- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The chairman of the Hispanic caucus of the Democratic National Committee said yesterday that there is a “disconnect” in the party regarding the minority vote and accused it of scrapping a $1.5 million plan to attract Hispanics.

Alvaro Cifuentes, who also chastised the DNC leadership for failure to hire Hispanics, announced a three-day summit for party Hispanics in September that will be “completely funded on our own, separate from the DNC.”

“There is obviously a problem in the party with Hispanic and Latino issues,” Mr. Cifuentes said. “We’ve been trying for the past two years to address them.”

The DNC did not return calls for comment.

The $1.5 million “Hispanic Project” was to be a vast, annual effort that included a get-out-the-vote campaign, recruitment of Hispanic candidates and establishment of satellite offices in key states.

Some caucus members insist the plan is still being put together, although they declined to offer details.

The summit is a result of indifference from the party’s leadership, Mr. Cifuentes said. It is to be held in Albuquerque, N.M.

“We aren’t waiting around for anybody to put an agenda together anymore,” he said.

The dilemma is “an interesting problem,” said Steven Ybarra, a caucus member who leads the Pacific region for the DNC.

“Terry McAuliffe made a pledge to make sure that the voters who were critical were turned out and that we would have the proper resources to make that happen in 2004,” Mr. Ybarra said, in reference to the DNC chairman. “And none of that happened.”

“It will make the job in 2004 all the tougher,” Mr. Ybarra added.

The “job” entails overtaking Republican gains in luring the Hispanic vote, which has become a Republican Party mandate. Republicans were further encouraged by a May 2002 poll sponsored by the Democratic Party that found allegiance waning among Hispanics.

“This is a situation that will be and needs to be monitored,” said Rep. Ciro D. Rodriguez, the Texas Democrat who leads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The rancor from the DNC’s Hispanic caucus follows the revelation last week that the national committee planned to terminate 10 black employees as part of a financial retooling to take on the Republican money machine in the 2004 elections.

Mr. McAuliffe called the firing plans a mistake and a misunderstanding and said the employees would not be laid off.

The Democratic Party has long held most of the minority vote in national elections. In 2000, Al Gore received 66 percent of the Hispanic vote and 92 percent of the black vote.

Some caucus members said there is no disconnect with Hispanics and defended Mr. McAuliffe.

Others said there were problems that would be worked out soon.

“There has actually been an improvement on increasing members in the DNC,” said Art Torres, who also is chairman of the California Democratic Party. “But it is not reasonable to think that everybody is going to be satisfied at the same time. Terry has done a good job of increasing diversity on the DNC board.”

The recent developments have prompted DNC members from the Hispanic as well as the black caucuses to request a meeting with Mr. McAuliffe.

“We all understand the new finance-reform laws require some changes to be made,” said Ramona E. Martinez, a Denver city council member who is vice chairman of the Hispanic caucus. “But those changes are being made so internally that we don’t find out until after they are made.”

She also said the Hispanic Project was no longer being considered by top party officials.

“I think we’re going to have to sit down with Terry and let him know that this is not a good message that is being sent out by the party,” she said. “What Hispanics want to be is part of the solution, not the problem.”

Mr. Cifuentes sent a memo to the 40 caucus members last week after public reports of the planned layoffs of the black employees.

In it, he noted that seven Hispanics had left the DNC after the midterm elections.

Some left voluntarily for other jobs, while others were let go.

“For the party to be effective with the Latino constituency, it needs to put its money where its mouth is,” said Maria Cardona, a former DNC communications director who left in March to take a job with the New Democrat Network.

The DNC has reported that 10 percent of its employees are Hispanic and 30 percent are black.

Several sources, including some staffers, yesterday denied the figures, saying there are four Hispanics among the 100 DNC employees.

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