Original URL: http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/272/metro/Who_Chris_Gabrieli_Where_Moakley_Federal_Courthouse_The_topic_The_Hispanic_community+.shtml

Who: Chris Gabrieli, Where: Moakley Federal Courthouse,
The topic: The Hispanic community

Joanna Weiss
Boston Globe
Sunday, September 29, 2002

As the remnants of a storm named Isidore blow into town on Thursday evening, the air by the South Boston Waterfront fills with a breeze and a drizzle. Men and women, wearing natty suits and elegant brocade, duck through the rain into the Joe Moakley Courthouse, where the Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce is having a 10th anniversary gala dinner.

This is an upwardly mobile crowd, with ties to a vast group of voters that is starting to flex its political power. In the side room that hosts the VIP reception, Chris Gabrieli, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, passes through the room enthusiastically, pumping hands and talking contrasts.

After months of competing with like-minded Democrats, Gabrieli keeps telling people, it's finally time to talk about dividing lines. So, as he gives his pitch for building businesses, he brings up Republican nominee Mitt Romney often.

Business has helped make Gabrieli a wealthy man; he helped lead a venture capital firm and founded a multimillion-dollar software company. But tonight, as he weaves through the room, Gabrieli is talking small. Romney, he says, has talked about courting CEOs in other states. Gabrieli and Shannon O'Brien want to talk to businesses that are already here.

''We're so focused on the issue of ground-up,'' Gabrieli tells one group. ''They don't have to all be businesses that want to be big.''

And he waxes nostalgic about his own small-time days. ''When I was growing up, my father had a little business,'' he  says. ''My job was to go up to this very hot room on the top floor of our house and photocopy about a thousand bills. I just thought that's what you did, and then you watched the football game.''

The story draws a smile from Tony Barros, an amiable man in a neat tan suit who owns a children's clothing store in Jamaica Plain. He tells Gabrieli that neighborhood businesses need more support from banks.

''That's the gateway for minorities and women,'' Gabrieli says. ''It helps root a community ... . When you're stuck in a neighborhood, you just have to make it better.''

The chitchat continues, as waiters pass trays of barbecued beef and Alvaro Lima, the chamber's chairman, looks on approvingly. His chamber has seen a lot of political traffic this season; most of the gubernatorial candidates, including Romney, have spoken at the group's breakfasts.

And while the Republican contender was well-received, he got an earful about a different dividing line: the Unz initiative, a referendum on the November ballot that would replace bilingual education with English immersion. Gabrieli and O'Brien oppose the Unz amendment. Romney and his running mate support it.

''We disagree with Mitt Romney on bilingual education,'' Lima says. ''It's not an issue that we want to speak Spanish only. But we want to preserve our culture.''

This is the true political buzz of the night: a subject Gabrieli keeps hearing about as he passes through the crowd. To anyone who asks, he repeats his opposition. ''The issue is meant to aim at, frankly, white suburban voters,'' he tells a pair of men from Univision. ''I think that there are a lot of voters who don't understand what's happening in the schools.''