Politicos Latinos

By ALAN LUPO  |  October 9, 2008

At a candidates night in a South End church, Loughman told a racially integrated, predominately young crowd of college graduates and students, “I was an aide and chauffeur to James Michael Curley for the last eight years of his life.” The people were polite, but to them Curley was only a name, a piece of history, not a real person. Rodriguez finished fourth, behind the three Irish incumbents. Loughman’s ties to the late James Michael weren’t sufficient to elect him, and Carey and O’Connor went on to last hurrahs. Rodriguez went on to organize on every political and social level he could find. The Puerto Ricans hadn’t voted in force. “I’m going to start building a machine that’s going to win,” he promised a reporter. It was 1968.

It is 1983. The other day, John Sasso, the bright young man who ran Governor Michael Dukakis’s campaign and who now serves as his chief secretary, was answering some questions about the Latino vote. Twice, Sasso referred the caller to Alex Rodriguez, who had organized Massachusetts Latinos for Dukakis. This time around, the Latinos had done what Rodriguez wanted them to do back in 1968, when he said plaintively, “All they had to do was come out and vote, man. That’s all they had to do - just come out and vote.” In 1982, they voted. Rodriguez had made good on a 14-year-old promise. John Sasso pronounced his name correctly.

In 1982, the voice on the radio in Boston and Springfield was clearly that of Michael Dukakis, asking listeners to support him in the primary against Governor Edward J. King. The candidate was speaking the language of politics, but he was speaking it in Spanish. To campaign with foreign-language broadcasts is nothing new; it’s almost as old as radio. Over the years, voters have listened to appeals in Polish, Yiddish, Italian, Portuguese. But Spanish? In Massachusetts? It was a signal that Latinos of this state have arrived politically.

In last year’s Democratic primary, the vote in the heavily Latino wards of Boston, Springfield, Lawrence, Worcester, and other cities totaled about 25,000, and most of that was for Dukakis. The Dukakis people estimate that they have received about 90 percent of the black and Latino votes. It was a marriage of convenience. Dukakis had sought out these votes, and the Latinos eagerly sought out Dukakis. Rodriguez put together a state-wide coalition of Latinos, most of them active politically or in social work. The coalition met formally with Dukakis once during and once after the campaign; since the election, it has also met with some of the key people in the Dukakis administration.

The Latinos, having delivered the vote, expect Dukakis in turn to deliver patronage and funds for social services. The Latinos say they’re convinced that Dukakis and his appointees understand the problems facing Hispanic people in the Commonwealth. Although some members of the coalition are wary because Dukakis has not yet offered their community leaders highly visible jobs in important positions, they acknowledge that the administration is still young, and seem willing to give it the benefit of their doubts.

“In the next few weeks or months,” one predicts, “you’ll see one or two assistant cabinet secretaries of Hispanic background. You’ll see board appointments. You’ll see an Hispanic presence in the governor’s office, or at least in the area of community affairs. You’ll see agency heads. There’s been no guarantee, but I think there might be as many as 15 well-placed people at high levels.”

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Related: Swan song for Southie?, Final four?, Murphy’s big tent, More more >
  Topics: Flashbacks , Michael Dukakis, John Sasso, John F. Kennedy School of Government,  More more >
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