Politicos Latinos

By ALAN LUPO  |  October 9, 2008

In January, Carballo, Anthony, and Margaret Xifaras, a senior Dukakis aide who is supposed to keep the Dukakis political organization active and happy, met with the Latino committee at Rodriguez’s second-floor office in the Harriet Tubman settlement house, in the South End. They discussed jobs, but sources say the meeting dealt less with the patronage than with the social issues that the Latino brokers deal with every day—housing, crime, welfare, and food. The Dukakis officials reportedly held back from making any major commitments, unsure that there will in fact be federal and state money in the bank to do such things as renovate housing and support social-service agencies. Nonetheless, the meeting signified that Latinos have established access to those running the state for the next four years.

The next test for Latino political power will be in Boston, home for more than 36,000 Latinos, or 6.4 percent of the city’s population. One analysis the Phoenix obtained estimates that 7520 Latinos voted in the 1982 Democratic primary in Boston, where Dukakis beat King by about 5600 votes. Assuming Boston’s Latinos voted as a bloc, they produced enough votes to put the city in Dukakis’s column. Those numbers are important to Felix Arroyo, now planning his second shot at the school committee. Two years ago, with less than $10,000 and fewer than 10 active workers, he finished seventh out of 10 candidates running for five seats. He got 27,000 votes.

Some important changes have taken place since then. Boston voters this year will elect school committee members and city councilors both citywide and from districts (each body will have 13 members, nine elected from the newly created districts and four at-large.) Latinos, complaining that the district lines split up all heavy concentrations of Latino voters, have challenged the districting in court. Arroyo will run citywide again, but this time with one fewer at-large seat available.

On the other hand, Arroyo is building a campaign organization. Alex Rodriguez is his finance chairman. Arroyo has named a campaign manager and four area coordinators: one to handle the black vote; one for Latinos; one for the “progressive” political areas (such as the Back Bay and parts of Jamaica Plain); and one to persuade people in Southie, Charlestown, and Dorchester that Arroyo is not a devil. The candidate hopes to have captains in all the city’s 22 wards, and to have the precinct workers under them. Arroyo is banking not only on some 7500 Latino votes, but also on the theory that Boston is not quite the insular city of warring tribes that it was years ago. “I believe,” he says, “that in Boston we have reached a point where color and origin are less important than the questions, ‘Can I trust that person?’ and ‘Is he going to do what we want?’”

It will work to Arroyo’s benefit if the increasing numbers of middle-class white voters don’t care whether he’s Irish or Puerto Rican. The Latinos certainly will care and vote accordingly, for they have not been here long enough to forget where they came from. They liked it when Dukakis spoke in Spanish. They liked voting for Arroyo two years ago. They liked voting for Carmen Pola, a candidate for state rep who three years ago lost to the incumbent, Kevin Fitzgerald, by only 403 votes. That race, symbolically, was in the Mission Hill section of Roxbury, the very same Irish power base that beat Alex Rodriguez in 1968. Maria Sanchez—who has worked to get that vote out in Mission Hill for Pola, for Arroyo, for Kennedy and Dukakis—says Kevin Fitz is a very fine pol, that he has been very attentive the last couple of years to the needs of his Latino constituents.

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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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