Vote Latino Campaign still Sore Spot with Some
By: Tom Duggan – January 2, 2004
Lawrence – District “A” (Prospect Hill) Councilor Patrick Blanchette was elected president of the Lawrence City Council Friday night after the swearing in of all new city officials. Blanchette faced opposition from Carlos Matos, a newcomer, who was nominated by another rookie, Israel Reyes. Blanchette won the presidency by a 5-4 vote.
Reyes was elected to the City Council in November after joining the “Vote Latino” campaign whereby Hispanic voters were barraged with radio and door to door campaigns urging them to vote “only for Latino candidates.” Reyes appeared several times on Spanish language radio endorsing other “Latino” candidates simply because they were Latino. Some radio ads hailed Reyes by name as well as every Latino candidate for office calling for a “takeover” of city government.
But, the Boston Globe and the Tribune recently printed articles implying that the race for the Council presidency was a “racial issue” as though it was non-Latinos on the attack against Latino Councilors.
“If there is racism going on with regards to this Council it is the Hispanic Councilors who are blatantly engaging in it,” one Councilor said requesting anonymity.
“You can’t spend months on the radio attacking ‘white candidates’ and making racist statements against those of us who are not Hispanic and then expect us put someone with that kind of thinking in a leadership position. You can’t divide people all over the city and then call for unity when it suits you and you are looking for something. Racism is racism no matter who the target is and I didn’t appreciate being the target of it just because I’m white.”
Nilka Alvarez-Rodriquez was nominated for vice president by outgoing president Marcos Devers and received only three votes to District “E” Councilor, Gil Frechette’s six votes. Israel Reyes was the only Latino Councilor who did not support Alvarez. Alvarez was a vocal opponent of the “Vote Latino” campaign during the election.
Being against the Vote Latino campaign, however was not enough to satisfy some Councilors who said that the District “C” Councilor was too “timid” to be Council vice president. Alvarez was visibly upset after the vote.
At least two Councilors who supported Frechette not only lauded the “professionalism” of the Mount Vernon Councilor but both voiced their frustration with Alvarez-Rodriquez saying she had told them she was going to support Marcos Devers for president ‘out of fear of retribution from the Latino community.’
“I would have had no problem supporting Nilka if she hadn’t told me she was voting for Devers because she was afraid of retribution in the Spanish press. If she supports him, she supports him that’s not the issue here. Nilka doesn’t go along with the ‘Vote only Latino’ crowd, so I have a lot of respect for her but, but she told me to my face that she wanted to vote for Patrick but was afraid of political attacks. She shouldn’t be Council vice president if she can’t vote her mind it’s that simple,” the Councilor said.
“Gil Frechette deserved to be vice president,” said Councilor Kolofoles after the vote. “He has done a good job on the Council and he doesn’t get involved in the politics. I like Nilka Alvarez. She does a lot of work and she would have been my second choice but I just thought Gil had earned it. It was nothing at all against Nilka.”
Councilor Frechette has been the voice of reason on the Council supporting the renovation of the Veterans Memorial Stadium renovation and holding Mayor Sullivan’s feet to the fire on school spending and city budget issues. Frechette was praised by several Councilors for his “fairness” and ability to cut through the political wrangling that distracts the Council.
After the vote, President Blanchette read a statement making vague reference to the racial divide caused by the “Vote Latino” campaign saying, in part, “For the past two months much has been said about who will be in what position when the new Council gets sworn in. I’m often reminded of a quote from former president Franklin Roosevelt who said: ‘We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions, bound together any a single unit of freedom and equality. Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another seeks to degrade all nationalities.'”
Blanchette pledged to lead the Council fairly and continue open dialogue at the Council table as president Devers had done over the past two years.
Text of Blanchette’s Address – 1/2/04
South Lawrence East School
I just want to take a moment to thank all of you for your support and for placing your trust in me with this awesome responsibility. I’m humbled by this tonight, but consider myself ready, willing and able to accept this challenge.
Last month, we were elected to serve various districts, some of us to represent the entire city, but let us all remember that the nine of us here tonight represent all Lawrencians.
Our diversity represents a mirror image of Lawrence’s past, present, and future. We must be a united voice in City Hall and a strong team for our City.
For the past two months much has been said about who will be in what position when the new council gets sworn in. I’m often reminded of a quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt who said: “We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions, bound together any a single unit of freedom and equality. Whoever seeks to set one nationality against another seeks to degrade all nationalities.”
Councilors, I pledge to you, to all of you, fair and open debate, professional dialogue in a respectful and courteous manner. Though we may not always agree, your voices will be heard. I also challenge all of you to hold one principal higher than all else – personal integrity.
Our word is our bond, and often times in politics that is all we have. But personal integrity can never be vetoed or gaveled out of order, it’s the most important value we have.
Patrick Blanchette, City Council President