- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

The election of Los Angeles’ first Hispanic mayor endangers the political dominance of black Democrats there, and officials from both communities say they worry that tensions over political control of the city will lead to social unrest.

“The Democratic leadership in L.A., it is not going to be black anymore. It will be brown,” said Morris Reid, managing director of Westin Rinehart, a political consulting firm.

He said Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, was aided in his win over Mayor James K. Hahn by an unprecedented display of unity between black and Hispanic politicians and voters.

Mr. Villaraigosa said he wants to build on the support he received from black leaders in the mayoral election.

“Does that mean we still don’t have many challenges” Absolutely not, but what it means is that there are people who do want to make it work, who understand that none of us are going anywhere, and that the only way to make a city as diverse as Los Angeles work is if we are collaborating across communities,” Mr. Villaraigosa said.

“There is no question that there are tensions in Los Angeles, as there are in New York, Chicago or any city as diverse as Los Angeles and as poor as Los Angeles.”

Mr. Reid said he sees potential to further unify black and Hispanic communities.

“The story within the story was that the black community is still politically powerful because they punished Hahn. It gives Hispanics a reason to stay with the [Democratic] party and it shows black and brown folks that their destiny is tied together,” Mr. Reid said.

Black and Hispanic community activists said the unity that swept Mr. Villaraigosa into office is not likely to last.

“I have been, for the last 15 years, doing volunteer work in the public school system in L.A., Crenhaw and Hawthorne and I have been seeing a silent warfare building between blacks and Hispanics,” said the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, president of the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND).

Mr. Peterson said blacks and Hispanics are clashing at the neighborhood level, with several incidents of ethnic violence taking place in some schools. He said there are indications that Los Angeles’ largest rival black street gangs, the Crips and the Bloods, are uniting to take on Mexican and Salvadoran gangs.

The situation wasn’t helped by Mexican President Vicente Fox’s recent comments that Mexican immigrants were working jobs that “not even blacks” will do, said Mr. Peterson, adding that the remark identified a real division between the two groups.

“I was not surprised at Vicente Fox’s comments because that is an attitude of many Hispanics here — not all, of course, but it is prevalent,” he said.

Andy Ramirez, executive director of California-based Friends of the Border Patrol, said the unease is a direct result of the shift in political leadership toward one that is increasingly majority Hispanic.

Los Angeles has been a power base for black congressmen on the West Coast since 1962, beginning with former Reps. Augustus F. Hawkins, Julian C. Dixon in 1978 and Mervyn M. Dymally in 1980. In the 1990s political power began shifting to black women, such as Reps. Maxine Waters and Juanita Millender-McDonald, and by 2000 — with Rep. Diane Watson replacing Mr. Dixon — that shift was complete. But the female trio may be the last influential black politicians to come out of Los Angeles.

“I think the Villaraigosa election is the end of any non-Latino representation,” Mr. Ramirez said. “They are replacing everybody at the school board level, city council level, the water board, community college board levels, and they have been able to do this with Spanish radio and TV telling illegal immigrants to vote.”


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