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Does NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio Have A ‘Latino Problem?’

Image: Campaign for Fair Latino Representation Protest

Organizers and supporters of Campaign For Fair Latino Representation protest at New York's City Hall on Nov. 15. Campaign for Fair Latino Representation (CFLR)

NEW YORK, NY -- As a candidate, Bill de Blasio pledged to end what he called “The Tale of Two Cities” in New York City, and promised a more inclusive administration. Hispanic community organizers and advocates, however, say that Latinos are underrepresented in City Hall, and have formed a committee to hold the mayor accountable.

“We are community leaders, professionals, business people, and educators,” said Janet Alvarez of the Campaign for Fair Latino Representation. “I would like to see this mayor engage our community, and create policies that address our concerns.”

The Campaign’s organizers are seeking a face-to-face meeting with de Blasio to discuss the lack of Latinos in city government. “We voted for him, we are his constituents,” said Alvarez. “We were there for him, and we want him to be there for us too.”

New York City is 28 percent Latino, according to the 2010 Census, and de Blasio was elected in 2013 with 85 percent of the Latino vote. Yet the National Institute for Latino Policy reports that Hispanics comprise only 11 percent of the de Blasio administration’s appointments – a lower level of representation than whites, African Americans, or Asians.

While the Campaign has generated headlines in the New York City press about de Blasio’s “Latino problem,” so far organizers have not had a response from the mayor’s office.

Marti Adams, First Deputy Press Secretary to Mayor de Blasio, told NBC News that the mayor and his leadership team are committed to increasing the representation of Latinos as well as African-Americans, Asian American and Pacific Islanders. “We have been very clear in our intention to build an administration that is representative of all New Yorkers and we are proud of the diverse team that we have built to date,” said Adams. “There is always more we can do to increase diversity, and we won’t stop until we ensure that progress continues to be made.”

Image: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attends a news conference to announce a tentative contract agreement with the Uniformed Superior Officers Coalition at City Hall in New York
File photo of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio attending a news conference to announce a tentative contract agreement with the Uniformed Superior Officers Coalition at City Hall in New York, December 9, 2014. CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters

As to comment on the Campaign, a spokesperson for City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito directed NBC News to a November 25th interview with the New York Daily News. In it, the Speaker disputed charges that de Blasio has not appointed enough Latinos to city posts, and said that there are more Latinos heading agencies under his administration than that of his predecessor Michael Bloomberg.

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Still, members of the Campaign believe that comparisons to the previous administration are weak, especially given that de Blasio is not just a Democrat, but a Progressive.

De Blasio has named several Latinos to city government posts, including Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, and Gladys Carrión, commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services. In addition, de Blasio recently named three Latinos to the city’s Commission on Human Rights.

Image: Campaign for Fair Latino Representation Protest
Organizers and supporters of Campaign For Fair Latino Representation protest at New York's City Hall on Nov. 15. Campaign for Fair Latino Representation (CFLR)

These high profile appointments mask the greater problem, say members of the Campaign. “Whenever you get to the point that you can mention the one to four Latinos that got appointments, that shows the problem that we have,” said Anthony Miranda, Executive Chairman of the National Latino Officers Association. “I always challenge people to name all the white appointments that have been made, and no one can ever name all those names. But Latinos, you can name them on one hand.”

Miranda is disappointed with de Blasio. “It’s like buyer’s remorse,” he said. “We bought into the “Tale of Two Cities,” and his tale that he was going to fight the inequity in the system, and bring balance for everyone.” Miranda added it was important to keep pressuring City Hall, because as more time goes by, there will be fewer positions and vacancies to fill.

“When they lock us out of government, then they make us invisible,” said Howard Jordan, an attorney and radio host who supports the Campaign. “If we’re not in the government now, we’re not going to be in the government later, in future administrations,” he said. “All we want is an acknowledgement that we exist and that we matter.”

Organizers of the Campaign acknowledge that they are impressed by de Blasio’s policies such as his plans for Universal Pre-K, Municipal ID cards, and low-income housing. But that isn’t enough. “If we’re not in the government now, we’re not going to be in the government later, in future administrations,” said attorney and radio talk show host Howard Jordan.

De Blasio has been accused of insensitivity towards Hispanics. Last month he was late to a memorial service for the victims of Flight 587, angering members of the Dominican community. He also skipped the funeral of former congressman and Bronx borough president Herman Badillo. While other city leaders mourned Badillo, de Blasio was photographed by the Village Voice working out at a YMCA in Brooklyn.

Organizers of the Campaign acknowledge that they are impressed by de Blasio’s policies, such as his plans for Universal Pre-K, Municipal ID cards, and low-income housing. But that isn’t enough, organizers say. Campaign members expressed frustration that the mayor has been a national leader on issues like immigration, yet seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Latino empowerment at home.

Antonio Rivera Jr., who has worked in several New York City administrations, said that he has seen the issue of Latino representation “dwindle” over the years. “I hope that there is a big misunderstanding here and I pray that, together, we can resolve the (representation) issue. If given the opportunity, there are many Latinos who can help this city excel.”

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Fair Latino Representation plans to continue to push for a more inclusive city government. “As a Latino, all our lives we face many walls, that's why we get ladders,” Rivera said. “So…we are not looking to put down Bill de Blasio, that’s not our objective. Our objective is to get him to listen to us.”