O'Malley appoints former Schaefer aide to be Hispanic liaison

Ruiz, a city activist, to start immediately

March 08, 2000|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

The old is new again at City Hall, where Mayor Martin O'Malley has tapped an aide from the Schaefer administration to be the city's liaison for Hispanic Affairs.

The mayor announced yesterday that longtime city activist Jose Ruiz will fill the post, starting immediately.

"He's got the experience we need to work with the city and to help the growing Hispanic community become more empowered," said O'Malley. "I believe he can help bring citizens here together."

Ruiz, founder and director of the Education Based Latino Outreach (EBLO), a Canton nonprofit organization that offers tutorials and mentoring for Hispanic youth, is no stranger to the job. In 1979, former Mayor William Donald Schaefer appointed Ruiz the city's first Hispanic liaison, a position he held until 1988.

"This time around, it should be more exciting," said Ruiz, who came to Baltimore from New York in 1977 and immediately began working as a social worker. "The city's Latino population has grown by leaps and bounds, and that has compounded the need to get to work on key issues that affect the community."

Ruiz, 50, re-enters the post at a dynamic moment in the history of the city's Latino community, with a burst in population among the city's Hispanics from about 8,000 in the 1990 Census to an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 this year.

A groundswell of small businesses can be seen throughout much of the city, particularly in Southeast Baltimore and upper Fells Point. New construction is being supported by Hispanic workers, a labor force O'Malley said he hopes to expand.

But troubles exist, and they were showcased last year when an African-American police officer robbed three Hispanic immigrants of hundreds of dollars in Fells Point. The officer was found guilty and given six months in jail, but the crime caused a ripple of distrust among some Hispanics.

O'Malley said he expects Ruiz to focus on providing better links between the city and the community, increasing availability of translators, boosting Latino business and increasing health care services.

Ruiz, who will also work to boost involvement of the city's Hispanic population in the 2000 Census, said another major task will be to foster better dialogue with the African-American population. "We need to be on the same page with our black brothers and sisters," said Ruiz, who last year helped organize a series of meetings between black and Hispanic leaders.

"There's not a better guy to bring the two cultures together," said G. I. Johnson, president of the city branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "Jose has a passion for bridging differences between people and for getting people to see how similar they really are."

O'Malley said the Ruiz appointment is the precursor to a series of appointments he plans to make from the Hispanic community.

Schaefer brought Ruiz into state government in 1988, making him executive director of the Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Ruiz remained in that position until 1995, when he was let go by incoming Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Ruiz also is host of Fiesta Musical, a Latin music radio show on WEAA every Tuesday.

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