Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0629latino-forum29.html

Issues, not language, win votes
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 29, 2003
Christina Leonard and Elvia Díaz
12:00 AM

They may have joked and appealed to Latinos in Spanish, but that alone will not be enough to win the Hispanic vote.

That's the consensus among some Spanish-speaking Latinos who watched Democratic presidential hopefuls struggle to communicate in their language during a debate Saturday at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference in Phoenix.

"Saying a few statements in Spanish isn't going to make a difference," said Cuauhtemoc Figueroa, a union leader from New Mexico who traveled to Phoenix for the forum.

The six Democratic candidates - the Rev. Al Sharpton; Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts; Reps. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio; and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean - appeared before hundreds of Latino leaders.

Although Sharpton did not address the audience in Spanish, most candidates either spoke fluently or peppered their speeches with
phrases. For example, Kerry repeatedly said, "¡No lo hizo!" meaning Bush didn't keep his promises.

Although he wasn't too impressed with their language skills, Figueroa said at least the candidates got to see and hear from Latinos across the country. "It's not like all of a sudden these candidates are going to become experts on Latino issues," he said.

"What I'm wondering now is, are we at the bubble now where that's patronizing?" asked Andrew Melendi, a Mesa resident and Gephardt volunteer.

Melendi believes Gephardt is most likely to get elected, saying the former minority leader in the House is mainstream, yet adheres to
Democratic issues.

"We can have colorful, controversial, fun candidates like Sharpton, Kucinich, and even Dean," he said. "But we have to have somebody electable."

Audience members jammed into the standing-room-only forum at the Pointe South Mountain Resort, cheering wildly when candidates spoke of Latino empowerment and equality.

"What struck me most is that passion is back in the Democratic Party," said Celia Arambula, a Phoenix resident and representative of
Protecting Arizona's Family Coalition. "They crystallized the issues."

Arambula said she was excited the candidates addressed the issues important to her, mainly health care and education.

However state Rep. Ben Miranda, a Phoenix Democrat, said he would have liked the candidates to offer more specific plans on immigration and other issues.