By Maurice Pinzon
Last Saturday, Democratic mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer traveled 1,600 miles to Puerto Rico to raise money and urge Puerto Ricans to contact their New York City relatives and friends to vote for him.
By contrast, yesterday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg enlisted well-known Latino figures in New York to hop on his Salsa campaign bus and ride right through Corona and Jackson Heights, the heart of the Latino community in Queens.
With polls showing the mayor winning as much as 40 percent of the Latino vote, the Bloomberg campaign produced a Latino-style campaign festival down Roosevelt Avenue, with Latinos from the Ecuadorian-, Peruvian-, Cuban-, Dominican- and Colombian-American communities parading behind the mayor’s slow moving campaign bus as Salsa music blasted from its speakers. Atop the bus’ open-air deck, the popular “Salsero” Willie Colon waved to the crowds on the sidewalks with Mayor Bloomberg standing beside him.
Also standing next to Mayor Bloomberg were liberal Democratic Council member Margarita Lopez — once a strong critic of former Republican Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — Herman Badillo, a Giuliani supporter, and Ninfa Segarra, who served as Giuliani’s Deputy Mayor for Education and Human Services.
On 103rd Street, before the campaign bus turned onto Roosevelt Avenue, Council member Lopez spoke in Spanish and English to about 50 enthusiastic Bloomberg supporters gathered in front of the bus. Ms. Lopez told them she was there to campaign for a man she called “the best mayor the city of New York has had.”
“Many people ask why the Democrats are supporting Michael Bloomberg. This question should not be asked,” Ms. Lopez insisted.
She said, “What we have to say clearly is that Michael Bloomberg is a type of individual that transcends party politics, that transcends race, that transcends men and women.”
“He is more than a Republican, more than a Democrat. He is Michael Bloomberg, an institution unto himself,” Ms. Lopez told the crowd.
Under the elevated No. 7 train tracks running along Roosevelt Avenue, Latinos rushed from busy sidewalks and between parked cars to shake Mayor Bloomberg’s hand, get his autograph or have their picture taken with the campaign bus in the background. His supporters had unusually easy access to the campaign bus, considering that those sidewalks are typically filled with street vendors — some of them without permits from the City.
In a statement to the press, Council member Hiram Monserrate — who represents that district — claimed that the police had cleared illegal vendors off the street the previous night.
The Bloomberg campaign bus finally stopped at “La Pequeña Colombia” restaurant at 84th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. Inside, an animated crowd greeted him.
New York News Network conducted various interviews in Spanish as well as English, because most of those in attendance apparently felt more comfortable answering in Spanish.
Most of the people interviewed gave more practical reasons for supporting Mayor Bloomberg, such as statistics about the city’s low crime rate and the increase in the City’s efficiency during his administration — more practical points than Ms. Lopez had just made moments before.
Orlando Tobon, a leader in the Jackson Heights’ Colombian community who played the role of himself in the movie “Maria Full of Grace” (a movie about Colombian women forced to work as “drug mules” transporting drugs into the United States) perhaps best summed up the sentiment among Mr. Bloomberg’s Latino supporters.
When this reporter asked him why he supported Mayor Bloomberg’s reelection over Mr. Ferrer, Mr. Tobon said, “Ferrer has committed a lot of errors.” Mr. Tobon said, “It is silly to swim against the current, because we know that Bloomberg is going to win, so why pick an unnecessary fight?”
“As mayor he can do something for us. Bloomberg has done a good job,” he added.
Later, this reporter spoke to Ms. Lopez as she was leaving the restaurant, and asked her whether her support for Mayor Bloomberg would hurt the Democratic Party in New York City.
Ms. Lopez responded, “Mayor Bloomberg is the best candidate for this position” because, she explained, “We need to understand that the safety and needs of the City of New York is more important than anything else.”
In response, Maibe Gonzalez, a spokesperson for the Ferrer campaign said: “Freddy Ferrer knows the city needs schools where more than half our kids get high school diplomas. The City needs housing that families can afford. The City needs a Mayor who will fight for our fair share of security money, and take real steps to keep our subways safe. If Margarita Lopez doesn’t think those are important priorities, then she’s out of touch with her own constituents.”