Who Is Eric Garcetti? The 2.0 Latino Model

The young Eric Garcetti, the future mayor-elect of Los Angeles with dad, Gil, who became district attorney.

The young Eric Garcetti, the future mayor-elect of Los Angeles with dad, Gil, who became district attorney. (From Garcetti’s Facebook page)

AMONG THE ESTIMATED 2.1 million violent deaths during the decade-long Mexican Revolution a century ago were the brutal hangings of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of supporters and officials of the longstanding government of dictator Porfirio Diaz that was overthrown.

They have long been forgotten, unearthed only in the memories of their families, many of them long since emigrated to safety in the United States.

One of those who was hanged was Massimo Garcetti, an Italian immigrant who had risen to some success in his adopted homeland, becoming a judge in the northern state of Chihuahua

“I assume,” says Garcetti’s great-grandson, Eric, “that means he was on the wrong side of the revolution.”

History may show it to be one of the few times that a Garcetti has been on the wrong side of anything dealing with politics, certainly the biggest stamp on that being Eric’s surprisingly easy election as mayor of Los Angeles last week.

In a bitterly-contested campaign whose winner some feared wouldn’t be known possibly for weeks, Garcetti last year stunned two of the city’s most dominant forces – organized labor and the Hispanic leadership – by whipping opponent Wendy Greuel among virtually every voter bloc, including Latinos.

Garcetti’s triumph makes the story of his great-grandfather’s hanging, believed to have taken place in a square in Chihuahua, that much more significant because it hasn’t been one that the mayor-elect has trotted out in a narrative of tragedy and hardship as politicians are known to do.

He could have claimed, if he wanted, that his family has shed blood for Mexico – that he is a mejicano in more than just ancestry and ethnocentric political hyperbole.

The 2013 mayoral campaign in which critics – many of them the city’s Latino leadership — and even the Los Angeles Times questioned whether he was Hispanic enough, were opportunities for Garcetti to make a stronger case for himself as to his Latinoness.

Not that he avoided it. But he didn’t wear his ethnicity on his sleeves.

As he told a group of Latino voters in one of his last campaign stops, “I don’t want your vote just because I speak Spanish.”

And that, in addition to being perhaps Garcetti’s shrewdest move of handling his ethnicity in politics, appears to signal a shift on the pubic thinking of what and who is a Hispanic as Latinos in Los Angele in recent days have rushed to celebrate his victory.

Oscar Garza, who edited the now-defunct Ciudad magazine recalled this week how his publication had once trumpeted “how Latinos in L.A. are increasingly the children or partners of people from other ethnicities and races.”

“And now,” he says of Garcetti, “L.A. has a mayor who fits that bill.

“Eric Garcetti represents the 2.0 model of Latinos in L.A. “

Garcetti’s election has also brought into question the credibility of the city’s Latino leadership, which heavily endorsed his opponent – some of them openly questioning whether the now mayor-elect was really Hispanic.

There was the Italian last name and the ancestry from Italy, which is not that unusual among Hispanics in Latin America but seems to rankle some Mexican Americans buried in provincialism.

“He says he’s Latino,” City Councilman Jose Huizar, himself a Mexican immigrant. “But, you know, that’s for the voters to see or the constituents to see.”

On Election Day, an overwhelming number of Latinos apparently saw Garcetti as one of their own. Garcetti won 60 percent of the Latino votes, according to an exit poll from Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

So much for the pull and power of all those self-inflated Latino leaders, as Garcetti now seems to have emboldened those who voted for him.

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‘Ruben Salazar’: The best may be off-camera


Filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez’s long-awaited documentary ‘Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle’ airs tonight on PBS.

IT’S POSSIBLE THAT “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle” may be the first documentary to be more important for what isn’t on the screen than for what is.

The significance of documentary, airing Tuesday night, is that the filmmaker, Phillip Rodriguez, and his supporters were able to break down the barrier that Los Angeles law enforcement had built around its investigation the 44-year-old killing.

Salazar was the former Los Angeles Times columnist who in 1970, while working for the city’s Spanish language station KMEX, was killed by sheriff’s deputies during a break in a massive Chicano demonstration taking place in the city’s Hispanic Eastside.

