Strict Standards: Declaration of C_DataMapper_Driver_Base::define() should be compatible with C_Component::define($context = false) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/datamapper/class.datamapper_driver_base.php on line 609
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_DataMapper_Driver_Base::initialize() should be compatible with C_Component::initialize() in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/datamapper/class.datamapper_driver_base.php on line 609
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_Displayed_Gallery_Mapper::define() should be compatible with C_CustomPost_DataMapper_Driver::define($object_name, $context = false) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/nextgen_gallery_display/class.displayed_gallery_mapper.php on line 4
Strict Standards: Declaration of C_Displayed_Gallery_Mapper::initialize() should be compatible with C_CustomPost_DataMapper_Driver::initialize($object_name) in /nas/content/live/axisphilly/wp-content/plugins/nextgen-gallery/products/photocrati_nextgen/modules/nextgen_gallery_display/class.displayed_gallery_mapper.php on line 4
It’s one of the most iconic images in Philadelphia history. W. Wilson Goode, standing on the stage of the Academy of Music in 1984, taking the oath to become the city’s first black mayor.
Goode’s victory was the culmination of a decade of hard work by black political activists in the city: their first successful candidate for mayor.
Will we see a similar picture in 2016: in same setting, with the mayor-elect’s hand on the Bible? Only this time it will be a Latino Philadelphian—perhaps Nelson Diaz or Kenneth Trujillo or another Hispanic—being sworn in.
While political insiders say the rise of Latino power is the next chapter in the city’s history, there are serious impediments to it happening.
The fact is that while there is a sizeable bloc of Latinos registered to vote (one estimate puts them at 100,000-plus); getting them to go to the polls is another matter.
The cliché in political circles is “Latinos don’t vote.” Though it’s hard to test that assertion. In Philadelphia, people can check off their race when they register; it’s voluntary and most folks don’t.
To test the cliché, I took a different tack. Using U.S. Census data, I identified the census tracts in the city in 2010 where Latinos’ share of the population was 75 percent or higher.
I then superimposed them over election division boundaries to create a list of 25 ‘indicator’ divisions, to sample Latino voting habits. Most of the divisions were in the 19th Ward in North Philadelphia, in neighborhoods that are at the heart of Latino Philadelphia. Six more divisions were in the adjoining 7th Ward.
These divisions represent about 16 percent of all Latino voters in the city, a decent-sized sample.
Using these indicator divisions, I looked at every election held between 1999 and last year to measure Latino voting habits. The result?
The cliché is true: Latinos don’t vote, certainly not in proportion to white and black voters. In the 15 general elections held in that period, Latinos turnout averaged 14 points lower than the citywide average, and even more below the voting patterns of whites and blacks.
In fact, Latino turnout cracked 50 percent only once during that period, in 2008, the first time Barrack Obama ran for President. Latino turnout was 50 percent on the nose, but was still 17 percentage points below citywide turnout (67%).
As Patrick Kerkstra made clear in his piece last week on Latino Philadelphia, Latino political leaders are aware of the weak turnout. They point to several factors: most Latinos in Philadelphia are Puerto Ricans and many are focused more on the politics of the island than the city; the poverty of many Latinos (the 19th Ward is one of the poorest in the city), and the lack of any galvanizing issue or candidate to bring voters out.
One thing can be said for sure about Latino voters in this city: they are decidedly Democratic, even more so than the city at large. So far, they have not broken ranks for a Republican who is Latino. In 2013, Republicans slated Daniel Alvarez to run for District Attorney against incumbent Seth Williams. Alvarez got 19 percent of the vote citywide. He got only eight percent among Latino voters. Turnout, a miserable 11 percent citywide, was a doubly miserable five percent in the Latino indicator divisions.
Latino politicians say that low turnout is to be expected during this emergent period.
They point black voters as an example. For decades, black turnout trailed the citywide average—often by double digits.
If you peer into the past and look at black participation in the 1970s, turnout averaged nine points below the citywide average and an average of 18 points below white turnout.
That troubled era in the city’s history saw the emergence of black political power, culminating in the election in 1983 of Goode Sr. as the city’s first black mayor. In that year, for the first time ever, black turnout exceeded the city average and white turnout.
The days of double-digit differences between white and black turnout and black turnout are over.
Some people look back and say the reason turnout increased was because the presence of black candidates at the top of the ticket acted as a magnet.
I would say the reverse is true.
Blacks tried for citywide office because there were significant organizing efforts made that focused on increasing black political power. Blacks began to organize because they felt they were shut out or slighted by the Democratic organization, which they were.
In a sense, it was a protest movement—against the machine—that used the community organizing tools first employed in the civil rights movement. It was a movement that was led by a group of independent black activists, chief among them John White Sr., under the banner of the Black Political Forum.
The Latino community in Philadelphia today has no central organizing group. Most Latino pols are aligned with the Democratic organization; they are not outsiders.
Latinos also lack the great galvanizing force black political activism had in the 1970s: Mayor Frank L. Rizzo. Rizzo was a polarizing figure that personified the hopes and fears of the white working class in the city. He was elected to stop blacks from advancing—into politics, into neighborhoods, into offices in City Hall.
When Rizzo first ran in 1971, black voters gave 78 percent of their votes to Thatcher Longstreth, a Republican—the last time a Republican ever got the majority of the black vote in Philadelphia.
Rizzo is long gone. There is no similar figure on the political landscape that will do Latinos the favor of raising their anger level. But there is a lesson today for Latinos from the rise of black political power:
—Spend the time and energy needed to organize at the grassroots level. It’s labor intensive, but it pays off. (In the 1970s, Black Political Forum members enlisted candidates to run against entrenched committee people in the wards. You can’t get more granular than that.)
—Stop the feudal infighting that seems to prevail in the Latino political community and unite behind a single candidate, especially if that candidate is running for a citywide office.
—Make alliances with other race, ethnic and political groups. Even if they were at maximum voting strength, Latinos simply don’t have numbers—at least not today—to win elections on their own. They need to promote candidates who can attract black votes and white progressive votes, not to mention the city’s burgeoning Asian and other ethnic communities.
The days of political emergence are tantalizingly close, but there’s hard work for Latinos to do within their own community before they move to center stage in the city’s political life.
Photo: The Associated Press
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story understated the share of vote Republican Daniel Alvarez got in the 2013 District Attorney’s race. He got 19 percent.