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Cutting Remarks



To the editors:

This letter is in reference to David Fremon's article, "The Latino Vote: Muscle or Myth" (October 24). The judgment and professional standards manifest in the piece do not reflect the thoughtful, incisive reporting we have come to expect from the Reader. That you, as publisher and editor of a serious weekly newspaper, would allow such a piece to be published probably says less about your journalistic standards than about the fact that Latinos are disenfranchised within the media processes of this town.

One does not have to be a fan of the Latino Institute nor of the authors of our study, Al Filo/At the Cutting Edge, to know that Mr. Fremon's piece offends the Latino community at large by implying that our dreams and aspirations as a community are of no consequence. To suggest as he does -that, "it might be just as useful to analyze Chicago's left-handed vote as its Latino vote" is demeaning and borders on racist.

Further, it is dishonest journalism. You see, just one month before, Mr. Fremon wrote the enclosed article for the Free Press wherein he espouses an almost opposing tone and posture. (Will the real Dave Fremon please rise and take ownership of his analysis?) I will not offend your intelligence by, doing a point by point analysis of Mr. Fremon's debate with himself but trust that thoughtful reflection on both pieces will make his incongruence evident.

I fear Mr. Fremon's personal relationship with those whom he quotes in the Reader piece may have rendered him unable to seek a .more balanced response to our study. This is an unfortunate blow to the credibility of your publication since the response to the study on the part of scholars and the civic community has been overwhelmingly positive as evidenced by the sampling of enclosed letters. Mr. Fremon could have chosen to go beyond his narrow circle of friends to interview the authors whom, by the way, he does not even mention. He could have sought opinions of a broader spectrum of your publication's readers and could have been at least as factual about the content of the study as he chose to be just one month before.

However, I believe the issue to be much broader than one reporter's professional limitations. Our concern is that mainstream media interface with our community in a more intelligent, thoughtful manner.

Mario J. Aranda

Executive Director

Latino Institute

David Fremon replies:

Mr. Aranda's letter, though heavy on bullying and bluster, is woefully lacking in substance.

First of all, one may argue about the "dreams and aspirations as a community," if indeed there is a common set of dreams and aspirations among Latinos. I question what is the common hope among right-wing Cuban publishers, leftwing Chilean community organizers, undocumented Mexican tortilleria workers, or laid-off Mexican steel mill workers whose families have been here for generations.

Of course, one could make the argument that Latinos are wanting better housing, better jobs, and better schools. So what? Whites, blacks, Asians, and American Indians also want these conditions, not just Latinos.

Besides , the Latino Institute study purports to examine what is happening as far as the Latino vote is concerned. What is happening -- at least judging by statistics displayed in Al Filo/At the Cutting Edge-is the community does not have high voter registration or high voter turnout, and it splits its vote down the middle.

The observations and comments in my story do not "offend" the community. They merely state facts. On the contrary, I argue that sugarcoated reports like A 1 Filo/ At the Cutting Edge are "demeaning" to Latinos. If a community -- any community -- seeks to be treated with respect, it should be able to withstand legitimate criticism, such as that offered in my story.

As to my statement that "it might be just as useful to analyze Chicago's left-handed vote as its Latino vote," it still holds. This is not to say that a meaningful analysis of the Latino vote would not be helpful. But a meaningful analysis would attempt to answer such questions as Why do Latinos split their votes? How committed are Latinos to one faction or another? or What would it take to unite Latinos in order for them to become a political force? Al Filo avoids all these questions.

If all Latinos registered and voted, and if they voted as a bloc, they could be a force to be reckoned with. However, the same conjectures could be said for left-handed people, baseball fans, architects, or many other groups. Looking at A 1 Filo's statistics from the special aldermanic elections, there appears to be no more likelihood that Latinos will unite as a bloc than will lefties.

To mark my statement as "bordering on racist" is absurd. First of all, I have written many stories over the years describing and advocating Latino. issues for the West Side Times, El HEraldo, and the Chicago Reporter, as well as the Free Press and the Reader.