A Los Angeles County deputy fired a deadly tear gas canister into a bar where Salazar was having a beer with his camera crew, hitting the newsman in the head and killing him instantly.

The outcry was unprecedented and the findings unsatisfactory to Latinos and law-abiding citizens. No deputy was charged, even after investigations showed law enforcement officers were negligent in firing the tear gas canister blindly and in their actions responding to an anonymous call of someone with a weapon in the bar.

It was all even more highly suspect because Salazar’s reporting on the inequities faced by Latino in Los Angeles had angered and alienated many officials and law enforcement authorities.

Rodriguez took it upon himself to undertake the definitive documentary of Salazar and what happened. A young filmmaker at the University of Southern California, he enlisted the support of the Mexican American Legal and Educational Fund and took on the establishment.

In a series of court decisions, the filmmaker won the right to have all the law enforcement files surrounding Salazar’s killing and its investigation opened to him and researchers.

That was historic, fitting of Salazar, the tough reporter who had been not an activist but middle-class. He had grown up in Texas. He was married to a non-Latina. He lived in Orange County, which was heavily white and Republican conservative at the time.

The filmmaker winning a court battle to open long-closed legal files may be the best part of the documentary because of the limitations of technology during the Age of Salazar and the expectations that the technology of today places on any filmmaker.

That’s to say that in the 1960s there weren’t people running around with camera phones, TV equipment was bulky and expensive, and what videotape there was often was reused.

For instance, you can’t watch Sandy Koufax’s perfect game of 1965, except for snippets, because no film doesn’t exists and the videotape of the game was recycled.

Similarly, there is little of Salazar on tape or film as he went about his work in Los Angeles or Vietnam or Mexico City. He was never a panelist on any of the Sunday morning network interview shows, and the limited footage from local stations has been seen repeatedly over during the years.

This wasn’t the Kennedy Assassination with local and network cameras duplicating themselves, and there were no Zapruder’s filming from some safe location in East Los Angeles.

Face it, the technology of television news of that time was still in its infancy.

There is also only so much you can do with private photographs in filling up an entire documentary.

So Rodriguez had to work with overused footage and mostly talking heads being interviewed – old guys who knew Ruben but whose ramblings put you to sleep and young journalists who didn’t know Salazar and sound more informed than they really are with second and third-hand information at best.

And the documents to which the filmmaker won access?

Well, even Shakespeare’s prose would quickly get a little tiresome if all television showed you were page after page of a manuscript.

What this means is that “Ruben Salazar: Man in the Middle” is an ambitious project done by a promising filmmaker about a man who deserved better than what he got in the end and who today might have been proud of what his professional descendent was able to accomplish with what he had to work.

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong holds up the “Hook’em Horns” hand sign at a news conference in Austin Monday where he was introduced as the new football coach at the University of Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Charlie Strong shows the “Hook’em Horns” hand sign at a news conference in Austin Monday where he was introduced as the new football coach at the University of Texas. Strong becomes the first black coach of any Longhorns men’s team.(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

IT WAS NOT UNTIL well into my adult life that I came to understand that my beloved home of Texas may have been the Dixiest of all the Dixie states in the South.

In the 1860 Census, the last head count that included black people living in slavery in America and a year before the start of the Civil War, no state had a bigger number of slaves than Texas.

A century later, segregation and Jim Crow laws were as much a part of most of the Lone Star State as anywhere in the old Deep South, as the country moved into a less violent but equally important civil right war that ultimately would turn slavery on its head.

Most public schools were still segregated, as were for the most part almost all of the state’s colleges and universities that were not black schools, and nowhere was that most obvious than in collegiate athletics in Texas.

The late Southwest Conference, which included most of the large colleges in the state, had not a single black athlete on any major sports team.

As if to underscore that, in the 1957 and 1960 Cotton Bowl games, Syracuse’s All-America running backs Jim Brown and Ernie Davis reportedly received racial epithets from their opponents on all-white TCU and Texas teams respectively.

Even among the so-called educated class, race sometimes still existed as a joking matter.

