Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, whose job title in Spanish is defensoría del pueblo, is making a concerted appeal to Spanish-speaking voters.
On Tuesday, in response to the recent series of attacks on women in Brooklyn, de Blasio could be found at the 36th Street subway station in the heavily Hispanic neighborhood of Sunset Park, handing out Spanish-language copies of his pamphlet, Making Our Communities Safer: How You Can Prevent Public Sexual Assault and Harassment.
Last Thursday, October 6, an El Diario editorial applauded de Blasio for using his Fund for Public Advocacy to raise private money to send undocumented students to college.
That same morning, he held a press conference in front of the federal building at 26 Federal Plaza to denounce GEO Group, a contractor that runs an immigrant detention center in Queens.
“There have been hunger strikes by detainees kept in solitary confinement, there have been guards convicted who worked for GEO, for covering up the beatings of inmates,” said de Blasio, standing in the shadow of the 41-story Jacob K. Javits Federal Building just west of Foley Square, home to the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.
“Undocumented immigrants should not have to go through this,” he said.
An undocumented immigrant named José, and representatives from the Make the Road NY and the New York Immigration Coalition stood nearby. The story made page one of El Diario.
And that’s only the half of it.
On September 9, de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, published an opinion piece in El Diario entitled, “Cuando los padres so involucran, los hijos tienen éxito,” or, “When parents get involved, kids succeed.”
“Yesterday was our son Dante’s first day of high school,” began the op-ed. “And though it probably embarrassed him, we decided to bring him to school together.”
They then go on to talk about the importance of parental involvement, criticize the Department of Education for not paying more attention to parents, and plug de Blasio’s “Cuenta conmigo,” or “Count on me” pledge urging parents to get more involved in their children’s schools, a topic that got separate coverage on a different page of El Diario that morning.
Meanwhile, Paula Caquais, de Blasio’s Bronx Organizing & Community Relations Representative, is said to appear at nearly every community meeting of significance in the Bronx, fifty-four percent of whose residents are Hispanic, according to the most recent census.
“On a broad range of issues, whether it’s trying to ensure that undocumented young people are able to access financing to go to college or on the detention facilities, or on racial profiling or policing practices, he’s been right there with us and active on our issues,” said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road NY. “Certainly our members notice and appreciate that.”
De Blasio declined to comment for this article. But the public advocate is known to be preparing a run for mayor in 2013. At this early point in the election cycle, the field has no Hispanic candidates, which means, theoretically, that the Hispanic vote (to the extent that any segment as large and diverse as New York’s Spanish-speakers can be spoken of as a voting bloc) is up for grabs.
Of course, the public advocate is not the only potential mayoral candidate to be paying attention to, and currying favor with, immigrant communities.
“Back from when John Liu was in the City Council, we worked with him on language-access legislation, and he’s been a champion on that issue ever since,” said Friedman. “He’s been an outspoken supporter on a number of our campaigns on immigrant-related issues.”
So, said Friedman, have two other likely mayoral candidates, Borough President Scott Stringer and Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
“I think we’ve got a universe of folks who are probably more receptive and more active on the issues that our members care most about than certainly previous constellations of folks in those roles,” said Friedman. “I think folks who aspire to lead New York City, where 40 percent of the population are immigrants and close to 70 percent are children of immigrants, it’s incredibly important politically to understand the aspirations of immigrant communities and to be proactive about creating a public policy landscape that responds to those aspirations.”
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