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Latino Leaders Blast de Blasio About Disrespect in City Government

By Jeff Mays | November 17, 2014 9:13am
 Mayor Bill de Blasio marches in the New York Ecuadorian Parade in Queens on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014. A coalition of Latino groups has criticized the mayor for not appointing enough top Latino officials, allowing the highest ranking Latino member of the NYPD to be forced out and refusing face-to-face meetings.
Mayor Bill de Blasio marches in the New York Ecuadorian Parade in Queens on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014. A coalition of Latino groups has criticized the mayor for not appointing enough top Latino officials, allowing the highest ranking Latino member of the NYPD to be forced out and refusing face-to-face meetings.
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Rob Bennett/Mayoral Photography Office

THE BRONX — The grumbling began as soon as Mayor Bill de Blasio walked into the memorial for the 13th anniversary of the crash of Flight 587 almost 10 minutes after the bell had tolled commemorating the exact time of the crash.

Family members of the mostly Dominican crash victims were already angry at the mayor because the city-organized ceremony seemed diminished. There was no Dominican flag as in years past, no flowers, no breakfast and not enough chairs.

"Forget about it. Then he wants Hispanic votes? Forget about it," Robustian Reyes, 56, who lost his brother Robert in the crash, said as he waited for de Blasio to arrive.

De Blasio received 87 percent of the Latino vote in the 2013 mayoral election. Those votes, say Latino advocates, came with the expectation that the mayor would engage the Latino community after 20 years of feeling ignored during the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations.

Instead, they say the mayor has slighted them by not appointing enough top Latino officials, allowing the highest ranking Latino member of the NYPD to be forced out and refusing face-to-face meetings.

"Being late to the memorial just seems like part of a pattern of disrespecting Latinos," said Ramon Jimenez, general counsel for Boricuas for a Positive Image.

Several Latino organizations, including the National Institute for Latino Policy, the Latino Officers Association of America and Boricuas for A Positive Image have banded together to form the Campaign for Fair Latino Representation.

The organization wants to take de Blasio to task for the number of high-ranking Latinos in his nearly year-old administration and plans to blast the mayor Monday on the steps of City Hall.

Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, said the Campaign for Fair Latino Representation has calculated that only 12 percent of de Blasio's public appointments were Latino even though the ethnic group makes up 29 percent of the city's population and 20 percent of the city's workforce.

"There's the sense that he's not giving the Latino community respect," said Falcón. "You can't say you have a progressive agenda and then ignore Latinos."

According to Falcón's research, of the 26 publicly announced appointments as of the end of September, most are concentrated in the Department of Education, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City and the Mayor's office instead of being spread out through the administration.

Of three recent de Blasio appointments to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, none were Latino. The city's Human Rights Commission has one Latino on the executive board.

"Latinos were one of the two groups that helped elect this mayor and his appointments don't reflect that," Jimenez said.

The Campaign for Fair Latino Representation says de Blasio has been especially disappointing when it comes to diversity in the NYPD.

In September, Rafael Pineiro, the former first deputy commissioner and the highest ranking Latino in the police department, resigned after being forced out by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who wanted to pick his own first deputy commissioner.

After the heir apparent for the job, Phillip Banks III, the department's highest ranking African-American, abruptly resigned, Bratton appointed Benjamin Tucker to the role in a matter of days.

Tucker, who is also African-American, received a lukewarm response from prominent black leaders and the mayor's strongest allies in the black community.

"For Latinos, it looks like they picked someone just because he was an African-American and a Latino wasn't even given consideration for the job," said retired NYPD Sgt. Anthony Miranda, head of the National Latino Officers Association of America.

"We are at the point where we are protesting like it's back in the 1960s. It should have never gotten to this point."

The group says de Blasio has declined repeated requests for a sit-down to discuss their concerns.

A spokeswoman for de Blasio said the mayor is "committed to increasing the representation of Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian American and Pacific Islanders" in his administration and has held a series of meetings with community-based organizations, labor unions and business leaders to discuss recruiting and outreach strategies to further diversify the city's leadership.

Latino Councilmen Ritchie Torres and Ydanis Rodriguez dismissed the criticism of de Blasio's treatment of the Latino community.

"One third of the city budget is education and the last time I checked the schools chancellor is a Latina woman named Carmen Fariña," said Torres, a member of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

Rodriguez pointed to high-ranking Latino appointments such as Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and Administration for Children's Services Commissioner Gladys Carrion.

"He's committed to making his administration as diverse as the city is. He's new. He's only been here for a short period of time," Rodriguez said.

But even de Blasio's supporters say that diversity within the upper ranks of the NYPD is a concern.

"The criticism is valid when it comes to the NYPD," said Torres. "There could be more diversity, yes."

Rodriguez said he expressed his concerns about the NYPD's diversity in a recent meeting with Bratton.

"He gave his word he will be working to bring the diversity the NYPD should have," Rodriguez said of Bratton.

Falcón said part of the reason some Latinos are upset with de Blasio is the belief by liberals and progressives that immigration is the biggest issue facing Latinos.

De Blasio has focused on immigration issues with the creation of a municipal identification card aimed largely at providing identification for undocumented immigrants.

On Friday, de Blasio signed a bill into law limiting the Department of Correction's cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

While immigration is a big issue for the city's diverse Latino population, so is poverty and education, Falcón said.

Kenneth Sherrill, professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, said de Blasio could have a serious problem among his strongest supporters in the city if he does not take some action on the concerns being expressed by Latino leaders.

In a recent Quinnipiac poll, Latinos gave de Blasio an approval rating of 55 percent, surpassed only by his approval rating among blacks at 65 percent.

The Latino coalition is made up of people "you ignore at your own risk," Sherrill added.

"What they are saying is just because you have appointed some members of our community to commissionerships, don't think you are hearing the full range of opinions from us," Sherrill said.

"There has to be some face time and there has to be some serious listening."