In 1966, in a nationally televised season-opening game against Syracuse, the color barrier among Southwest Conference teams was finally broken when an African-American walk-on running back named John Westbrook entered the game in the second half with no announcement of the historic significance.

In the press box, however, in an unfortunate attempt at humor after Westbrook rushed for short gain, the public address announcer alerted members of the news media with this unfortunate comment:

“And that’s Baylor’s contribution to color television.”

But the color barrier fell – and nowhere was that crash felt as at the University of Texas, where eventually African American running backs Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams became the only two Longhorn players to win the Heisman Trophy.

It was a drastic contrast to 1969, when the Texas Longhorns of that season were the last all-white national championship team in college football.

“Forty years later,” says Dallas businessman Robert Pharr, my childhood friend and a University of Texas alumnus, “we have our first African American head football coach, and the fanfare is about his ability, not his skin color.”

This week, the University of Texas again took yet perhaps the most poignant step in showing how far the Dixiest of Dixie States has come when it named Charlie Strong its new head football coach – in what school president Bill Powers called “a historic day for the University of Texas and a historic hire for our football team.”

Strong, 53, formerly the head coach at Louisville where he dramatically turned that team from a virtual scrub to a BCS power, becomes the first black coach of any men’s athletic team at the University of Texas.

The Arkansas native succeeds Mack Brown, who despite winning a national championship in 2005 resigned under fire last month after several disappointing seasons — only nine victories shy of the school record held by his late mentor, Darrell Royal.

Strong assumes a job that comes with as much alumni pressure and media scrutiny as any head coaching position in the country. And although Austin is one of the most progressive cities in America, some of the school’s fanatic base isn’t.

There have been no negative race-twinged comments of note, though Twitter and other social media have had comments like:

“The coaching search of a generation ends up with Charlie Strong. I’m surprised that Texas would hire him. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s bleck (stet). Red McCombs gon be ten kinds of pissed off.”

Longtime UT benefactor McCombs is the San Antonio billionaire and co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, as well as former owner of the San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Vikings.

But according to an American-Statesmen report in December, McCombs would support the hiring of a minority head coach, if he was the right candidate for the job.

It is the same sentiment you will be through much of Texas today.

Robert Pharr can’t stress enough how far Texas has come from its old ties to Dixie.

The criteria under which Strong will be judged, he said, will be winning, winning big and, of course, beating the arch-rival Oklahoma Sooners.

“From Dallas to San Antonio, Texas is getting pretty cosmopolitan,” he said in discussing Strong. “If you go to deep East Texas you’ll find remnants of the Confederacy, but most Texans have rejected that culture.

“I seriously doubt that a noticeable number of UT alums will object to hiring a good Black coach. But if he can’t beat OU more than half the time, skin color will be a minor problem for him.”

Why Valenzuela Should Be the Dodgers’ Next Skipper

Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, waving to the crowd, is the logical choice to be the team's next manager. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela is the logical choice to be the team’s next manager. (AP Photo)

WHEN THE DODGERS replaced the Yankees as the team with the highest payroll this year, they also assumed the great expectations that come with spending that kind of money in America’s national pastime.

But a little over a month into the season, the only thing that Dodgers and the Yankees have in common is an abnormal rash of injuries to stars that have put too any multi-million-dollar players on the Disabled List.

Playing with subs and journeyman players, though, the Yankees are in first place in their America League division. The Dodgers, with most of their injured stars back in the lineup, occupy last place in their National League division.

Understandably, fans and sportswriters have begun calling for the firing of Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, once a star with the Yankees but with no real connection to the Los Angeles team and a contract that expires this season.

It is a monumental disappointment. The Dodgers were sold last year for a record $2.2 million, ridding Los Angeles of the previously owner who was widely despised.

Heightening the disillusionment was that the team first celebrated the Jackie Robinson film “42,” and now has been upstaged by that Hollywood motion picture being the only positive thing you can associate with the Dodgers.

The situation is so bad that a leading national writer with Fox even predicts that Mattingly will be sacked as early as this Thursday.

It has raised the subject of who will replace Mattingly, with the usual names popping up, but importantly they are names that reflect on noticeable shortcoming for the times.

