Local Latino leaders upset by firing of state's liaison


Some local Hispanic leaders are calling for the reinstatement of the state's chief liaison to their community, Jose Ruiz, after he was fired last week as part of what officials called a "reorganization" of the Maryland Department of Human Resources.

A dozen Hispanic entrepreneurs and activists, many of Puerto Rican origin, gathered yesterday around a corner table at The Fishery Restaurant on Eastern Avenue, where they planned an "aggressive" campaign of "letters, petitions, even pickets" to win Mr. Ruiz's reinstatement.

"Jose Ruiz is the person who protects us most," said Jose Luaces, the restaurant's owner. "We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to change this situation."

Mr. Ruiz, who did not respond to phone calls, had spent eight years as executive director of the governor's Commission on Hispanic Affairs, a position that pays up to $44,000 a year. The 14-member advisory group reports to Secretary of Human Resources Alvin Collins, who informed Mr. Ruiz of his dismissal in a letter received Friday, sources close to the executive director said.

"With a new administration, a change is a matter of course," said J. C. Shay, a human resources spokesman. "The secretary is looking to realign the commission for more outreach more pro-activity."

But, in recounting his work with community groups such as the East Baltimore Latino Organization, local Hispanics yesterday called Mr. Ruiz "irreplaceable." Several said the sudden firing, which came without consultation of Hispanic leaders, was an insult to the community.

"Jose is the person with the closest relationship to the community," said the Rev. Miguel Vilar, a Baltimore pastor who attended the meeting. "He works directly with us."

At the urging of Mr. Vilar, the group decided to delay its protests until after a commission meeting tonight in Wheaton. Mr. Vilar said he hoped that the commission would formally vote to protest the firing, giving protesters more leverage in their appeals to state government.

Commissioner Ruben Gonzalez, who also attended the meeting, said the commission had voted last spring to recommend to the governor that the executive director be retained. Some commissioners said they took the action because they expected Mr. Ruiz to lose his job as part of the turnover that usually accompanies a new governor.

"The firing is a slap in the face to the commission," Mr. Gonzalez said. "It's not democratic. It's not the way it should go."

Still, some Hispanic leaders and some commissioners have complained that Mr. Ruiz had spent too much time working with Baltimore Hispanics -- often at the expense of contacts with community activists in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, where the majority of the state's Hispanics reside. The appointment of a replacement, expected within a few days, is widely expected to go to a Hispanic leader from those counties. Four Hispanic leaders contacted in the Washington suburbs named Emilio P. Rivas, founder of a community organization in Montgomery County, as a probable candidate. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Mr. Ruiz's supporters say they believe he is being punished for not being a strong supporter of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke during last month's Democratic primary. It was known among local Hispanics that Mr. Ruiz, like many citizens of Puerto Rican origin, supported City Council President Mary Pat Clarke for mayor.

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