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HISPANIC LEADERS CREATE GRASS-ROOTS PARTY

Forget the Democratic Party. Members of Buffalo's Hispanic community are hosting a party of their own.

Tired of being overlooked and divided by the Democrats, who have historically held the loyalty of the Hispanic population, a few local Hispanic leaders have launched their own "Partido Latino Popular," aka the Latino Popular Party.

Two Common Council candidates have agreed to run on the Latino Popular Party line this year, and the party hopes to endorse even more candidates next year.

"We need to revolutionize the way we conduct the business of politics in this county," said Ralph Hernandez, president of the Erie County Latino Voters Association. "We're not getting our folks out to the polls. The bottom line is that they don't believe that voting makes much of a difference for them."

With only 6 percent to 8 percent of area Hispanics turning out at the polls, he said, political parties have found it easy to overlook the community's needs and concerns. That only alienates more Latino residents from the political process, he said.

By creating a grass-roots political party from within the community, Hernandez said, Hispanics can place more faith in the party's endorsements. And candidates seeking party endorsement must come forward with a specific platform that addresses the Hispanic community's needs.

This new party would give Hispanic community members the freedom to endorse candidates of any party, Hernandez said, not just simply vote a straight Democratic ticket.

"Maybe we can get the Latino community to take ownership of the party and begin to vote," he said, "to send a clear message to the Republicans and Democrats that they're going to have to work to get the Latino vote in the future."

This year, Ellicott District candidate William Trezevant and Fillmore District incumbent Karen Ellington have qualified to run on the Latino Popular Party line.

Much of the impetus for creating the party this year comes from what some Hispanics view as disloyalty by Democratic leaders who have supported a county redistricting plan dividing the Lower West Side among three legislative boundaries.

Because the Lower West Side holds the greatest concentration of Hispanic residents in the county, many saw this redistricting plan as a means of further diluting the strength of an already weakened ethnic minority.

In addition, Hernandez said, "The Democratic Party has never endorsed a Latino candidate that wasn't already an incumbent."

Despite the party's surface appeal, a number of community leaders have expressed only lukewarm or cautious support for the organization.

The party currently is run by an ad hoc committee led by Hernandez, a fact that has raised some skepticism among other Hispanic leaders who worry that Hernandez may be trying to raise his own community profile.

Hernandez, however, said party officers will be elected in January and that he has no intention of being a long-term political player.

Some point to the party's rocky start with only two candidates qualifying to run on the party line.

They also say Hispanic community leaders with deep ties to the Democratic or Republican parties are unlikely to support the Latino Popular Party because they'd be unwilling to break ranks in endorsing candidates.

Adrian Rodriguez, president of the Hispanic Coalition, said he thinks the party is a wonderful idea but also stated that it's in desperate need of broader support and better marketing.

"Certainly it has not developed a lot of enthusiasm from the leaders in the Hispanic community," he said. "A new party needs to come from an open and democratic process."

Andres Garcia, head of Western New York Hispanics and Friends, acknowledged the skepticism but shrugged it aside, saying, "Anything that will make our people more involved in the political process is a good idea."

Hernandez said the party is still in its infancy and needs time to grow.

"This is a process in the making," he said. "It's not already done. We may make it, we may not, but the fact of the matter is we're trying to do something different."

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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