They are marching in all the Hispanic parades, having their photos taken with every brown face they can find, waving Latin American flags, trying to speak Spanish, buying time and space on Spanish media and kissing Latino babies! But what are the New York City mayoral candidates actually saying to Latinos?
They acknowledge that Latinos will be close to a quarter of the voters in the Sept. 10 primary, and this voting bloc has the potential to "pick the next mayor." But you hear little substance in their rhetoric. You don't see the attention to Latino issues that we have seen in past New York City elections. And you don't see candidates feeling any pressure to deal with those issues.
Don't get me wrong. At least cosmetically, some of the candidates occasionally push the right Latino buttons by superficially mentioning immigration, education, housing, health care, "stop and frisk" police detentions, etc. But there is no depth, nothing substantial, no promises you can trust.
"Latinos are 29 percent of the population and more than 42 percent of the poor people in the city are Latinos, and no one is talking about that," says Angelo Falcon, one of many community activists who would like to see more substance from the nine candidates seeking to replace outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Polls say the Latino vote is divided among the top three or four contenders for the Democratic primary, and that their power as a voting bloc is thus likely to be diluted. Some analysts conclude this is happening because Latinos "don't have a horse in this race." Since neither of the two Latino candidates in the race have a good chance of winning, they find it logical that Latinos would be divided between several of the leading non-Latino candidates.
But others say Latinos could be much stronger if they stood together as a voting bloc, instead of being divided — often by their own leaders.
"None of these (leading) candidates are Latinos. So who decides what the Hispanic issues are?" asked Lucia Gomez, another community activist. "I would put a lot of the responsibility on us. Where are all these organizations that are supposed to be advocating on behalf of Latinos?"
Gomez and Falcon are just two of many activists who believe their own Latino elected officials and organizations have failed their community.
"Remember the old days when somebody would always try to put together some sort of a Latino agenda?" Falcon asked rhetorically. "Well, this time there hasn't even been an attempt. No one has even tried to do it."
And the reason, he said, is because many Latino politicians are more faithful to their alliances with other politicians than to their own community.
Instead of getting together to prepare a Latino agenda and pressure the mayoral candidates to deal with Latino issues before they endorse one of the candidates, they prematurely jump on some candidate's bandwagon, begin to divide their own community between the candidates and end up diluting the strength that Latinos could have as a voting bloc.
As a result, instead of the Latino community telling the candidates what our issues are, we depend on the candidates and their Hispanic hacks to tell us what issues should be important to Latinos. Of course, they usually pick whatever issues suit their own political agenda, instead of the ones Latinos really care about.
"There are Latinos who are major players in each camp," Gomez said. "But as a community, I think we have really missed the boat in coming forward and saying, 'this is our collective vision of our community.' We just haven't been able to do that."
Bottom line: The Latino vote is very divided because their leadership is also very divided — not based on the best interest of their community, but on their own political alliances and favors owed.
"We've gotten to the point that our Latino community has digressed in our power base," Gomez said, "because all of a sudden we have Latino elected officials and Latinos in certain positions of power, and we presume that we are being taken care of. But the reality is that the only thing that is being taken care of are those individuals themselves and the interests they represent, which many times will be tied to the candidates they are endorsing."
It's sad. But in New York City, where one might think that having more Latino elected officials would mean more attention to Latino issues, it is those officials who are dividing the community and diluting its political power.
"No one wants to talk about the failed role of Latino leaders," Falcon said. "But what you have is these players behind the scene who basically manipulate the process for their own personal gain, and the loser is the community."
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.