Three candidates embody Democrat-Republican contest
Charlie Garcia thinks the citizens of Indianapolis feel “awkward” about how to deal with a continually growing Latino population. “For generations in this city, power and influence was held primarily by Caucasians and it was only in the early ’70s that the integration of African-Americans was truly accepted,” says Garcia, president of G.M. Construction, Inc. and one of Indianapolis’ most successful entrepreneurs.
“I think it’s important to our intellectual survival that people listen to the issues and embrace the two- or three-party system.” — Carmen Hansen-Rivera, Republican candidate for an at-large seat on the City-County Council
Garcia, whose grandfather fought with Pancho Villa in the Mexican revolution, was born and raised in San Francisco and has been a resident of Indy for the last 18 years. “I think it is difficult and challenging for people to be sensitive to the issues of the Latino community and accept the change they are seeing. On the flip side, they do appreciate the new economic base Latino immigrants provide, however, but end up exploiting the workers who are responsible for it,” Garcia says. A longtime Republican who now considers himself a liberal independent, Garcia also maintains that “the same mindset that goes after the Latino dollar also relates to votes. For politicians, it’s not about addressing the needs of our community; it’s about getting a critical mass of votes and winning seats. We end up being exploited as voters. I, for one, vote and give my money to those ‘individuals’ who are truly passionate about Latino issues,” says Garcia, who makes financial contributions to candidates of both parties. So who, exactly, are these voters in the Latino community? How many of them are out there? And why should the rest of us care?
A force to reckon with
Ricardo Gambetta, who was Bart Peterson’s first Latino appointee shortly after the mayor took office, is director of Latino affairs for the City of Indianapolis and director of the Hispanic Latino Commission. He says there are no reliable demographics yet to tell us how many Latino voters there are and knows there aren’t many. But the numbers will be there in the future, he says, and they will be a force to reckon with. Stressing that the city’s Latino community is very diverse in its mix of nationalities, levels of education and professional expertise, Gambetta also acknowledges that many of the new immigrants (who are primarily Mexican) are undocumented. Pointing out, however, that many Latinos have resided in Indianapolis for several generations, he cites official and anecdotal evidence that the new arrivals, with a median age of 24, are putting down roots in Indianapolis. He states, “They want to learn English, they want to become citizens, their extended families are joining them here — they are here to stay.” The 2000 census set the local Latino population at 34,000. The latest census projections indicate there are now 40,000. But data from local hospitals, school systems, social services and other local organizations indicate these numbers are much, much bigger. Gambetta adds, “We are growing fast in numbers but at the same time we need more access to economic and political power.” Education is the key to that access Gambetta says, but he thinks that “Educating the Latino community about our political process and developing leadership is also paramount.” Gambetta, a native of Peru and a trained lawyer who worked for the government there, came to Indianapolis in 1990 to escape the radical “Shining Path.” “Starting from scratch,” Gambetta later became a naturalized U.S. citizen. “For many Latinos, especially those coming from Latin America, they don’t trust government and don’t like politicians who they see as being corrupt and who make promises and don’t deliver. And then, for some, politics is even seen as being life-threatening.” Providing potential role models for these cynical voters and would-be voters are three local politicians with Latino roots, currently running for City County Council. Signifying a pivotal development in the evolution of the Latino community and change on the local mainstream political landscape are the candidacies of Peter Pizarro (R) and Carmen Hansen-Rivera (R), running for city-county councilor at-large, and Karen Celestino Horseman (D), running for city-county councilor in District 16.
