By Chester Soria, City Government Reporter
NEW YORK — On a recent Sunday in April, state Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Democratic mayoral nominee Christine Quinn were standing in front of a Bronx bodega when they were approached by a father and his 10-year-old son.
The father, Javier Perez, knew the senator from his work in the neighborhood — and his son had even gone up to Albany to rally against school budget cuts. But Perez didn’t know who Quinn was until Rivera told him.
"I want to introduce you to the next mayor," Rivera said to Perez in Spanish as the father then shook hands with Quinn, who was surrounded by her supporters carrying signs.
Perez praised Rivera’s work in the Bronx and said he trusted the state senator’s judgment. Seeing Quinn walk side-to-side with the Bronx leader convinced Perez that she would also look out for his and his family’s needs.
"Very much so, of course." Perez said in Spanish. “She’s a good candidate."
Quinn’s endorsement from Rivera was the opening salvo in what has become a string of endorsements from Latino politicians and community leaders north of the Harlem River. Last week, Herman Badillo, the first Puerto Rican to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, endorsed former Comptroller Bill Thompson as the candidate to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio has the support of Bronx Assemblyman Luis Sepúlveda, and former Congressman Anthony Weiner wooed onlookers during this past weekend’s Puerto Rican Day Parade. In fact, all the candidates — Republican and Democratic — were out with flags and campaign signs down Fifth Avenue yesterday.
The city’s Latinos are an increasingly important voting bloc, accounting for almost 30 percent of registered voters. Mayoral candidates, and Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination in particular, know this — just as they know that they need the influence of political leaders in the Bronx to sway Latinos in their favor.
At least two candidates have already declared that the Latino vote is vital for their campaigns if they stand any chance of making it to City Hall. Democratic upstart Erick Salgado and independent candidate Adolfo Carrión are two Latino candidates who think they can break through to what may be their most natural base.
Their challenge is the same one that their fellow rivals face: how do they drive a divided Latino electorate to the primary, much less the general election without a clearly defined, signature issue the way immigration has been on the national level.
Without that singular issue, Latino leaders are divided on who they think can best address their community’s needs, making their endorsements all the more important as a means to turn out the vote.
"What you have now is a very disorganized, fragmented kind of political situation," Angelo Falcón of the National Institute for Latino Policy. “There seems to be no real coordination or strategic thinking about the role of the Latino vote."