None of those names are of Hispanics.

And yet these are Dodgers who hold themselves up as the model for racial inclusion. They are the team that broke baseball’s color barrier with Jackie Robinson in 1947. They are among the first teams that began a widespread recruitment in Latin America, even opening the first baseball camp for that purpose in the Dominican Republic.

But the expected firing of Don Mattingly opens a tremendous opportunity for the Dodgers to make another historic statement in the hiring of a Latino manager.

Ozzie Guillen heads the list of experienced Latino managers who are available. He managed the Miami Marlins last season, and he won a World Series in 2005 with the Chicago White Sox.

Of couse, diehard Latino fans say the Dodgers have perfect Hispanic former player who comes to each game and who would be the ideal Latino Dodger manager.

Former pitching great Fernando Valenzuela, who thrilled Dodger fans with Fernandomania a generation ago, is one of the team’s Spanish-speaking radio announcers.

As such, he is intimately familiar with the team’s players and knows their strengths and limitations. He also has coaching experience, having been he pitching coach for the Mexican national team in the World Baseball Classic.

Earlier this year, passing Fernando in the press box, I asked him the question, though at the time it was completely academic as the season had just begun.

“Ever think about managing?” I asked him in Spanish.

Vez en cuando,” he said. From time to time.

The Dodgers have their next manager in house, if they’re anywhere as smart as they are rich.

They insist they are staying with Mattingly but for how long?

Fernando has no managing experience. You can hear them saying when that moment does come.

That’s true. But then that’s the same amount that Don Mattingly had when they gave him the job.

Will they discriminate in their thinking in hiring a new manager who is Latino and bleeds real Dodger blue?

Marco Rubio: Republican savior or Icarus?

Florida Senator Marco Rubio delivered the official response to President Obama's State of the Union.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio delivered the official response to President Obama’s State of the Union.

HAS ANY POLITICIAN making a nationally televised official response to a presidential State of the Union ever had the buildup that Florida Senator Marco Rubio had Tuesday night.

Most politicians in that position are lucky to have a paragraph about them in that day’s newspaper.

Rubio had his face plastered on the cover of Time magazine all over America, with the word “savior” in nice bold letters.

So Tuesday night, the expectations on the 41-year-old senator were unlike any that have ever been placed on someone in his position.

Marco Rubio may have taken a big lead in the 2016 Republican race for the party’s nomination, introducing himself to the country as “the Hispanic Obama,” the man who could be America’s first Latino president.

Or he may have ruined his chances, not by failing in his response to the president but by exposing himself as the man to beat and the candidate that other Republican and Democratic presidential wannabes alike will now attempt to marginalize, criticize and tear down.

For Rubio as a political rising star could now find himself like the mythical Icarus, flying too close to the sun and soon to crash.

But how can you not like what he did, delivering the official GOP response twice, in English and in Spanish, eloquently and talking about the middle class like someone who knows what it’s like to feel lucky to be there.

What was it he said?

“This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy.

“Presidents in both parties, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”

Hi-yo, Silver! was all I could say and wonder, watching him, what the Republicans were thinking last year in not taking a chance in having him as Romney’s running mate. Not because he’s Hispanic or bilingual or looks really good in a suit.

No, because Marco Rubio came across as committed, as the kid you watched growing up next door, as the young man you would want your daughter to bring home or the guy you would pick to be your son’s best friend.

When he reached down and chugged from a water bottle, he seemed real. When he talked about his immigrant roots, about his parents, about his middle-class neighborhood and neighbors and their concerns about Medicare and making ends meet, well, you’re not going to hear that from too many politicians.

“Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in,” Rubio said. “My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare.

“They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.

“The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs.”

The rhetoric was nothing more than Republican rhetoric, of course, and moments like this are more than just about the words. Moments like this are about the imagery, the style and the presentation.

In the television-plus age of multi-media, the moment is also beyond talking heads and more about charisma and how people move you or don’t.

Don’t take my word for it. Rubio was following a president who nine years ago excited America in a televised Democratic National Convention speech of which no one can honestly tell you what he said but they certainly remember his lasting image and the moment.

