Democrats seek Latino votes

The Baltimore Sun

A group of Annapolis Democrats will launch a newsletter this week targeting the city's growing Latino community, with the aim of swelling voter rolls and increasing that population's civic involvement.

Led by Chuck Weikel, a member of the county's Democratic Central Committee, the effort includes community organizers and other prominent Democrats, among them Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

The initiative, which includes mailing voter registration cards to Latino households and a plea to vote Democratic, comes on the heels of the debut May 25 of a countywide Spanish-language public-access show.

Weikel, who will likely run to succeed Moyer, said the English- and Spanish-language newsletter will be distributed to local, county and state officials with the goal of familiarizing politicians with the Latino community.

"The problem is that they are invisible, they don't vote, they are not a force, and we need to help them become a force," Weikel said. "If politicians see that the people voting for them are Latino, they are much more likely to listen."

The first issue of the newsletter, Voz Latina de Annapolis, features an interview with Moyer and information about city services and outreach efforts.

Maria Sasso, the chairwoman in Anne Arundel County for Maryland Hispanic Republicans, accused Democrats of "using a loophole" to try to register those who might not be eligible to vote.

"The newsletter is a very positive effort in trying to reach out to the Latin American community," Sasso said. But she said that sending out voter registration cards en masse "goes against what the democracy of the United States stands for."

"What they are seeking is for you to sign your name and register," Sasso said. "They don't care if you are a legal resident. [They] just want you to vote and to vote Democratic."

Weikel began gathering names for a mailing list in April at the Latino Children's Festival, which drew about 200 people.

According to the 2000 census, Hispanics make up about 7 percent of the city's population, with Mexicans and Salvadorans heavily represented.

A majority of the community is clustered in the northwest section of the city along the Forest Drive corridor and along Hilltop Lane.

Centro De Ayuda (Center of Help), a nonprofit group that offers language, legal, health and job-placement services to Latinos, helped about 4,500 people last year, according to Mary Schumaker, the organization's founder.

Schumaker estimated that roughly 50 percent of the organization's clientele are citizens.

"I think they want to vote, but they need to become comfortable with it," she said. "They want to become part of the community, and they contribute immensely to the work force. But they are the forgotten people by the politicians."

Tomorrow, Schumaker is scheduled to meet with Vanessa Morales, Hispanic outreach coordinator for Republican Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold.

Moyer said her administration plans to step up outreach efforts and schedule meetings this fall with representatives from Centro De Ayuda.

She said the city's Police Department has an outreach officer but added that efforts should be expanded.

"We need to do far more to reach out to the community and find more ways to be inclusive," she said. "The numbers are increasing, and as new people come in and become citizens, it's important that they become involved."

Sun reporter Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.

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