Promoting ties between Jews and Hispanics
NEW YORK - After three Jews, Abe Beame, Ed Koch and current officeholder Michael Bloomberg, and an African-American, David Dinkins, have served as mayor of New York City, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion is aspiring to be the first Hispanic to be elected to this lofty and coveted position.
Even though Carrion is not participating in the mayoral race now gaining momentum toward the November elections, he is already planning his moves as a contender in four years' time.
"I am planning to run for mayor in the 2009 elections," disclosed Carrion in a conversation with Haaretz.
Noah Franklin, Carrion's political advisor, said that this was the first time that Carrion officially declared his intention to become the Democratic party's candidate for mayor of New York.
"Today it sounds supercilious," responded a community activist who belongs to the city's Democratic party leadership, "but Carrion is of the breed of politician whose aspirations should not be taken lightly."
Carrion is a captivating figure, radiating kindness and intimacy. He is 44, his parents came from Puerto Rico, and he grew up in a religious atmosphere - his father is a Protestant pastor. Carrion's wife, Linda Baldwin, is a lawyer, and the couple has three daughters. Carrion is a graduate of New York's Hunter College and has a degree in urban planning. He was elected to his current post in 2001, and is highly respected by his political colleagues as a rising and promising force. He is also well liked by local businessmen, who compliment him as a man whose involvement in politics has not dulled his sensitivity to the needs of his fellow man.
Carrion's name is still unknown to many beyond the borders of the Bronx, but senior Jewish leaders are prominent among the local influential forces who are showing a special interest in his political plans. It turns out that a few of them have been following the development of this promising politician's career for several years and fostering warm relations with him.
"He is a serious leader with a deep and special understanding of Israeli matters," says Ilana Artman, executive vice president of the America- Israel Friendship League, an organization that she says was among the first to discover the potential of the Bronx president in promoting relations between the large, growing Hispanic community in New York and the Jews and Israel.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is also proud of his close ties with Carrion. Foxman is especially pleased with Carrion's willingness to deal openly and directly with anti- Semitism among Hispanics in the United States. According to the annual reports on anti-Semitism published last week by the ADL, 35 percent of Hispanics who immigrated to America in recent years hold views defined as "hard-core anti-Semitic." Among Hispanics born in the U.S., on the other hand, the tendency toward anti-Semitic opinions is 19 percent.
"When we approach black leaders with figures on displays of anti-Semitism in the black community, they reject and deny the data," says Foxman. "When we showed Adolfo Carrion the figures on anti-Semitism among Hispanics, he took notice and immediately offered his assistance in the advocacy effort against the feelings of hostility toward Jews in his community."
Carrion did not even wait for the documented report on anti-Semitic sentiments among Hispanics. Last summer he initiated a visit to Israel and led a delegation of Hispanic community leaders.
"I wanted them to see democracy at work with their own eyes and not rely on reading newspapers," said Carrion.
Unlike local American politicians whose visits to Israel are accompanied by spokespeople and representatives of the American media, Carrion invited a group of priests and other clergymen active in the Bronx to join his delegation.
"These are the people who keep in touch with the community," said Carrion, "and they can explain to the masses the evil of anti-Semitism and the harm it causes."
In the meantime, Carrion is closely following the "warming" of the mayoral race in New York. During an extended conversation at his office in the South Bronx, he expressed his opinion of the latest public opinion polls and commented on the chances of the candidates competing against Bloomberg.
Carrion showed special interest in the chances of Fernando Ferrer, a Hispanic who served as Bronx president and whose declared support is on the rise. As a colleague of Ferrer's in leading the Democratic party in New York, and as his partner in the effort to strengthen the political power of the Hispanic community in the metropolitan area, Carrion hopes that Ferrer will succeed in unseating Bloomberg in November's election.
Although he does not mention it specifically, Carrion is aware that this hope is shared by only a few local journalists and commentators. The conventional assessment is that despite Ferrer's advantage in the public opinion polls, the balance of power between him and the mayor is expected to change, and that Bloomberg - with the unlimited financial resources at his disposal - will beat Ferrer or any other local politician chosen in the primaries as the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York.
Even so, most of the commentators agree that even if Bloomberg is reelected in November for a second term at City Hall, the next mayor after him will be Hispanic.
"Considering the demographic changes in recent years in the metropolitan area, which have made the Hispanics into the largest minority in New York, Carrion's chances of being mayor in the future are almost assured," says Rabbi Mark Schneier, president of the Foundation of Ethnic Understanding and a close friend of the Bronx president.
Carrion is known for tossing out statistics showing that Hispanics, or Latinos, as he prefers to call them, have already become one of the largest and most influential minorities in America. Carrion particularly likes the look of astonishment on his listeners' faces when he launches into predictions and calculations indicating that at the current rate of natural increase, the Hispanics will soon occupy a central position in many areas of American life, and within a few years will become a powerful political force.
"Allow me to tell you about the Latinos in America," he said with a broad smile at the beginning of a lecture he gave recently at a private event attended by senior Jewish leaders, organized in his honor by the America-Israel Friendship League.
