university rely on financial aid," she said.

Some Latino Democrats who abandoned their party for Pataki say they regret it. "I thought he was going to make a difference," said Nelson Castro, chairman of a Washington Heights political club for young Democrats.

But GOP strategists are not so worried. They believe that the governor's gains in the last election are not likely to be easily erased, and that much of his popularity among Latinos is due to his continued presence in Spanish-language media, and to his stands on issues such as ending the Navy bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques .

"A lot of these people only watch Spanish-language TV," one campaign adviser said. "They know he pays attention to them."

Although it is widely believed in Albany that Pataki will not seek a fourth term, maintaining the support of Latinos remains critical for him. He hopes that one of his principal legacies in New York will be a broadened GOP base of support. Latinos are a critical part of that. Their support is also a central part of Pataki's effort to market himself nationally as a crossover political leader.

There are no definitive measures of how Pataki ultimately fared among Latinos last year. Democrats believe Pataki won a bit less than 40 percent of the Latino vote, while Treadwell, the GOP chairman, said by conservative estimates he won 43 percent. His aides believe he may have done as much as 5 percentage points better than that. Whatever the actual number, everyone agrees he did far better among Latinos than he did in 1998, when he won a quarter of their votes.

Pataki won the two Queens districts with the most Latinos, including the new majority-Latino 39th Assembly District, which includes parts of Jackson Heights and Corona. Pataki beat McCall by 9 percentage points there. In Long Island's only majority-Latino assembly district - the 6th, which incorporates Brentwood, Islip and parts of Bay Shore - Pataki won by 4.6 points.

Pataki strategists said he ran especially strong among suburban Latinos. Even in Latino areas he lost, such as Washington Heights' 72nd Assembly District, he made an impressive showing for a Republican, with 35 percent.

Interviews with Latino voters indicate that while many are unhappy with Pataki's budget proposals, that has not translated into widescale defections.

Rafael Castelar, president of the Colombian Day Parade, said he had supported Pataki because he is "a good administrator." But, Castelar said, "the cuts to the schools, to the poor people are not good."

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