Valley Latinos taking lesson from LA
The Arizona Republic
May. 29, 2005
Experts: Wide appeal needed to win major offices
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 multicultural support.

"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 10 percent.

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."