So is Marco Rubio the Republicans’ savior?

Well, the Democrats will need to step up in kind.

Will a Hispanic be the next Pope?

Colombia's Ruben Salazar Gomez (R) receives his biretta hat from Pope Benedict XVI as he made him a cardinal in November.

Colombia’s Ruben Salazar Gomez (R) receives his biretta hat from Pope Benedict XVI as he made him a cardinal in November.

WILL THIS BE THE time that the world gets its first Latino pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church?

With the Church struggling with increasing non-churchgoers but an ever-rising Hispanic population in the world, even Pope Benedict XVI sought to bring a more geographically diverse mix into the European-dominated College of Cardinals.

Last fall, he named a Colombian, Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez, as one of six new cardinals – part of what the pope called the “unique, universal and all-inclusive identity” of the church.

Salazar Gomez, 70, is thought by many to be a rising star in the church and an outspoken advocate for a peaceful resolution to Colombia’s civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

As such, he is also perhaps the only cardinal who fits the image of a warrior pope, albeit for peace, that could go a long way in reshaping the church’s image as an active crusader to calm the world’s turbulence.

“As church, we have always said that the armed conflict in Colombia must end through dialogue and consensus in order to achieve true and lasting peace,” he told Catholic News Service shortly before being elevated to a cardinal.

In January, the pontiff gave Salazar Gomez a new assignment, making him a member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Salazar Gomez is also from the southern hemisphere, where two-thirds of the world’s Catholics live. Latin America, which boasts half of the world’s Catholics, now has 21 voting-age cardinals. North America has 14.

Europeans, though, dominate the group of 120 cardinals under age 80 who are eligible to vote in a conclave to elect a new pope. Sixty-two of those cardinals are European.

But it is Latin America where the church has grown the most in recent decades. Latin America represents 42 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the church’s largest single block, compared to 25 percent in Europe.

Other Latin American cardinals whose names have been mentioned as possible popes are  Odilo Scherer, 63, of Brazil, Leonardo Sandri, 69, of Argentina and Joao Braz de Aviz, 65, of Brazil.

The possibility of a Latino pope has also been heightened by recent remarks of who might succeed Benedict, among them Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope’s former position.

“I know a lot of bishops and cardinals from Latin America who could take responsibility for the universal Church,” he said.

The Bogota-born cardinal has been described by those who have worked alongside him as “a hard-working mediator who has been able to gain the respect of opposing forces in the country.”

“This is also an indication of the Vatican’s political support for the peace process that the church has supported in Colombia,” the Rev. Dario Echeverri Gonzalez of the National Conciliation Commission said of Salazar Gomez’s selection as cardinal last fall.

“He’s very serious, very executive in his approach. He’s very intelligent and able to take a position without making enemies.”

The National Conciliation Commission is an independent church group that works toward a solution to the civil war.

Bishop Nel Beltran Santamaria of Sincelejo has said that Salazar Gomez can almost seem “timid,” though that hides the complex character of a tireless, passionate worker.

“He’s the kind of unique individual that is able to earn the respect of everyone, thanks mostly to his hard work,” Beltran told Catholic News Service.

For traditional Catholics, Salazar Gomez also offers the usual conservative philosophy long associated with the Vatican, having vowed as his three priorities “protecting marriage as the union between one man and one woman, saving innocent life in the womb, and promoting peace in Colombia.”



Political inevitability for the Bush ‘darkie’?

George P. Bush with uncle George W. Bush and grandfather George H. W. Bush

George P. Bush with uncle, former President George W. Bush, and grandfather, former President George H. W. Bush

WHEN HE WAS LITTLE more than a child running around a national political convention, his grandfather had spotted him and joked that “he’s our little darkie.”

The grandfather was President George H.W. Bush, and no one knew exactly what to make of his comment about his dark-skinned grandson, George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush and his Mexican-born wife Columba.

Was it a racist comment, especially at a time when Republicans were beginning their worst period of disfavor among Hispanics? Was it simply politically incorrect? Or just insensitive? It also was a comment about a child, and not just any child but a quite privileged one.