Furthermore, I consider "racist" to be a word like "communist," "fascist," or "sexist," used by people either too ignorant or too lazy to offer a serious examination of their beliefs. Mr. Aranda is an educated man; he should be able to articulate his opinions in a more intelligent manner than by using vague and tired catch phrases.

Mr. Aranda is correct in that I wrote a story about the Latino Institute for the Free Press, and that the story as it appeared in the Free Press differed from the one that appeared in the Reader. What he probably did not realize was that the Free Press story was inadvertently cut; the original story I submitted to that newspaper included a number of the criticisms that I found with Al Filo (note that the first five paragraphs of the Reader story likewise deal with specific facts found in the Latino Institute survey) . If Mr. Aranda or anyone else wishes to verify this claim they may call Free Press publisher Jane Harrison at 342-5737.

Mr. Aranda claims that the Reader story is "dishonest journalism." I would never accuse Mr. Aranda or the Latino Institute of dishonest journalism. Granted, most intelligent analysts who look at the data presented in the Latino Institute report would come to the conclusion that Chicago's Latino electorate, because of its small size and divided nature, is not presently a major "Power broker" in Chicago politics. Granted, the Latino Institute in its text draws the opposite conclusion. Granted, the corporations and foundations that fund Latino Institute studies might be less likely to do so in the future if the organization admits its ethnic group lacks real clout. But I'm sure that these considerations had nothing to do with the conclusions reached by the Latino Institute, and I am certain that there is no "dishonest journalism" involved .

As for my personal relationship with those mentioned: I have never met Mr. Arias and talked with him only once by telephone; I have seen Mr. Maydon three times in my life and have conversed with him on very few occasions; I have interviewed Mr. Camacho for this and other stories; I worked with Mr. Casuso last spring on a political satire and collaborated on a Reader article that appeared October 31. 1 challenge Mr. Aranda to state explicitly what he means when he refers to "Mr. Fremon's personal relationship with those he quotes."

I have not seen the letters from "scholars and the civic community," which Mr. Aranda claims provide overwhelming support for his book. However, I am curious to know how many of* these letters come from groups with any expertise in Hispanic voting patterns. Mr. Aranda conveniently neglects to mention that important fact.

Mr. Aranda charges that I did not go beyond a "narrow circle of friends" in conducting interviews for the story. Nonsense. First of all, my "circle of friends" is extensive, including many in the Latino community. Second, I chose the people cited for very good reasons: all are Latinos and acknowledged experts in Latino politics and voting patterns, and all (except candidate Arias) have published materials that discussed the Latino vote.

Furthermore, the response to my story from experts in Latino politics (including a well-respected City Hall reporter of Hispanic descent and a recent mayoral appointee to a major board, that person also of Hispanic descent) has been overwhelmingly favorable.

No, I did not interview the authors of the report, at least not after the initial press conference. Then again, the Latino* Institute did not make it easy to do so. It isn't every agency which releases a major report, then immediately moves to new headquarters, leaving itself incommunicado for several days. The Latino Institute made such a move after issuing Al Filo.

Besides, I went to the top for this story--Mario Aranda himself. Mr. Aranda knows that I talked with him about all of the questions raised by the persons I quoted. He also knows that I gave him every opportunity to respond to the others' accusations. I quoted him a limited number of times because, quite honestly, he didn't give me too many meaningful comments. (When I asked him how the three-way vote split spelled Latino voting power in the 25th Ward, he answered, "It stirred things up over there," whatever that means. When asked how Latinos could be considered a voting power if they split their votes, he responded that Latinos entering a race brought out increased non-Latino vote. That Latinos are empowered by an increased white and black voter turnout is logic that escapes me.)

