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Puerto Rican Population Shift Holding Wildcard Vote Latino Group Could Sway Balloting In Florida, Where Their Numbers Could Provide Boost To Democrats


May 20, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Newsday. All rights reserved.

The mainland population of Puerto Ricans - once concentrated mostly in New York - has shifted so dramatically that it could be the swing vote in Florida's key presidential balloting.

"Clearly, having this influx of Puerto Ricans in Florida can make Florida a swing state, which is positive for the Democratic Party," said City Councilman Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat, speaking at a news conference yesterday on the social condition of Puerto Ricans in the United States.

The possibility that Puerto Ricans could decide who goes to the White House was a source of pride for the community leaders at the conference, organized by the Manhattan-based nonprofit Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The large number of Puerto Ricans in the presidential battleground state of Florida has "really raised our profile ... because of the possibilities of having a counter to the Cuban vote, which is Republican," said Angelo Falcon, senior policy analyst with the Legal Defense Fund.

In its report, the group said there continues to be high rates of poverty among Puerto Ricans - higher than those of any other Latino group in the country.

Puerto Ricans, for example, have a 9.6 rate of unemployment, compared with 8.4 for Mexicans, 6.1 for Cubans and 6.8 for Central and South Americans living in the United States, according to the organization's report, based on U.S. Census data.

But while the number of Puerto Ricans in New York City declined from 896,763 in 1990 to 789,172 in 2000, according to the Department of City Planning, Puerto Ricans are making steady political gains as they get elected to city and state legislative offices.

Their influence in Florida could be even greater: According to the Census Department, the number of Puerto Ricans there more than doubled, going from 240,673 in 1990 to 482,027 in 2000. The Legal Defense Fund says the number of Puerto Ricans in Florida is currently close to 600,000.

The migration has been largely from Puerto Rico and New York, analysts say.

Puerto Ricans, alone among Latino groups, are citizens by birth.

A spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee said great effort was being made to register and organize Puerto Ricans in Florida.

Unlike the 1960s to the 1990s, when Cubans made up the largest number of Latinos coming into Florida, the recent large immigration waves to central Florida have been largely of Puerto Ricans and Central Americans, who tend to be more politically liberal than Cubans, said Democratic spokeswoman Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli.

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