Ehrlich seeks to repair relationship with state's Hispanic population

Governor introduces commission members

October 10, 2003|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. attempted yesterday to heal a rift that he and his political allies have created in Maryland's Hispanic community, but some say his administration's efforts to reach out to a burgeoning Latino population continue to fall short.

Ehrlich used remarks at a Maryland Hispanic Business Conference in Silver Spring to introduce members of a reformulated Governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs, including former Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Hector Torres as executive director. He also recognized eight Hispanic state government employees hired since he took office.

But some prominent Hispanics say that they are waiting for a department-head-level appointment in the administration, and that the announcements smacked of tokenism.

"We want to be sitting at the table, not at the back of the bus," said Jorge Ribas, a Montgomery County pathologist and political activist.

Ribas is head of the Maryland Hispanic Republican Caucus, which criticized Ehrlich this year for a lack of Hispanic hiring. Angry at a break in Republican ranks, state party Chairman John M. Kane moved to decertify the group when Ribas would not resign.

Gilberto de Jesus, juvenile justice head under Gov. Parris N. Glendening and a co-secretary of the business conference committee, said, "Many of us in the Hispanic community felt that if the [hiring] issue were raised by the African-American community or by the Jewish community, the response would have been different."

In his remarks yesterday, Ehrlich said he is improving the state's minority business enterprise program and creating an environment that would enable small businesses to thrive.

"We're a growing economic force," said Luis Borunda, a Baltimore sign-company owner. "This administration is committed to seeing small business grow, and the message is, `We're going to show you the money.' Anything else is a distraction from the message of this administration."

Carmen E. Pratt, a state Department of Human Resources manager who coordinates the Hispanic commission, said the governor revived the group and wants it to succeed.

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