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Will Hillary Win New York's Latino Vote?

by Ana Radelat

April 1, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. Copyright Hispanic Publishing Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Next to the presidential race, the battle for a U.S. Senate seat in New York may be the most watched in the country. Like in the national election, Latino voters can be the margin of victory, but neither candidate-Rudolph Giuliani nor Hillary Rodham Clinton-can claim that vote as yet. Like most Hispanics, New York's Latinos usually prefer Democratic candidates to Republicans. But New York's Latino leaders say Clinton, as a Democrat, shouldn't take Hispanics for granted, even in a state where five million registered Democrats outnumber three million registered Republicans. About 500,000 of New York's registered voters are Hispanic. So far, the first lady has failed to fmd a way to energize New York's Hispanic voters, say the state's Latino leaders, a campaign error that could tip the balance in November's electionsespecially since recent polls indicate the race is a statistical dead heat.

The first lady's first misstep with New York's Latino leaders was a flip-flop over whether President Clinton should have offered clemency to fourteen jailed Puerto Rican nationalists. Clinton first sided with her husband, then changed her mind. Mrs. Clinton, who has never run for office, may have feared alienating "swing" voters in New York's suburbs by supporting clemency. Her turnabout angered the state's Puerto Rican leaders. It prompted Rep. Jose Serrano (D-New York), to say he was "rescinding my encouragement of her candidacy." The first lady has tried to mend fences by opposing her husband on another issue close to the heart of New York's borinquen community: the U.S. Navy's use of Vieques Island off the coast of Puerto Rico for bombing practice. The first lady has rejected the president's proposed compromise that the bombing be phased out over time; she wants the complete and immediate end to the bombing. But so does Giuliani.

The candidates' position on Vieques fails to greatly impress Juan Figueroa, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund, who said it "lacked political courage." Certainly, the first lady disappointed many Latino advocates by failing to insist that the police officers who killed West African immigrant Amadou Diallo should be tried for violating his civil rights. Instead, the first lady suggested the NYPD hire more Latino and black officers to end the practice of racial profiling. The first lady needs to do more if she wants Hispanic leaders to urge Latinos to vote for her. "If it's a lukewarm endorsement [from Latino leaders], she's likely to lose," Figueroa asserted.

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