taking lesson from LA
The Arizona Republic
May. 29, 2005
Experts: Wide appeal needed to win
Yvonne Wingett and Matt Dempsey
Phoenix is years away from
producing an Antonio Villaraigosa, the newly elected Los Angeles Latino
mayor, because local political leaders do not have in place a system
that can recruit and develop Latino candidates who have broad appeal.
Experts and grass-roots leaders here also say Latino hopefuls in Phoenix
must draw voters from outside their own ethnic bloc and become
increasingly politically savvy as they gear up to get a Hispanic back on
the City Council.
Latinos have increased their numbers among elected leaders in Arizona
over the past decade, but a relatively young population and and other
factors have added to the challenges Latino candidates face.
That's why Latinos here have pored over
Villariagosa's victory in the multicultural melting pot of LA: He won with
"It's happened so rarely within the Latino community," said Raul Yzaguirre, the
former president and chief executive officer of National Council of La Raza who
now lives in south Phoenix. "It's sort of a social phenomenon. Usually Latinos
only win when we're 50 percent of the registered voters. That makes him unique."
Few other Hispanics have been free from divisive ethnic politics, campaign on
quality-of-life issues in high-profile races and sew together a rainbow alliance
of Anglos, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Villaraigosa's rise to mayor of the
nation's second-largest city is symbolic of the influence Hispanics could wield
as they to continue to grow in numbers and mature, some experts say.
Latinos make up about 47 percent of LA and 41 percent of those 18 and older.
Anglos make up about 30 percent of the population, Blacks 11 percent and Asians
In Phoenix, Latinos make up about 34 percent of the overall population and 29
percent of those 18 and older. Anglos make up 56 percent of the population,
Blacks 5 percent and Asians 2 percent.
Hispanics in Arizona have made some political progress from 1996 to January
2005, reports California-based National Association of Latino Elected and
Appointed Officials Educational Fund, or NALEO.
Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and many Latinos hope a Hispanic will capture at least
the southwest Phoenix's District 7 City Council seat when Councilman Doug
Lingner terms-out in 2008.
"That's the shame of it all," said Daniel Ortega, a community leader and Phoenix
attorney. "We're talking about electing a councilman, not mayor."
There hasn't been full-term Hispanic representation on the Phoenix council since
Salomon Leija, who served from February 1993 to January 1996. Latina Jessica
Florez served briefly in 2003. "We political leaders focused so much on social
services, we forgot about political involvement," said state Rep. Steve
Gallardo, D-Phoenix. "Now you're starting to see the Latino community starting
to switch more into the political involvement, spurred by (English-only
legislation) Proposition 203 and (Proposition) 200."
Villaraigosa's win in California didn't happen overnight, points out NALEO's
Rosalind Gold, a senior director of policy research and advocacy. California's
anti-illegal immigrant measure Proposition 187 was a key component in engaging
and cultivating civic leadership in community-based organizations and unions.
State leadership reached beyond majority Hispanic neighborhoods to recruit
Hispanic candidates and built a system that helped Hispanics acquire the skills
needed to run for office.
"Those things all contributed to the building of the political infrastructure in
the state," Gold said.
Some Phoenix Hispanic leaders say Proposition 200 and related measures that
would make life more difficult for undocumented immigrants are creating leaders
here. They are focusing much of their attention on those students and young
people who emerged from they Proposition 200 movement.
"The tipping point hasn't happened yet, but we're very close to it," said former
state Sen. Alfredo Gutierrez. "You've got a projectory that literally in
Antonio's case took 10 years or so. The same thing is going to happen here."