The elder Bush was never heard to utter the comment again, at least not in public, and George Prescott Garnica Bush became just another face among those who often appeared on stage at conventions and political triumphs of his father who became governor of Florida and his uncle George W. Bush who, of course, became president.

Who would have thought, though, that the dark complexion over which an innocent comment made some squirm would one day become one of the young man’s biggest political assets.

Today he is known as P. Bush. He is 36, a former navy officer, head of an investment firm in Fort Worth and quite possibly the future of the Republican party in Texas, should the GOP succeed in maintaining it as a Red State in the face of meteoric Latino growth that some say will eventually swing it into the Democratic fold.

Bush is expected to make his first political run for Texas Land Commissioner in 2014 when his chances for election are excellent given that Republicans are still in control of the state.

But a lot of eyes will also be on P next year because it will offer the first real chance for predominantly Democratic Hispanic voters in Texas to react to a prominent “darkie” Republican – a Republican candidate who is not just Latino but bears the distinguishable characteristics of being mestizo, of mixed blood as are the majority of the state’s Mexican-Americans.

Texas just recently elected its first Hispanic to statewide office, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, but he is Cuban American and no one would ever have described him as “our darkie” because he is light-skinned and Mexican American voters did not especially take to him.

“P. Bush, though, looks like he could be the son of a Mexican American factory worker who has gone off to college and is doing well – he looks like me and my friends,” says Monica Romero, a school teacher in Houston.

“He’s Mexican American. He’s raza.”

Democrats, of course, will be the first to scoff at the notion that Mexican-Americans in Texas will vote for a Republican like Bush just because he is one of their own.

But as this past president campaign showed, Democrats were of that same thinking flying in their Mexican-American elected politicians like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to campaign for President Barack Obama wherever the number of Latino voters dictated the need.

It is the reason, too, that Hispanic leaders are concerned about the slowness of Obama to name a Latino to his second administration Cabinet – to appoint someone they can relate to, someone who will make that Cabinet reflect America and continue attracting Latino voters to the Democratic ranks.

Young Bush understands it will take more than a famous name and being known as the family’s beloved “darkie” to make it in politics, and he says that’s what he’s been doing with his life as he prepares to seek public office.

“My grandmother (Barbara Bush), who I always seek advice from, told me that before you enter politics — or even think about entering politics — you should distinguish yourself outside of politics by doing something in the business world or any other world,” he said in an interview.

“Make a name for yourself, have a family, marry someone great, have some kids, buy a house, pay taxes, and do the things everyone also does instead of just running out and saying, ‘Hey, I’m the nephew of or the son of or the grandson of…”


The Cabinet: Is there a Hispanic Sally Jewell?

re there any longshot Latino politicians who could make the grade on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet?

President Obama on Wednesday finally appointed a woman to his Cabinet, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. (AP Photo)

ARE THERE ANY longshot Latino politicians who could make the grade on President Barack Obama’s Cabinet?

It appears that’s what it’s going to take now that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has taken himself out of the running.

It’s a situation also brought on by the fact that no high-profile Hispanic office-holder appears ready to fall on his sword, politically speaking, and give up his office in Congress to give a Democratic president a sorely-lacking brown face on his Cabinet.

The talk of what Latino can serve in the Cabinet has gotten so bad that The Associated Press this week floated the idea that the president could name Villaraigosa’s cousin, California Assembly Speaker John Perez, as Secretary of Labor.

The idea evoked laughs in California, even with Perez, who has a long history as a labor organizer.

“Look, I’m always flattered if somebody thinks my work is worthy of other consideration,” Perez said, scoffing at the thought. “But I’m focused on being speaker for these next two years.

“And continuing to build back our economy, and continuing to build on the fiscal discipline that we’ve created here in California. And getting people back to work.”

Perez, though, may be no worse than some of the other Hispanic names being floated, among them current or past Cabinet under-secretaries and assistant secretaries.

In reality, those people probably have as much or more experience in running a Cabinet office than any big-name politician. But the Cabinet is still a highly visible political appointment, usually made up of important office-holders, large corporate heads or names that have a ring of political magic.