Like Mr. Aranda, I believe that the (Anglo) mass media should pay closer attention to the Latino community. They should be given a true view of what is happening there, instead of a rosy picture that does little more than satisfy the selfserving needs of an interest group. A presentation of accurate information to the Anglo community is precisely what I intended to do when I wrote the article, and I feel I succeeded in doing so.

"The Latino Vote: Muscle or Myth?" was an article intended solely to describe Latino voting patterns in Chicago, using the recently released Latino Institute study as a base from which to discuss this particular set of voters. It was not meant to be an attack on either the Latino Institute or Al Filo/At the Cutting Edge. As a result, I did not include many of the numerous objections I had to this report.

But since Mr. Aranda sees fit to attack me and my alleged "dishonest journalism" and 11 professional limitations," I now feel no qualms about taking a further look at Al Filo/At the Cutting Edge, a report characterized by omissions, misrepresentations, and downright untruths.

Let's look at specifics:

On page 14, the report states "After winning both [alderman and state representative] races, [Juan Soliz] chose the City Council thus disenfranchising the voters who had elected him state representative."

In truth, Soliz "disenfranchised" no one. He made no secret of his plans to quit the state representative job if elected alderman. Furthermore, the voters there were advised (by a story I wrote in the February 20 issue of El Heraldo, among others) of the Democratic regulars' plans to slate Ben Martinez as state representative if Soliz won both elections.

It must also be noted that Soliz has a qualified primary opponent, housing expert Cesar Olivo. Yet given all this information and a reasonable alternative, 20th District voters still gave Soliz 74 percent of the vote. So much for disenfranchisement.

Also on page 14, the report states "While a Latino candidate may have a chance in the 9th District the old Democratic political machine . . . is strong there."

In fact a "Latino candidate" does have a chance there, so much so that he's the incumbent. His name is Joseph Berrios. The Latino Institute may not wish to acknowledge that Berrios is Latino because he allies himself with "the

old Democratic political Machine." But Berrios's mother and his maker are the only ones who can determine that Berrios is a Latino -not the Latino Institute.

On page 15 the report commented on the Republicans' decision to fill an empty ballot space in opposition to Democratic state senate nominee Miguel del Valle. It states "The Latino community was enraged by the decision. It was felt that the Republican party was trying to capitalize on the apparent weakness of the regular Democratic Machine by entering a candidate to run against del Valle, who is an independent."

The above statement is pure foolishness. As a political writer for one of the leading community newspapers in that district, I feel I am more qualified than Mr. Aranda or the Latino Institute staff to analyze community feeling there. And the fact is that the Republican candidate did not create community outrage.

Of course certain individuals within the community may have been irritated by the move, but the only ones who expressed that irritation were del Valle himself and ally Luis Gutierrez (and del Valle told me in October that he thought the Republican opponent may have been a blessing in disguise because the challenger helped spur his own campaign workers).

Besides, the Republicans had every right to fill the ballot vacancy. One may question their ethics in doing so, but it was the party's legal right to -put up an opponent against Miguel del Valle.

If the Republicans chose to oppose only del Valle, then charges of racism or whatever might hold. However, Al Filo fails to note that Republicans were put up in every Chicago legislative district except one, so arguments about the Republicans going after perceived weaknesses in del Valle's district, as opposed to any others, simply don't hold water.

It's also interesting to note that the Latino Institute claims community outrage at Republican opposition to (Washington ally) del Valle but fails even to mention that the other Latino legislative candidates, Berrios and Ben Martinez, also faced Republican opposition (the Berrios opponent later withdrew). Excuse me, I forgot; according to the apparent definition on page 14 of the study, Democratic regulars cannot be "Latino" no matter what their ethnic origin.

On page 15, the report mentions the Raymond Arias candidacy, which I discussed in the October 24 article. There were three different March races (not including County Board races) in which Latinos faced non-Latinos. Why the study's authors chose to discuss this particular race was unclear.

The authors could have made a stronger case of a Latino candidate reaching into other communities by discussing the del Valle primary. Del Valle won 54 percent of the primary vote, well above the Latino voting age percentage in that district. Furthermore most of that vote appeared to be pro-del Valle, rather than antiblack backlash, which characterized the Arias vote.

