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The extraordinary elections of District 197, on Tuesday, March 21, were characterized by absenteeism at the polls, only 6 percent of registered voters exercised their right to vote. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick / AL DAY News
The extraordinary elections of District 197, on Tuesday, March 21, were characterized by absenteeism at the polls, only 6 percent of registered voters exercised their right to vote. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DIA News

District 197th Elections: More of the same?

Democratic candidate Emilio Vazquez won with just over 1,950 votes. Candidates Lucinda Little and Cheri Honkala reported alleged acts of electoral fraud.

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Every time an election is held in Philadelphia, the same question comes up: What about the Latino vote? Why do the so-called Hispanic leaders seem incapable of joining and mobilizing a community that represents nearly 12% of the population?

Those questions went unanswered last week at District 197th, in North Philly, on account of the extraordinary day to elect the person who will replace Leslie Acosta, the former Democratic state representative who had to leave her place in the middle of a scandal over embezzlement.

And they were left unanswered because the extraordinary elections of District 197 were anything but a great example of citizen participation and democratic celebration. Not even the winning candidate, the Democrat Emilio Vázquez - captured in this type of electoral litigation -, got people to go massively last Tuesday to the polling stations: of 64,000 residents entitled to vote, less than 3,000 attended the democratic rally: that is almost 6 percent of the electoral roll of that sector.

Why did an attendance at such important election for the people of North Philly failed to convene their community? Voters consulted by AL DÍA News on the day of the election said that most people were unaware that the elections were being held, others attributed the poor participation to the fact that the special elections were held in the middle of the week, "many people will show up after 5:00," they said. However, it was 6:30 p.m. and the polls were more lonely than the Republican candidate Lucinda Little on the ballot.

A lot of noise for a decaffeinated election

Despite the absence of 94 percent of voters last week, before it was known who would replace Acosta in the State House of Representatives, candidates Lucinda Little (Republican) and Cheri Honkala (Green Party) reported alleged acts of coercion of the vote and electoral fraud.

And while it is striking that in such a small election such traps may occur, the Office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners echoed some of the allegations, while the Philadelphia District Attorney provided a "special task force" to investigate the facts reported by members of different campaigns.

Beyond the presumed uncareless actions that could occur in a day in which there were more eyes on the polls than actually the votes deposited in them, what the special elections of the District 197th obtained was to add another anecdote to the political reliquary of the Hispanic leaders in the north of the city.

The history of the last two state representatives of that district, Leslies Acosta and J.P. Miranda -both Democrats, both Latinos, and both infamous for being pleaded guilty to felony charges- is the final chapter of a long story about why Hispanics in North Philly find it hard to capitalize on the electoral strength of such an important community in every respect.

Names such as Ángel Cruz, Ben Ramos, Carlos Matos, Fred Ramírez, Danilo Burgos, Tomás Sánchez, Nelson Díaz, María Quiñonez-Sánchez and the paradoxical fate of LUPE (Latinos United for Political Empowerment) have been involved in a long alliances and disagreements, irreconcilable fights that reveal a kind of political cannibalism that in the end has prevented the construction of a compact, coherent and decisive force that could influence with determination in the politics of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.

That is why, beyond the results of District 197, beyond the fact that the Democratic Party has managed to retain a chair in a Republican-dominated House of Representatives, and beyond the role that Emilio Vázquez can play in Harrisburg, the subject that always underlies is whether or not Hispanics have the will to think of themselves as a political force with a vocation of power and capable of influencing the present and future of the region.

This with a view to the primary and general elections that come this year in which at least another Latino is called to lead a very special campaign, that of replacing the controversial Seth Williams at the head of the District Attorney.

Richard Negrín, the Cuban-American with a long history in the judicial and public sector, competes with at least six Democratic candidates to be proclaimed his party's only candidate for the position of the District Attorney. Is there any Hispanic force around him to push his campaign forward and ensure that a man who knows well the problems of the community leads efforts to reduce crime rates and insecurity in the city from a comprehensive and multiethnic approach?

Regardless of whether or not there is, what matters is that future elections are interpreted as an opportunity to empower an entire community - rather than individual figures - and that the leaders or chosen people are able not only to mobilize the people at the polls, but translate that endorsement into palpable benefits on the streets, in homes, in schools, and wherever the lives of thousands of Hispanics in Philadelphia take place. 

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