Friday, November 16, 2007

A Time for Latino Lions?


By demographics, Boston's City Council should have two Latino members. Following this month's defeat of Felix Arroyo, it will have zero, nadie, none.

The local MSM and some bloggers were quick to note (as I did) that Felix sealed his own political tomb with his laissez-faire attitude that typifies him. That meant low fund-raising efforts and little campaigning or organizing. He simply didn't get his many supporters to the polling places.

That aside, few are asking what's next for Latinos. As usual, the Banner is in the game. This week's front has Activists look to future after Arroyo's defeat. Reporter Yawu Miller doesn't get into the hand wringing, but provides the essential analysis.

In a town that's already 14% Latino (2000 census and growing), Boston has a steady flow of Spanish and Portuguese speaking citizens and citizens to be. Many are building lives for their families and facing those housing/employment/health big issues that Arroyo and the rest of Team Unity shine their lights on in the Council.

The article states, "Arroyo’s defeat could significantly weaken Team Unity at a time when its members were just beginning to use coalitions to more effectively push for legislation." At the most obvious, that means electing a president, and the four councilors were essential in elevating Maureen Feeney. It takes 7 of the 13 councilors to pass anything. So Team Unity has been influential.

Much is made of the impotence of the body. While it cannot make city policy and regulations without input and approval of the mayor, and in many cases, the legislature, it does direct policy and rule on the budget. Here having fair representation by ethnic and economic mix can be crucial. The article quotes Emerge's local executive director Caprice Taylor Mendez as saying, "Unfortunately, when it comes to affordable housing, school choice, jobs for youth — the vote splits along lines of race and ethnicity."

She added that this means the responsibility for these issues fall even more heavily on the existing councilors. They include two African-Americans, one Asian-American and one woman. It looks disturbingly like a less affluent version of the U.S. Senate to me.

We don't have to look to hard to see the traditional ethnic, cultural and racial disproportions of the council. For many decades, it was another WASP men's club in many ways. Then it began to disproportionately include Irish-Americans and then Italian-Americans. The shifts were sort of breakthroughs at the times, but we pinkish colored folk have long outnumbered everyone else, and women have never dominated or even held their share.

In a piece on WBUR after the election, Arroyo voiced the hope that other Latinos will do what they can without direct council representation. "I simply hope that it's a wake up call to Latinos that they need to be participants and develop coalitions and work with other people in order to be represented in the decision making roles that the city have because if that happens it's healthy for everyone."

That certainly is one approach and always a good attitude with Boston politics. However, it seems to be, if you pardon the expression, pale by comparison with having one or two Latino councilors in City Hall.

Giovanna Negretti, executive director of ¿OĆ­ste?, called Arroyo's defeat "a setback." Yet, like Felix himself, she looked ahead. "“There are a lot of young, new people of color who are getting ready to run in 2009. This is not the end.”"

Indeed, there have been calls for more Latinos to step up to represent their communities' concerns — perhaps someone with more hunger that Felix has been showing. He's done a lot of good work, but may have lacked the drive of other Team Unity members.

This might well be the time for and inspiration for some younger, more energetic Latinos to capture one or two council seats. There's a body that always benefits from some new ideas in the head and fire under the butt.

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