Monday, May 27, 2024

Latino-Black Rivalry Played Role in G.O.P.’s Takeover of New York State Senate

On Monday, when state Republicans in the New York Senate staged a surprise takeover of the chamber, they were joined by two Democrats, State Senators Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate.  While almost every other of their Democratic colleagues walked out, the two Latino lawmakers stood back in support.

The partisan battle that erupted is the result of a long-standing rift within the Democratic Party in New York. State Latino lawmakers have resented playing the role of “junior partner” to the state’s powerful black establishment, which has supplied New York with a mayor for its largest city, a governor, and, last winter, the first black Senate majority leader: Malcom A. Smith.

Espada is soon to be sworn in as the new president of the Senate, and was supported by several other Latino lawmakers, in a move that didn’t change his political party affiliation, but was rather seen as a bold statement in a statement to fully include Latinos in the Senate.

Assemblyman José Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, said, “There are over two million Latinos in the State of New York; they are looking to be included in a partnership. I don’t know if that’s going to last, but yeah, it’s a proud moment — a Latino making waves.”

“If you were to poll the Latino members of the Legislature, you’d get a rah-rah response,” said Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera, who is also from the Bronx, “There are a whole bunch of Latino officials who are concerned about representation.”

Some blame the tensions on black lawmakers who have worked together as a unified bloc within the Legislature and have been well represented among the leadership in both the Senate and the Assembly, while Latino lawmakers have not been included in top positions.

Latino lawmakers were angry that no Hispanic candidate was put forward when a vacancy opened up on the State Court of Appeals earlier this year, and even angrier when Gov. David A. Paterson did not appoint a Hispanic to the United States Senate seat when it was vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The state legislature has long been dominated by the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, which has only had one Hispanic chairman since it was founded in the 1960’s.

In the Senate, black lawmakers’ unity was imperative to the election of Smith first as the Senate minority leader and then as the majority leader. Smith promised perks and titles to Espada and Monserrate in exchange for their votes.

Other Democrats say that Espada had demanded from Senate Democrats — and has been denied — extra staff members, expensive office space and potentially illegal pork-barrel spending.

On Wednesday, a group of Senate Democrats attempted to negotiate with Espada and Monserrate to come back to the Democratic Caucus; one of the conditions was, according to people familiar with the discussions, whether a black senator would remain the majority leader.

One anonymous Democratic lawmaker says, “You’re seeing the ugliest side of identity politics. In the name of community liberation, people are negotiating for better jobs for themselves or their children.”

In an effort to protest the Latino leaders who have played a main role in this controversy, Rev. Al Sharpton organized a demonstration in Monserrate’s Queens District to pressure him to rejoin the Democratic caucus, even though Monserrate and Espada remain Democrats.

Sharpton, accompanied by black and Hispanic lawmakers from Queens, said Democrats “cannot afford to break the coalition” between the two groups.

New York Times

U.S. News & World Report