Al Filo/At the Cutting Edge also neglected to mention a very important set of elections--the March elections for Democratic committeeman in the four "Latino" wards. That omission may be due to the fact that Latino candidates did not manifest strength in those races, and when Latinos did win, they may not have been those of the philosophy favored by the Latino Institute.

For example, three Latino candidates entered the 25th Ward committeeman race. Yet non-Latino Marco Domico won 56 percent of the vote in a ward more than 70 percent Mexican, Domico's percentage was similar to that of fellow Democratic regular Soliz; the coincidence suggests that the organization is what is important in this ward, and that ethnicity may not be a major factor there.

No one was able to withstand ballot challenges by Committeeman Ed Nedza in the 31 st Ward -- so much for Latino political organization there.

Jesus Garcia did win reelection in the 22nd Ward. In the 26th Ward the incumbent committeeman was remapped out of the ward. A Latino candidate, Manny Torres, defeated a pro-Washington challenger for the 26th Ward post. Yet in a list of Latino elected officials as of July 1986 (page 33), Garcia is mentioned and Torres is not. This must be a mere oversight on the part of the Latino Institute; as I said, I wouldn't dream of accusing either Mr. Aranda or the Latino Institute of "dishonest journalism."

On page 24, the report claims that his alliance with Harold Washington plus "Jesus Garcia's political platform, track record and image, might have contributed to Garcia's gaining a majority of the non-Latino vote."

The above factors probably contributed to Garcia's vote totals among non-Hispanics. Yet Al Filo did not mention what may have ,been the most important factor of all. Without a doubt Garcia's 1984 opponent, Frank Stemberk, got many votes from whites who would not vote for any Mexican if given an alternative. It is foolish to believe that those same voters would vote for Stemberk's protege, Guadalupe Martinez, who can barely speak English.

(As long as we are discussing specifics, during his conversation with me Mr. Aranda used the word "scientist" many times in discussing either himself or those who worked on the report. Yet Mr. Aranda should know that scientists check and double-check their facts. If Mr. Aranda or his other "scientists" had done such checking, they would have found that Luis Gutierrez first ran for office (32nd Ward committeeman) and started a political organization in 1984, not 1982 as cited on page 25.)

The above items all show a common theme: a pro-Harold Washington bias that permeates the report. This bias shows itself in everything from descriptions of the party factions ("the old Machine" and "the new political movement") to the choice of photographs (independents Luis Gutierrez, Jesus Garcia, Virginia Martinez, and Migdalia Collazo each are featured in photographs; Washington opponents are shown only in photos that also include either the mayor or his allies).

I'm no big fan of Ed Vrdolyak. But I do think that if a group claims to represent an entire community, then its report should represent its entire community, including the apparent plurality (by Al Filo estimates) of Latinos who supported Washington opponents in the special aldermanic elections. In other words, this should be a report by the Latino Institute, not the "Pro-Washington Latino" Institute.

If I were cynical, I could speculate that the report's editorial content might have been influenced by the presence of Benjamin Reyes, Maria Cerda, and Jorge Prieto (all top Washington appointees) on the Latino Institute board. But I'm not, so I won't.

The most telling aspect of Mr. Aranda's letter is what it does not include. He states "I will not offend your intelligence by doing a point-by-point analysis" of my story. Yet the readers' (and the Reader's) intelligence is insulted by Mr. Aranda's failure to provide such analysis.

His reasons for neglecting specific criticism, I think, are obvious; there is nothing in my story that he can refute. His often snidely worded letter is nothing more than a smoke screen that attempts to draw attention away from an embarrassingly inadequate attempt at analyzing Latino voting patterns.

In conclusion, I will be happy to face Mr. Aranda anytime and anyplace in a one-on-one debate over the merits of Al Filo/At the Cutting Edge.

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