The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on May 29, 2005 · Page A9
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The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky · Page A9

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Louisville, Kentucky
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 29, 2005
Page:
Page A9
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K THE COURIER-JOURNAL|SUNDAY,MAY29,2005 | A9NATION | courier-journal.com NEW YORK — When you’re running for mayor, it helps to be asmooth talker. This year, candidates are having to work a little harder at it. The competition for New York’s Hispanic voters is so fierce among Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the four Democrats vying to unseat him that most of the candidates are struggling to speak Spanish on the campaign trail, even though some had never spoken a word of it before. Only one grew up with the language. “I’m not very good,” admits Rep. Anthony Weiner. His last encounter with a Spanish textbook had been in junior high school, so he hired a tutor last year. In a city with more than 2.1 million Hispanics — about a quarter of the population — multiple Spanish-language television stations and several Spanish daily newspapers, the candidates are at least making an effort to explain themselves. “You could always communicate nuances much better in a tongue you’re comfortable in,” said Weiner, 39. “But for someone like me who probably will never be fluent in Spanish, it is to symbolically express respect for their culture and their language, and also to show that you’re trying.” Politicians at all levels are recognizing the power of the country’s largest minority group. Last year’s Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, said he learned Spanish from audiotapes, and on Capitol Hill lawmakers gather weekly for language classes. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper learned Spanish before he went into politics and ended up defeating his Hispanic opponent, City Auditor Don Mares. In Los Angeles, a swell of Hispanic pride helped Antonio Villaraigosa win a decisive victory over incumbent James Hahn, and when he is sworn in July 1he will become the city’s first Hispanic mayor since 1872. Bloomberg began taking Spanish lessons four years ago, during his first campaign for City Hall. The millionaire businessman was new to both politics and Spanish but was eager to learn, his former teacher said. “Age has a lot to do with it; it’s harder the older you are, but he was very good,” said Juan Carlos Ayarza, who occasionally accompanied Bloomberg to campaign events such as the Puerto Rican Day parade or a Colombian festival. Bloomberg, who works with adifferent tutor now, often sprinkles his speeches with Spanish phrases, although observers say he needs to work on his accent. At a recent press conference, areporter asked the mayor in Spanish how long he’s been studying the language. Bloomberg tried his best, answering “Una hora y media, cada dia,” which translates to “an hour and ahalf each day.” City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Gifford Miller, who also was a beginner when he began working with a Spanish tutor last year, likes to show off his language skills in song — particularly the Puerto Rican national anthem, “La Bo- rinquena,” which he belted out recently at a senior center. When singing isn’t appropriate, Miller prepares a few sentences in Spanish but says he hasn’t achieved his goal — to understand and answer questions in Spanish. “It’s important to be able to communicate as best as possible, so I make an effort at it,” said Miller, 35. “I wish I spoke it better. ... That’s why I’m careful about what I say.” The candidate with the bilingual edge is Fernando Ferrer, a former Bronx borough presi- dent who grew up speaking Spanish and English. At campaign events and press conferences, Ferrer frequently repeats his comments for the Spanish media. However, he said the language is “part of who I am and it’s a part of what this city is, so I don’t brandish it as a political weapon.” The fourth candidate challenging Bloomberg in the November election, C. Virginia Fields, 58, studied Spanish in high school and college but isn’t comfortable speaking it on the campaign trail yet, said her spokesman, Nick Charles. AQuinnipiac University poll this month showed Bloomberg suffers low approval ratings among Hispanic voters; just 30 percent said they were impressed with the job he was do- ing, compared with 54 percent of non-Hispanic whites. The poll was conducted before Bloomberg released a television campaign advertisement targeted toward Hispanics. In it, Bloomberg speaks entirely in Spanish. 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