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L.A. Reveals Rise Of Latino Power

By Juan Gonzalez

May 19, 2005
Copyright © 2005 NY DAILY NEWS. All rights reserved.

After watching the first television commercial of Mayor Bloomberg's reelection campaign yesterday, I immediately picked up the phone and called my friend Joe Wiscovitch.

The commercial, you see, was all in Spanish, and it featured our mayor wrestling uncomfortably with some phrases that barely resembled the language.

Wiscovitch, I muttered.

Don't let the last name fool you. Joe, who was born in Puerto Rico, is a one-time cop who later became a banker and now runs his own public relations firm. He happens to know just about every Latino mover and shaker in the country. Four years ago, he signed on with the Bloomberg campaign, and he's at it again.

"I'm celebrating," he said when I reached him on his cell phone.

"For that lousy commercial?" I said. "Four years of Spanish lessons and Bloomberg can't say gracias right. If he was in fourth grade and spoke English that bad, I'd leave him back."

"He deserves an A for effort," Wiscovitch said shamelessly. He then admitted it was his idea to kick off the media campaign with this symbolic appeal to the city's Hispanic voters.

I asked him about that day's New York Post, with its latest racist front page: a "Latin Lover" headline and a photo of Bloomberg dressed up as Cisco Kid.

"That rag can't even get its Latino stereotypes straight," I told him. "You know most of our Latino voters are Puerto Rican and Dominican."

"Haven't seen the Post," Wiscovitch said, "I'm here in L.A., celebrating Antonio's victory."

He was referring, of course, to Antonio Villaraigosa, the son of Mexican immigrants, former Chicano student activist at UCLA and former speaker of the California state Assembly.

Villaraigosa made history Tuesday when he became the first Latino elected mayor of Los Angeles in 133 years. He did so in a landslide vote against an incumbent, James Hahn, the same man who narrowly defeated him in a bitterly fought contest four years ago.

Villaraigosa's win culminates a breathtaking transformation of the political scene in our nation's second-largest city.

With Alex Padilla already the L.A. City Council president, and Rocky Delgadillo the city attorney, Latinos will now hold that city's top three political posts.

Celebrating next to Wiscovitch was one of Villaraigosa's main backers, David Lizarraga, chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

"Our campaign has a mandate," Lizarraga said, grabbing the phone from Wiscovitch. "We showed Antonio's ability to reach all segments of the voters. The city embraced his vision of inclusion."

Even among Latinos here in New York, the main topic of discussion was Villaraigosa's big win.

"This is a huge milestone for our community," said Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, who raised thousands of dollars for Villaraigosa's campaign. "It will excite people here and could even be an omen for the future."

Carrion was referring to our own mayoral race and the hopes of Fernando Ferrer, his predecessor as borough president, to unseat Bloomberg.

"The is a very different race," Carrion conceded. Hahn was an incumbent whose administration was dogged by corruption charges, something that has not happened during Bloomberg's four years.

"And Hahn was wealthy, but not a multibillionaire like Bloomberg," Carrión added.

Villaraigosa, in fact, raised more than twice as much money as Hahn.

Still, everyone knows that Latino voters, the group most ignored in the past, keep growing in number, and they keep surprising the experts by their high turnout of late.

From New York to California, and lots of places in between, all the politicians are paying more attention. Ask señor Bloomberg.

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