- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

America's war on terrorism has political reverberations in Texas, where Republicans are excited about Orlando Sanchez.

They think the Cuban-born Texas Republican's drive to unseat black Democratic Mayor Lee Brown in Houston is catching on and will get a boost from popular New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

That's good news for the White House and the Republican National Committee, which see Mr. Sanchez's campaign as their best shot this year at furthering their long-term goal of electing more Hispanic Republicans everywhere, at all levels of government.

"We are helping raise money for Sanchez in Florida," Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas told The Washington Times. "He is our best hope for getting Hispanic Democrats to cross over and vote for a Republican in a major city."

"If we pull it off, it will be a groundbreaking election, since none of the six largest cities in America has ever had a Hispanic mayor," said Sanchez spokesman Chris Begala.

In Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, Mr. Sanchez plans to remind terrorism-conscious voters that Mr. Giuliani has a low regard for Mr. Brown's public-safety record. After serving as Clinton administration drug czar, Mr. Brown was New York City police commissioner from 1990 to 1992.

During Mr. Brown's nationally watched first campaign for Houston mayor in 1997, Mr. Giuliani tried to help Republican Rob Mosbacher by publicly calling Mr. Brown's work during the Crown Heights riots "a negative lesson on how we do police work in New York." But Mr. Brown went on to defeat Mr. Mosbacher by 52 percent to 48 percent.

Sanchez advisers say using that criticism by Mr. Giuliani in campaign ads will be a lot more effective than four years ago, when Mr. Giuliani was not the phenomenally popular figure nationally that he has become since Sept. 11.

Other events seem to be falling in place for Mr. Sanchez, who could become Houston's first Hispanic mayor.

Terrorism in New York and Washington and anthrax attacks on the East Coast have reinforced his warnings that the fire department under Mr. Brown is ill-equipped to respond to fires, let alone to a terrorist attack on the city, whose 2 million residents are spread over 641 square miles 10 times the size of Washington.

Last week, a 20-year veteran firefighter died battling a high-rise blaze. His widow stood up at his funeral, looked accusingly at Mr. Brown, and said her husband told her before he perished that it would take a firefighter's death to move the Brown administration to staff the fire department adequately.

"Our fire department has one hazardous-materials team," Mr. Sanchez told The Washington Times. "We should have at least four."

Earlier, he got a boost from the city's 3,300 firefighters when they endorsed him over Mr. Brown and a third candidate, Democrat Chris Bell, for the Nov. 6 nonpartisan election, which will be followed by a likely Dec. 4 runoff.

An automated phone poll for local NBC-TV outlet has Mr. Brown, although a second-term incumbent, at only 38 percent; Mr. Sanchez, 29 percent; and Mr. Bell, 27 percent. The poll was taken only a few days after Mr. Sanchez began his TV ad campaign.

The poll showed Mr. Sanchez running strong among Republicans and women, with whom he originally had been weak. But Mr. Brown's advantage is that black Democrats are a disciplined and reliable component of the electorate.

Racial-ethnic politics, however, is proving tricky at best, and it isn't always ideology or party label that counts most.

Houston's electorate is 38 percent Hispanic, 27 percent black, 2 percent Asian and the rest non-Hispanic white. But turnout is a different matter: Historically, Hispanics account for only 9 percent of the total vote, compared to about 30 percent for blacks.

Hispanic Democrats suffered a setback recently in the Los Angeles mayoral election, with the loss by Arturo Villaraigosa, who won only 46 percent of the vote. His defeat was not a Republican victory, since he lost to another liberal Democrat, City Attorney James Hahn, who took 54 percent of the vote.

In Miami, all seven candidates in the Nov. 6 election for mayor are Hispanics. One is a Libertarian and five are Democrats all attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Joe Carollo, whose messy private life has become a public issue.

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