Here are a few of the figures Carrion knows by heart. There are currently 38 million Hispanics living in the U.S., who constitute 13 percent of the general population, up 74 percent in numeric terms since 1990. In 2025, Hispanics will account for 18 percent of the population and by 2050 their numbers will triple, such that every fourth American will be Hispanic. The purchasing power of the Hispanics in America amounts to $635 billion, and by 2008 this purchasing power will grow to $1.014 trillion.
In the presidential elections in November, 6.9 million Hispanics voted, 17 percent more than in the 2000 elections. Carrion estimates that in the 2008 presidential elections there will be 12 million to 13 million Hispanic voters. Of the 2.16 million Hispanics living in the metropolitan New York area (27 percent of the population), some 700,000 are registered voters. Carrion points out that 6,000 elected Hispanics are currently serving in senior positions on various levels of local and federal government throughout the U.S. He estimates that in another 25 years the American senate will have more than 20 senators of Hispanic origin.
After paying attention to his listeners' facial expressions and ascertaining that they were indeed surprised, he explains that this is why it is so important to promote relations between the Hispanics and the Jews and Israel. He complaines that "Jewish leaders could be doing more to promote the process of bringing the two communities closer together."
Carrion finds it hard to understand why "it is so difficult for the Jews to support a Hispanic candidate." He says that the Jews and the Hispanics have common interests and good reasons for cooperation.
"Both these communities in the U.S. were built and grew thanks to circles sympathetic to immigration, and now we have to unite in the common struggle against initiatives and laws aimed at stiffening immigration laws."
Hispanics in the U.S. are also exposed to displays of racism and hatred, and the experience of the Jewish community in coping with racism can be of great assistance to Hispanics.
Carrion claims that close ties between the two communities in the U.S. can also help Israel promote its economic interests in South American countries and open new markets for Israeli products. Even so, Schneier warns that Jewish leaders "must not take for granted that politicians from minority sectors are sensitive to the priorities of the Jewish community and favor Israel's interests."
Schneier - whose Foundation for Ethnic Understanding maintains close ties with Hispanic business leaders and who recently opened a special office in Washington to focus on promoting ties with Hispanic congressmen - stresses that "efforts must be invested in teaching Hispanic businessmen and exposing them to Israeli issues."
Conversations with local businessmen and community leaders reveal that Carrion, in his term as 12th chief executive of the Bronx, is to be credited for the rehabilitation and renewal of his borough, which until a few years ago was considered the most neglected and least developed borough in New York. From the 1980s onward, the Bronx suffered environmental deterioration that gave the borough the dubious distinction of an urban eyesore. The sight of hundreds of abandoned tenement buildings in the Bronx earned the borough the nickname "Dresden after the bombing."
Since Carrion took office, however, he has led revolutionary changes in many aspects of the Bronx. The local population has grown by 20 percent and now numbers 1.4 million. Its old image as an abandoned locale has been replaced by a construction boom, and in the past three years $2 billion has been invested in 80,000 new housing units, offices and stores. During this period, 27 new schools have also been built in the Bronx.
From an electoral point of view, Carrion does not have to be nice to the Jews. The Jewish presence in the Bronx was never comparable to that of Brooklyn or Queens. The local Jewish community was once known for the quality of its Jewish involvement, considered one of the most prosperous and vibrant in the metropolitan area.
Since the 1970s, however, following the massive immigration of Hispanics to New York, where many of them settled in the Bronx, the Jews began moving out en masse. Today there are only the remnants of Jewish communities in Pelham Bay Park and Van Cortland Park. Still, the glory of Bronx's Jewish past has been preserved in Riverdale, which has an estimated Jewish population of 30,000. The Riverdale community has a reputation as a vibrant center of Jewish activity, with excellent religious and educational institutions.
Jonathan Rosenblatt, rabbi of the Jewish Center in Riverdale, spared no praise for the Bronx president.
"Carrion took up the task of working toward warming relations between Israel and Hispanics in America," says Rosenblatt. "He is well-liked in Israel."
Rosenblatt notes that Carrion is particularly prominent among politicians for his declared refusal to view the Jewish community in America and Israel as two separate entities.
"As far as he is concerned, the American Jews and Israel are a single issue, so he stridently rejects statements by politicians such as `I have nothing against Jews but I do not agree with Israel's policy.'"
Conversations with Jewish leaders who know Carrion well reveal that they view him as a suitable person to bridge the Hispanic and the Jewish community and Israel. The compliments Jews shower on Carrion and their expectations for his advancement to the top of the Hispanic leadership also indicate the disappointment at the lack of responsible leadership in the African-American community with whom Jews can identify and conduct a dialogue.
Jewish businessmen and community leaders who are frustrated by the declared apathy of African-American leaders and public figures toward the issues that concern the Jewish community are hanging their hopes on the new young leadership of the Hispanic community. Carrion is perceived by the Jewish community as a successful politician who represents a large influential ethnic group, and as a perfect partner and ally for Jewish and Israeli causes.