June 3, 2005

L.A.’s New Mayor & How Hispanics Will Change American Politics

Los Angeles Mayor-Elect Antonio Villaraigosa accomplished what Democrats dream of doing nationwide: he energized Latino voters to turn out for him at historic levels and stitched together the sort of multiracial coalition that has often eluded less-gifted politicians, Newsweek reports. In the May 30 Newsweek cover “Latino Power” (on newsstands Monday, May 23), Miami Bureau Chief Arian Campo-Flores and Chief Political Correspondent Howard Fineman assess the impact of Villaraigosa’s election on national politics and the Latino vote.

Though they won the Hispanic vote last November, Democrats lost ground to Republicans for the second straight presidential-election cycle. To remain viable as a party, Democrats need to win Latinos back. At stake is nothing less than control of the presidency and Congress. If the GOP maintains its current share of the Latino vote, “then the Democrats will never be the majority party again in our lifetimes,” Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network, tells Newsweek.

Democrats will be studying Villaraigosa’s formula for victory, hoping to replicate it in other races nationwide — where the terrain may be more challenging than two Democrats squaring off in a Left Coast city, Newsweek reports. Villaraigosa’s “coalition-building is a map to be followed,” says U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, a Democrat, who hopes to emulate him in a future Chicago mayoral run. To cobble his alliance together, Villaraigosa had to perform an adroit balancing act — galvanizing his Hispanic supporters without coming across as ethnocentric and thereby alienating other racial groups. “He neither played [his ethnicity] nor downplayed it,” says Rodolfo de la Garza of Columbia University. “It was just there.”

Newsweek also examines how the Bush and Kerry campaigns courted the Hispanic voters and what changes may be in store for not only the 2008 but the midterm elections in 2006. In the aftermath of his defeat, the Kerry campaign learned they can no longer take Hispanic votes for granted. On November 23, about 30 Latino Democrats convened in Washington, D.C., to plot strategy for future battles. Among the results: a proposal to create a new partisan Latino organization — for which $25,000 was quickly raised for a feasibility study — and a new group called the Coronado Project, composed of several members of Kerry’s Hispanic team. This week, the Coronado group will send a 12-page memo to a variety of Democratic bigwigs with a caustic critique of the party’s handling of Hispanic outreach and a set of recommendations. “Failure to reform the party’s approach to Latino voters,” the memo reads, “maintains a caste system that is ineffective, if not suicidal, for the party.”

Also in the cover package, Senior Writer Jennifer Ordonez reports on how companies are marketing to Latinos: speak to them in English, even as they stay true to their Latino identity. Companies are no longer translating ad copy into Spanish to appeal to Latinos. Now some retailers are tailoring their inventories to the audience. But some retail analysts say to proceed with caution. A recent study found that Latino shoppers “don’t want to be segregated,” says Candace Corlett, of market-research firm WSL Strategic Retail. “They choose the same stores for the same reasons and go with the same frequency” as non-Hispanics.

Los Angeles Correspondent Andrew Murr profiles Villaraigosa, who grew up a poor Chicano kid from East L.A. and was raised by a single mom who worked as part-time secretary in a state office. After recovering from a tumor in his spine that began to paralyze his legs, he started getting into fights at school. After getting kicked out of one high school and dropping out of another, he eventually went back, where one teacher noticed him in his remedial English class. He mentored him, and even paid for him to take the SAT. The young Villaraigosa finished high school, graduated from UCLA and went to law school at night. Now Mayor-Elect Villaraigosa, the first candidate to oust a sitting mayor in Los Angeles in 32 years, says he wants to bridge communities.

In a guest essay, Gregory Rodriguez, an Irvine Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation and a contributing editor of the Los Angeles Times, compares Villaraigosa’s victory to that of Al Smith. “Like a lot of Irish-American politicians of his day, Smith knew how to play the ethnic card to great effect,” he writes. “After all, ‘shamrock politics’ had helped the Irish establish a firm grasp on power throughout the Northeast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But as Smith rose through the ranks in New York politics, from speaker of the Assembly to the statehouse in the 1910s, both he and Irish-controlled Tammany Hall, the powerful Manhattan Democratic Party organization, agreed that he needed to build out his base. While never forgetting his ethnic roots, Smith broadened his outlook and became more politically independent, seeking allies in all corners of the state. Smith’s political success helped normalize the image of the Irish as mainstream Americans throughout the Northeast.”

“As with the Irish, so too with Mexican-Americans, as Villa-raigosa’s comfortable margin of victory in the Los Angeles mayor’s race attests,” Rodriguez writes. “Villaraigosa, a onetime militant campus activist, fashioned his first race for the mayoralty in 2001 around a labor-left-Latino alliance.

Return to the Frontpage