Of course, Obama’s nomination Wednesday of Sally Jewell as Interior Secretary lowers the bar to some degree. There are those who seriously wonder whether she would have been nominated had her name been Samuel Jewel.

No offense to Ms Jewell, but the president needed to name a woman to the Cabinet to offset the criticism that he was fostering a good ol’ boys club.

And he now needs to name a Hispanic.

So who will the Hispanic Sally Jewell be?

It will likely be a long-shot, possibly even the head of a Latino civil rights organization like Thomas Saenz of MALDEF or Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza. Those are good candidates whose presence might even elevate the stature of the Cabinet’s present membership.

Heck, it could even be John Perez, who some might call Villaraiosa-lite, except have you seen John Perez, who some might confuse as a candidate for NBC’s “Biggest Loser” weight-loss show?

Perez may have scoffed at the idea of being the Latino on the Obama Cabinet but he didn’t flat out rule it out.

“Let them ask,” he said, “and I’ll give you the answer then.”


Adjourning in the memory of Bill Orozco

California political consultant Bill Orozco and longtime companion Nancy Anne Nuno (with permission of Nancy Anne Nuno)

California political consultant Bill Orozco and longtime companion Nancy Anne Nuno

AN EDITOR WE BOTH knew used to say that my friend Bill Orozco had a strange obsession with death.

It seemed that the longtime California political consultant always was the first to call and let you know when someone in politics or Latino activism had died, and he would do it in the most unusual way.

“The City Council just recessed in memory of….” he would say, dropping the name of the recently deceased who had just been recognized by political leaders by having a meeting or hearing adjourn in his or her honor.

Often the elected officials paying tribute to the person who had died would have learned of the passing from Bill himself, as he hovered around the council chambers or meeting room having just received news of the death from one of his many sources.

It wasn’t unusual for Bill to follow up with phone calls notifying you of rosaries, masses or funeral arrangements, letting you know the names of the widow and children and offering a photo of the deceased from his own vast collection of pictures.

For Bill was a photographer as well – “an amateur,” he humbly called himself, though his pictures were often as good as those of a pro and sometimes better because he would go places few professional photographers dared go.

He once got a shot of then Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre dressed to the nines in a studded charro suit and a Mexican sombrero at some out of the way Latino rodeo, when the dapper politician normally wouldn’t be caught dead seen in anything but $2,000 designer suits.

Another time Bill captured an image of about 50 gangbanger veteranos who had shown up like groupies at some event to catch a glimpse of actor and former convict Danny Trejo after the making of the film “Once Upon a Time in Mexico.”

Bill arrived with Danny Trejo, who was a longtime friend.

But Bill’s real passion was politics.

After a stint as an aide to former California State Senator David Roberti in the 1980s, Bill began consulting and strategizing for political candidates, mostly in Southern California, and sometimes outsiders challenging established power brokers.

“I’m a democrat with a little d,” Bill liked to say.

Though he had a lot of friends who were movers and shakers and political bosses, Bill in many ways was a rebel and loved the idea of opening the political process to newcomers and the young.

Nothing made Bill angrier than seeing entrenched politicians who took advantage of the system, especially when he suspected there were bribes involved or fixed contract bidding.

When the Los Angeles Times published a series of articles detailing graft and corruption involving Latino politicians in some of the county’s suburban cities, several people suspected Bill of being the whistle-blower, especially given that the wording in some of the stories bore a remarkable resemblance to what he had been telling anyone who would listen for years.

It may have also helped coming to that conclusion that Bill always called you the night before a Times story on the crooked politicians appeared to tip you off to check the newspaper the next morning.

“I don’t care if anyone knows,” he would say about this role as a whistle-blower. “I’m not the one taking bribes and rigging contracts.”

That was typical Bill Orozco.

“He was one of a kind – a lovable character,” said his longtime friend and East L.A. attorney Alex Jacinto. “He left us too early, and he’ll be missed.”

Bill apparently died in his sleep Thursday morning of no known cause. He was 63. An autopsy is being performed to determine the exact cause of death.

Fittingly, I understand that at least one meeting of elected officials recessed in Bill’s memory Friday.

I’m not completely certain because Bill wasn’t around to call and let me know personally.


