Hispanic activists dissatisfied with mayor

O'Malley failure to name commissioners, liaison concerns community

January 12, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin and Kurt Streeter | Jennifer McMenamin and Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley has dragged his feet in filling the city's Hispanic liaison post and reneged on campaign promises to include Hispanics among his appointees, Baltimore's Latino advocates complain.

Of the commissioners O'Malley has named since taking office Dec. 7, none is Hispanic. But a spokesman says the mayor has "barely made a dent" in the 350 commission posts he has to fill.

O'Malley chose not to retain Sonia Fierro-Luperini, head of the Mayor's Office on Hispanic Affairs under the Schmoke administration, and has yet to name anyone to fill that liaison post.

Although it's early, members of the Hispanic community are waiting for O'Malley to listen to their needs, said Angelo Solera, vice chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs. The committee is a volunteer body that serves City Hall in an advisory capacity.

"If you are going to make sure this city treats everybody equally, as he says it will, let's have that," said Solera, adding that his committee has been rudderless since O'Malley took office last month. "Actions speak louder than words."

A spokesman for O'Malley said that the mayor has asked Hispanic neighborhood organizations to submit a list of at least three candidates for the liaison job.

"It's crucial to put someone in place who can communicate with the larger Hispanic community," said Tony White, the mayor's press secretary.

"You don't want to put someone in place who's just connected with City Hall," said White. "You want someone with contacts throughout the community. So you don't want to rush to judgment."

Some Hispanic community advocates say the mayor's inaction is not so easy to excuse.

On his way to winning 80 percent to 90 percent of the city's Hispanic vote, said community advocate Beltran Navarro, O'Malley wooed the community with a campaign featuring racial and ethnic diversity, and with promises of an equally diverse administration. But now, Navarro and other leaders say their calls are no longer returned, and their concerns are not a priority.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in Baltimore. According to figures the city released last year, the Hispanic population was near 50,000 last summer.

"While everyone wants to live in Carroll County, Harford County and Baltimore County, Latinos are the one group that wants to move to the city," Navarro said. "The city has a responsibility to offer them a face of city government that is more friendly."

Activists say they'd like to be involved in economic development, to see more Hispanics employed by the city, and to have a city toll-free help line similar to the state's Spanish language information line.

The liaison post vacated by Fierro-Luperini came with a budget of $50,000, to cover her salary and that of an assistant. In addition to being the city's point person for the Hispanic community, the liaison coordinated community events and became a clearinghouse for donations.

White said O'Malley intends to expand the number of jobs dedicated to Hispanic affairs. At a candidate forum in October, O'Malley promised to create a commission on Hispanic affairs, a body that would have more strength than a single liaison and would be funded by the city. But first, White said, a director needs to be found.

A lack of governmental sensitivity to Hispanic issues in Maryland was the topic of a meeting yesterday at the Patterson Park Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. About 20 activists discussed the recently published results of a three-year study by CASA of Maryland, a nonprofit legal services organization based in Takoma Park.

The study found a lack of Spanish-speaking interpreters at public agencies and focused on inaccessibility to the state's justice system for Hispanics throughout Baltimore.

The activists agreed to form the Baltimore Latino Coalition for Justice, to push for legislative change to make the justice system more sensitive to Hispanics' needs.

"We are just now starting to push our elected officials and push legislation so they know we are out there and we are to be counted," said Solera.

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