On Sunday Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio made his most important minority appointment to date, naming former federal prosecutor Zachary Carter, a black man, to be his corporation counsel. Will that quell concerns about the diversity of the incoming administration?
Last week, the National Institute for Latino Policy’s Angelo Falcón—an irascible and astute observer of city politics—sent a letter raising concerns about the “marginal” appointments of Latinos to the incoming administration. Falcón, who had earlier complained about the relatively light representation of Latinos on de Blasio’s sixty-member transition team, was not satisfied with the appointment of Lilliam Barrios-Paoli to be the new deputy mayor for health and human services or of Gladys Carrión to run the Administration for Children’s Services.
Over the weekend, LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund president and general counsel Juan Cartagena praised both those appointments as milestones for Latinos, then added: “But more than two Hispanic appointments from among 80 positions under mayoral control is needed. There is much to work with in the Latino community, a community with a lot of talent. So the new mayor cannot now rest in addressing the future of the city—a Latino future is in his hands.” Meanwhile, Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron had complained prior to the Carter selection,”Only Whites and Latinas have been selected [thus far]. Some from the Giuliani administration and Goldman-Sachs. So much for progressive!”
Carter was de Blasio’s ninth appointment. He was the first black person named to a post by the incoming mayor. In addition to the Latinas Barrios-Paoli and Carrión, de Blasio has also named Bill Bratton to head the police department, Anthony Shorris as his first deputy mayor, Emma Wolfe as director of intergovernmental affairs, Dean Fuleihan as budget director, Alicia Glen as deputy mayor for housing and economic development and Laura Santucci as his chief of staff; all are white.
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If you’re thinking, gee, that kind of crude ethnic tally sounds like, well, a crude ethic tally, you’d be right. But the deeper point Falcón seems to be making, and what goes to the heart of the political obstacle facing Latinos in New York, is precisely that getting a token number of appointments will not be enough.
As the writer Ed Morales reported in City Limits last year, Latinos have a fair amount of official representation in New York City. While Mayor Bloomberg’s appointed cabinet has not been especially diverse, the ranks of elected officials are: one of the city’s five borough presidents, 11 of its 51 current Council members, two of its twelve-member congressional delegation, six of its state senators and ten of its Assembly contingent are Latino. Overall, those numbers don’t reflect Latinos’ 27.5 percent share of the city’s population, but the problem isn’t a vast underrepresentation. The problem is that those numbers aren’t adding up to a feeling that government responds to Latino needs.
As Morales wrote, “there is a growing number of elected officials whose numbers do not add up to increased political power for the Latino community.” He quoted Falcón:
“I remember when we wanted to get more Latino cops but now the largest number of Latinos working for the city happen to be working for the police department, and what do we have, stop and frisk? So the idea that somehow having more Latinos in there to change the culture of the police department obviously didn’t happen.”
A feature of this mismatch between diversity and delivery is that some city offices are considered typical havens for Latinos—the social service agencies, for instance, and maybe the housing department. On one hand, those agencies serve hundreds of thousands of Latino New Yorkers, and have real relevance in the lives of hundreds of thousands of others. On the other hand, they lack the profile of, say, One Police Plaza or Tweed Courthouse.
That’s what’s interesting about the pick of Carter, perhaps most famous for his role prosecuting the police officers linked to the 1997 precinct-house sodomy of Abner Louima. Little boys and girls don’t dream of growing up to be corporation counsel, and while most New Yorkers could tell you who Ray Kelly is, few could identify Michael Cardozo, Bloomberg’s corporation counsel for his entire tenure.
However, Cardozo was incredibly important to nearly every aspect of the Bloomberg administration’s agenda, from defending stop-and-frisk and FDNY hiring practices to pursuing the soda ban and stricter gun controls to protecting the mayor’s tax, environmental and other ambitions. So, what the post lacks in street-level profile it more than offers in real-world influence.
De Blasio is still very early in the appointment process; another announcement is expected later today (Monday). Things may look quite different even by the time he’s sworn in roughly forty-eight hours from now. But whatever surnames and skin-tones emerge, folks who worry about government reflecting the populace it serves will be analyzing not the raw numbers, but where appointees stand in proximity to the real levers of power in New York.