In L.A. is Eric Garcetti Latino enough?

Eric Garcetti is facing questions about whether he is Hispanic enough to be mayor of L.A. (Los Angeles Times photo)

Eric Garcetti is facing questions about whether he is Hispanic enough to be mayor of L.A. (Los Angeles Times photo)

When is a Hispanic political candidate Latino enough?

That is the question that has been hounding Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti since he announced he wanted to succeed Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor.

And the questioning has intensified for Garcettiwhose grandfather, Salvador Garcetti, was born in Mexicoas the March 5 city election approaches.

Garcetti, 41, speaks Spanish fluently and has often referred to himself as being “Chicano,” but he is increasingly finding his claim to being Hispanic challengedso much so that a headline in the Los Angeles Times asked, “In mayor’s race, is Garcetti Latino enough?”

It hasn’t helped that Villaraigosa has not endorsed him, nor anyone else, as a successor, and that the mayor’s cousinAssembly Speaker John Perezis not only backing another candidate but is also among those questioning Garcetti’s Latinoness.

“There isn’t a Latino candidate running for mayor that I know of,” Perez recently told KPCC public radio.

As the Times wrote this week: “As the campaign begins to capture public attention, a big question is whether Garcetti can re-create the surge of Latino support that helped secure Villaraigosa’s historic election eight years ago as the first Latino mayor of modern Los Angeles.”

The answer so far appears to be a resounding no, especially as Eric Garcetti’s major opponent — City Controller Wendy Greuel — has amassed a number of influential Hispanic leaders who seemingly have rejected Garcetti as being one of their own.

In addition to the Assembly Speaker, these include United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta and County Supervisor Gloria Molina who remains one of the most powerful Latino politicians in California, particularly when it comes to behind-the-scenes jockeying.

Eric Garcetti’s Latino predicament of having his ethnicity claim challenged also resurrects an age-old ploy that was used in the Chicano civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s to discredit, or attempt to discredit, liberal-to-moderate Latino leaders thought to be out of the mold of Chicano extremist activism. 

They were branded as “Tio Tacos,” Latino Uncle Toms, ironic considering that eventually most of the Hispanics who have been elected to power in America in succeeding years have probably been closer politically to those so-called Tio Tacos than to the hardcore activists.

Garcetti himself is a descendant of Latino heroism of its own right. One of the reasons his grandfather’s family emigrated to the U.S. is that Eric Garcetti’s great-grandfather, Massimo Garcetti, was a Mexican judge who was hanged during the Mexican Revolution.

In any other Latino politician, Garcetti’s personal story would have him acclaimed the poster child of the American Dream. His father Gil Garcetti rose to district attorney in Los Angeles, and Eric Garcetti became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and the London School of Economics.

But the issue that hounds Garcettias it does many like himis whether he is of “Mexican blood,” something in these days of ethnic and cultural intermarriages would seem ludicrous, almost smacking of a bizarre wish for Latino ethnic cleansing.

Garcetti’s Mexican ancestors were Italians who emigrated to Mexico but apparently never produced mestizo descendants, children of mixed European and indigenous Mexican blood.

None of that should matter, according to Maria-Elena Martinez, associate professor of history and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, who says “Mexican” is neither a race nor an ethnicity, but a melting pot of a nationality.

“‘Mexican’ encompasses a lot of people,” she told L.A. Weekly last year in discussing Garcetti’s Mexican heritage. “If his family migrated from Europe to become miners and became Mexicans or because of a generation being born there, by all means they are Mexican.”

“Of course he can claim that he has a Mexican pastthat he has Mexican ancestors.”

How Garcetti fares in the Los Angeles mayoral race may well answer his critics or raise even more questions about the re-examination of Hispanic ethnic politics in America.

In Garcetti’s mind, though, there is no doubt of who and what he is.

“Weekends involved bowls of menudo at my grandparents’ and bagels at my cousins’ house,” Garcetti says of his childhood with a Mexican and Jewish background. “I think if you’re Latino, you’re very comfortable with the idea of mestizo, being mixed.

“So I kind of joke that I’m mestizo double, double mixed.”


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