Politicos Latinos

By ALAN LUPO  |  October 9, 2008

Politicians are beginning to see Latinos not just as another group wanting services, but as voters. Rumor has it that Jimmy Craven, the conservative state rep and the ward boss from Jamaica Plain who rails mightily against newcomers of all sorts, has some Latino workers, gets some Latino votes, and gave out sweatshirts to a youth athletic team, among whose members was the son of one of Craven’s Latino workers.

But the Latinos who worked for Dukakis warn that sweatshirts will no longer suffice. “The Latino community is very suspicious that politicians want to use them and then forget about them,” says Arroyo. “They cannot be taken for granted as much anymore. There are roots here that were not here 30 years ago. The community has matured.”

That depends, however, on which “community” one means. “You go to Waltham, Woburn, Framingham,” says Jack Duffy, who worked with his wife, Carmen Chico, on last year’s Dukakis campaign, “and there are a lot of Latinos with zero political effect.”  It’s in the big cities, where the Latinos are not spread so thin, that their political clout is more palpable.

Two years ago in Springfield, a Puerto Rican, Cesar Ruiz, was elected to the city’s school committee. Ruiz may not be typical of the Latino candidates or activists, for he grew up in Springfield and is considered more conservative than most Latinos who work the political circuit. But Rick Mundo, Springfield social worker and a member of Dukakis’s Latino Coalition, contends that it was the city’s Hispanic vote that enabled Ruiz to win. Mundo says the Hispanic vote also helped state Senator Linda Melconian (D-Springfield), who began cultivating that vote some time ago and was one of the original members of the city’s Hispanic Breakfast Club, a group of Latinos and friends who break bread monthly. The Latinos dominate Ward 1 in Springfield and have shown increased strength in adjoining black and Italian wards.

The clout visible in a place like Springfield now must also be reckoned with on a state level. Before the November election, Dukakis met with the Latino committee again, this time to thank it. He selected as his secretary of human services Manuel Carballo, an associate of his from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Carballo, who grew up in Newark is the son of Spanish émigrés from the Franco regime. Some Latinos applauded, because Carballo comes with good credentials as an administrator. Others were a bit upset because Carballo is not from the Latino community and was not active in the campaign.

“Some looked down their noses that he appointed a Spaniard as a secretary,” one Latino source says, “but it’s a hereditary reality. You might want a Brookline Jew, and he decides to appoint someone from Tel Aviv. Ok, so in this case it was Tel Aviv.” Carballo insists that his heritage was not something that he and Dukakis discussed. Those Latinos who felt a bit miffed were put off more when Dukakis named Amy Anthony, rather than a Latino, as his secretary of communities and development. But Alex Rodriguez counsels otherwise. “She’s good,” he says, “and she’s qualified for the job.” When Dukakis does get around to picking local Latinos for top jobs, Rodriguez is expected to be one of them.

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