A New Kind of Race: Minority Candidates Were Once Confined to the 'Ethnic Ghetto.' These Days, They Are Reaching Far Beyond

Article excerpt

Byline: Ellis Cose

He takes it as a given that demography is destiny; and in the movie in his mind this particular truth has a sound. It is the roar of a mighty river that once was a shallow stream. For Roberto Ramirez, former Bronx Democratic chief, the soundtrack is part of a glorious vision in which black and Latino voters, once marginalized, coalesce into an irresistible political force. It is a vision so obvious, so inevitable, that he marvels that more do not see it. "These constituencies step forward at the same time. And for the first time in my life, I see a coalition of equal partners, with equal contributions to make."

Ramirez's dream may not have the poignancy of the one made so famous by Dr. Martin Luther King, but it has sufficient power to fuel this portion of his political life. Ramirez was a principal in the spirited, though ultimately failed, campaign last year to make Fernando Ferrer New York City's first Latino mayor, and he is now engaged in the fight to make Carl McCall New York state's first black governor. And if one suggests that the age of ethnic politics may be over, Ramirez begs to disagree. "Absolutely, ethnicity matters," he argues, no less so than in the day when a long-suffering Irish community asserted itself by putting its own politicians in power.

But something much more complicated is taking place than new groups playing out the old ethnic politics. Americans are gingerly moving away from the old racial comfort zones, from the way of thinking that limited minority politicians to secondary roles.

Not so long ago, blacks were about as rare in a statewide elective office as snowflakes in a desert. Now there are 33, according to a count by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. (Nine elected Latinos serve statewide, says the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.) And there are certain to be many more. This is the year when Democrats put together a so-called political dream team in Texas, running Tony Sanchez, a wealthy Latino businessman, for governor (Sanchez's primary opponent was also Latino) and Ron Kirk, a black former mayor of Dallas, for the Senate. Two Latino men are facing off to become governor of New Mexico and two black women are competing to become lieutenant governor of Ohio. In total, 14 blacks are running statewide as major-party nominees, according to the Joint Center. NALEO counts 14 Latinos, many of them incumbents, running statewide.

The numbers reflect, in part, the growing power of black and Latino electorates. Texas and New Mexico have large and growing Latino populations. …