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Hispanic candidates turn to Miami

Miami Herald

April 13, 2005


A Democrat running for mayor of Los Angeles is coming to town today to tap into Miami's high-rolling network of Hispanic fundraisers, many of whom are Republican.


Antonio Villaraigosa, who is competing to become the first Hispanic mayor in Los Angeles in more than 100 years, plans to tap into Miami's booming Hispanic fundraising circuit today.

And his allies in Miami expect to give him a big boost: about $100,000.

Villaraigosa is just the latest candidate making the rounds in a national fundraising circuit that has become a tremendous cash machine for Hispanic candidates around the country, often pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into their campaigns. Villaraigosa, a high-profile Democrat who co-chaired John Kerry's presidential campaign, will likely draw donations from high-rolling Republican fundraisers, including developer Sergio Pino, media mogul Raul Alarcon Sr. and lobbyist Sylvester Lukis.

''He's a Hispanic. I'm a Hispanic. I want to help a fellow Hispanic,'' said Pino, who has raised large sums of money for Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush. ``Los Angeles is a big city, and the Hispanics there are booming, so it's time they had a Hispanic mayor.''

The cross-party cooperation shows that in politics, ethnicity often trumps party affiliation. Another recent example is Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who won strong support among traditionally Democratic Puerto Ricans in Central Florida in November's election.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, and their political clout is expanding. Political parties and presidential candidates spent record amounts of money -- up to $20 million -- targeting Hispanic votes leading up to November's election.

For many Hispanic candidates around the country, Miami sits at the crossroads of victory. Others who passed through town in recent years to raise money include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, New Jersey Congressman Bob Menendez, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, and Orlando Sanchez, a Cuban-American Republican who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Houston four years ago.

Villaraigosa can expect to raise about $100,000 in Miami today, roughly the amount that he raised here in 2001, Cancela said.

''By just going to Miami, L.A. and New York, and tapping into the Hispanic circuit, a candidate can easily walk away with $300,000 or $400,000,'' said Fred Menachem, a fundraiser for former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, who is working for Villaraigosa in Miami.

Local candidates have traveled to other cities to tap into the Hispanic network as well: Martinez; former Miami-Dade Mayor Penelas; Miami Mayor Manny Diaz; and businessman Jose Cancela, who lost his county mayoral bid last year.

During Penelas' failed Senate campaign last year, Menachem said he raised $100,000 during a single trip to New York via the Hispanic fundraising circuit. Cancela said he raised about $20,000 during a trip to Los Angeles last year.

''I've had a passion for bringing the East Coast and West Coast together,'' Cancela said. ``What better way to send a signal that we are united than to help Antonio become the first Hispanic mayor of L.A.?''

Many Hispanics in Miami feel they have valuable wisdom -- not just money -- to impart to their brethren in Los Angeles, where Hispanics have had much more difficulty translating their numbers into political power.

''Here in Miami, the population is more political, more aware and interested in having their elected officials understand them,'' said Alarcon, president of South Broadcasting System and founder of Spanish Broadcasting System. Alarcon, a Republican, plans to attend one of the fundraisers for Villaraigosa today.

In Los Angeles County, about 44 percent of the population is Hispanic; in Miami-Dade, it's about 58 percent of the population. However, Hispanics in Los Angeles are overwhelmingly Mexican-American, who tend to be more liberal. In Miami-Dade, a greater mix of Cubans, Venezuelans, Colombians and Nicaraguans tend to lean Republican.

Villaraigosa, a Mexican American and Los Angeles city councilman, is locked in a nasty rematch against Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn, who defeated Villaraigosa in 2001. The race is nonpartisan; both men are Democrats.

Villaraigosa's campaign was careful not to exalt the importance of Hispanic support over that of other ethnic groups.

''I think it's limiting to just say it's Hispanic support that he's getting nationally,'' said Villaraigosa campaign advisor Ari Swiller. ``When he does get national support, it's because people see him as a leader they respect.''

Still, those hosting most of the fundraisers here -- Cancela, Pino, Penelas and lobbyists Fred Balsera and Sylvester Lukis -- are Hispanic.

''It is absolutely true that Latinos have got a great deal of pride in their community, and they want to see more Latinos elected to office,'' said Joe Velasquez, a Washington lobbyist who has helped Bill Richardson tap into the national Hispanic circuit.

Villaraigosa is expected to attend three events with Penelas: one hosted by Pino and Cancela at Century Homebuilders; the second hosted by Balsera and Lukis at a Coral Gables restaurant; and the third by another Miami businessman.

''There is a lot of money down here from Hispanics,'' Menachem said, ``and people are just starting to realize that.''





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