L. A. Election Reveals Persisting Racial Divisions
June 14, 2001, 05:00 AM
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Perhaps the most intriguing thing about the reaction to last week's mayoral election in Los Angeles was that almost no one seemed disturbed by the transparent ethnic and racial lines that the voting followed—while at the same time, almost no one even bothered to deny that voting followed such lines. Nor does it seem to occur to most commentators that what happened in Los Angeles, as the model of the national political future, carries some pretty heavy implications for the practice of American democracy.

The election, of course, was between two liberal Democrats, white City Attorney James Hahn, who won with 54 percent of the vote, and Hispanic ex-Speaker of the State Assembly, Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost. Mr. Villaraigosa was the more leftish of the two, with endorsements from labor, feminists, and environmentalists, but the contest's ideological color is far less important than its ethno-political meaning.

Mr. Villaraigosa carried 82 percent of the Latino vote in the city, a bloc that constituted nearly 24 percent of all votes cast this year but has increased from 15 percent of the voters since only 1997. Mr. Hahn, on the other hand, won 80 percent of the city's black voters, who make up 17 percent of all voters, as well as a majority of whites, except Jewish voters, who supported Mr. Villaraigosa. Generally, ethnic minorities vote Democrat and whites vote Republican, but the presence of two liberal Democrats on the ticket meant that the racial-ethnic coalition on which the Democrats depend was split.

Indeed, the separation of black and Hispanic voters is significant in itself. Mr. Hahn's father had strong credentials among blacks as a civil rights supporter, but the support of the two non-white voting blocs for different candidates is due to more clearly racial forces. A black supporter of the Hispanic candidate told Newsweek that there is "Bristling in the black community at all the emphasis on the new Latino numbers." Blacks and Hispanics in Los Angeles don't get along very well, and the tension was clear in the voting results.

Indeed, you can't much blame blacks. All of a sudden, they're not the nation's (or at least the city's) largest minority anymore, and as mass immigration from Latin America continues, they'll be less and less important. They know that, and so do Hispanics, who like to crow about how much power they're soon going to be wielding.

"This election is going to be seen as the turning point," boasted Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute Institute in Los Angeles, "the first time that Latinos have contended for power in modern Los Angeles history. ... In the Villaraigosa campaign in 2001, Latinos began to assert their true leadership." If you're black or even just not Latino, you might well start wondering where exactly you were going to fit in the new racial configuration of power. But for a racial identity that has developed as much racial consciousness as blacks, you would probably do more than wonder.

Latino voters may not have won the mayoralty simply because there still aren't quite enough of them to overshadow black voters, but the Latino turnout was about 34 percent, which is equal to the turnout as a whole.   Moreover, Mr. Villaraigosa won 70 percent of the voters who were casting their first ballots in a California election. Mr. Hahn, the black's favored candidate, won this time, but it's clear to everyone that the political future belongs to the Latinos.

Isn't there something peculiar about that? Aren't elections, in the age of "color-blind" laws and government, supposed to ignore race and ethnicity? Weren't the civil rights movement and the immigration reforms of the 1960s supposed to put an end to voting by racial and ethnic blocs, just as much as they put an end to riding in the back of the bus and determining the number of immigrants by ethnic quotas?

What the Los Angeles election tells us—it is not the first election to tell us this, but simply one more in a long series that confirms it—is that race is real, that race matters, regardless of liberal rhetoric and lawbooks, and that human beings of the same race and ethnicity, like birds of a feather, will flock together.

There is in fact nothing whatsoever peculiar about voters supporting candidates of the same race or candidates seen as racial allies (as black voters saw the white Mr. Hahn), except in the bizarre world of liberalism itself, which is far less color blind than it is simply near-sighted. Most people of most races behave that way all the time, always have and always will. The only people who still find it peculiar are the white Americans dumb enough to let liberalism convince them that race isn't real—and who are now losing their country because of it.

COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

June 14, 2001