NEW YORK CITY — In the runup to primary day, no Democratic candidate has invested more in winning over Latino voters, or has more riding on whether that investment pays off, than City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
"Since the beginning of this campaign we have worked aggressively with our Latino endorsers, community activists, and surrogates to engage, involve, and identify Spanish-speaking New Yorkers in all five boroughs of New York,” Quinn campaign spokesman Mike Morey said in a statement. “On election night we expect to do very well with Latino New Yorkers."
The impact of the Latino vote in this year’s election has been a regular topic for debate. But for Quinn, who has made outreach to Spanish-speaking communities a “large part of this race,” according to her campaign, Latino voters represent a vital constituency.
“The Latino vote is needed by whoever is in contention for the runoff,” said political consultant Michael Nieves, who previously worked in the speaker’s office under Quinn and her predecessors.
Quinn’s fall from front-runner status has been propelled by the flight of various demographic groups. She now struggles with white voters, black voters, women and men, polls show. Latinos, when their support has been measured in the polls, have yet to rally around a single candidate, presenting Quinn with an opportunity, according to experts.
And she’s worked to capitalize on that opportunity. On top of producing two Spanish-language commercials and having multiple mailings in Spanish, Quinn’s schedule, more so than her opponents, has shown her stumping hard for Latino votes. Quinn often appears at events alongside one of nearly a dozen Latino elected officials who support her, observers say.
In addition, in the final week of the campaign, Quinn's schedule was packed with 16 campaign events relating to or targeted to Latino issues — with appearances in every borough except Staten Island.
“We've laid out a robust policy agenda for Latino New Yorkers that has focused on immigration services, small business support, healthcare, and education and it has resonated, because Spanish-speaking New Yorkers know Christine Quinn has already delivered for them,” Morey said.
Over the last week, former comptroller Bill Thompson made five appearances related to Latino issues, while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio made none, according to their public schedules.
Quinn supporters say the efforts have paid off.
“I believe Christine leads in the Hispanic vote,” said Bronx Councilman Joel Rivera, a longtime Quinn ally. “In the Bronx, in particular, I know that she has the most support among Latino elected officials and that she has a lot of dynamic, energetic candidates that are running for reelection and they're mobilizing their bases [for her]."
Political observers, however, question whether her support from other elected officials will translate into votes.
“If they rely on her surrogates on the ground, having looked at who they are, she's going to have a problem,” Nieves said. He said that Quinn’s bullpen of elected Latino officials included too few candidates actively running for reelection. Without that, Nieves said, it could be difficult to get those voters to the polls come primary day.
“She has a good number of Latinos who are supporting her who are not in races, who are not running for re-election, and it's just not going to happen,” he explained.
Additionally, pundits said the issue of how gays and lesbians are perceived in religiously conservative Spanish-speaking communities could split the vote.
"Latino leaders are saying Quinn, but the disconnect between what they're saying and what is happening in neighborhoods and on the street, it's too great" because the "social conservative piece" could prevent them from voting for her, said Michael Tobman, a political consultant who works regularly on campaigns in immigrant communities.
Nieves, too, said Quinn’s sexual identity could be an issue for some Latino voters.
“I believe that there are still enough church-going Christian voters who, much like what happened in California on Proposition 8, that once they’re in the polls, her sexuality may be an issue,” he said.
Quinn also has to contend with Thompson, with whom she’s battling for second place in the polls and whose campaign is also hard at work in Spanish-speaking communities.
"Latino families across the city are strongly supporting Bill Thompson because he's the only candidate with a plan to bring parents and communities back to the table and fix schools, not close them,” Thompson campaign spokesman John Collins said.
The Thompson campaign has a crew of its own heavy-hitting Latino elected officials, including Manhattan state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and former Bronx borough president and Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer.
Thompson’s campaign is also counting on Latino voters’ familiarity with the candidate, hoping to draw repeat voters who supported him in his run for comptroller in 2001 and 2005, and his campaign for mayor in 2009.
Political consultant Michael Olmeda believes the primary election will result in “a Bill-on-Bill runoff" between Thompson and de Blasio, with Latino voters supporting Thompson over Quinn.
“The conservative nature of the Latino community, across the board, would prefer to go with Bill Thompson instead of Christine Quinn, bottom line,” he said.
Nieves agreed, saying, “The Latino community will look at another person of color and have more of a sense of allegiance because they're a community of struggle and I think that's going to play a role."
Nieves said he could also see Latinos flocking to de Blasio, who continues to dominate in the polls.
"When you're a candidate, and you start plummeting, you get people looking elsewhere," he said.
Quinn’s campaign is confident the speaker’s history of work on issues important to the Latino community will help her overcome the challenges she faces with voters.
“She's done work throughout her career and throughout the campaign that resonates with Latino voters,” said Josh Gold, political director for the pro-Quinn Hotel Trades Council.