A need to get involved
Pizarro, born in Cuba but raised in Puerto Rico, came to the U.S. when he was 18 because he wanted to learn English and go to college in Columbus, Ohio. After five years in the Air Force, he worked his way up with American Greeting Cards for 15 years, living in major cities such as New York, L.A., Atlanta and Cleveland, before becoming head of the company’s international division, travelling to 28 countries. Eventually he married, then moved to Indy four years ago to work for a consulting company. Currently he works for F.C. Tucker & Co. in residential real estate. “We saw Indy as a place with all the amenities but without the complicated lifestyle of much larger cities,” Pizzaro says. The bilingual Pizarro, who has no previous political experience, says he is fiscally conservative but moderate on social issues. He came to know Scott Newman and struck up a friendship with the former Marion County prosecutor. “It floored me that he spoke perfect Spanish,” Pizarro says of Newman, who eventually convinced him to run for office and offered to become his campaign chairman if he did. Pizarro decided to enter politics because “I want to stay and raise my kids and have a family here so I realized I needed to get involved. It’s something I always wanted to do and because of my business experience I feel I have a lot to contribute.” Pizarro embraces the Republican Party because he believes its values mirror Latino values of “a hard work ethic and family.” Though conceding that Latinos have traditionally voted Democratic, they should “listen to both sides of the issues” and not allow themselves to be taken for granted by either party. Running on a platform that emphasizes economic development, and which spotlights education, Pizarro, whose ancestry includes grandparents from India and Jamaica, insists that “though in my heart I am Hispanic and will advocate issues for Latinos, I also want to represent the interests of African-Americans and all my constituents.” Encouraged by a recent Indianapolis Star poll indicating that voters may choose a Democratic mayor but want a Republican City-County Council, Pizarro says, “I think I have an excellent chance because voters have said they want checks and balances.”
Holding landlords accountable
Current City-County Councilor-at-Large Karen Celestino Horseman hopes that Democratic candidates will all ride in on Bart Peterson’s coattails during the upcoming election on Tuesday, Nov. 4. Horseman, an Indianapolis native, whose mother is of Mexican origin and a former migrant worker, wants to represent one of the city’s most socio-economically challenged areas on the city’s near Eastside. 2000 Census figures also indicate that one of the city’s largest Latino populations resides in District 16, the area which Horseman wants to represent, but she believes that, once again, there is a substantial undercount. She bases that belief on her having walked through the neighborhoods, going door to door and encountering countless Latino families in every precinct she has visited. An attorney in general practice, Horseman wants to specialize in immigration law and maybe one day go on to higher office. Aspiring to be a “candidate for all people but because of my family and background I think I have a little bit more insight into the Latino community,” Horseman spent four weeks in Mexico last summer in an immersion program to improve her Spanish. If elected, Horseman, who faces her Republican challenger, former downtown developer Scott Keller, wants to immediately begin stabilizing neighborhoods. Part of her plan is “to hold landlords accountable and provide safe and affordable housing for constituents who are taken advantage of and have no other choice but to live in rental housing, which is often substandard.”
Respect for families and respect for life
A graduate of St. Monica’s, Ladywood High School and St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, Carmen Hansen-Rivera is a first generation Latina of Puerto Rican origin. Her father, a dentist, came to the mainland from Puerto Rico to study at the IU School of Dentistry and later moved to Indianapolis upon accepting an offer to practice. Hansen-Rivera, though born and raised in Indy, spent summers in Puerto Rico where her fluency in Spanish was cemented. Hansen-Rivera, who with her husband owns and operates a design firm, was once a Democrat but switched parties in her late 20s after working in Appalachia as program manager for The Appalachian Regional Commission. There she said she “witnessed that programs for children and families were not reaching the hard-core poor. I got really discouraged.” She also believes Republican Party values “coincide with my Catholic values — primarily respect for families and respect for life. Now, do I agree with wars? No. Do I agree with the death penalty? No.” Overall though, she concludes that Latinos are not monolithic and are entitled to different opinions and says, “I think it’s important to our intellectual survival that people listen to the issues and embrace the two- or three-party system.” Approached last December by Republicans to run, Hansen-Rivera, who calls herself a moderate conservative, decided that politics would just be an extension of her longtime work in the community, so she agreed to become a candidate. Her concerns are “a balanced budget, no new property taxes, parity for small business, more jobs and providing for families and children, all the things that everybody cares about, not just Latinos.” Does she think she can win? “I think it’s going well. I think any candidate going into this has to be confident. Honestly, I believe it could go either way … but we do have an extremely popular mayor,” she admits.
Even if these candidates succeed at winning the election and become influential agents of change within their respective parties and beyond, it will still be imperative for the rest of the Latino community to continue to drive its agenda by becoming politically involved, Charlie Garcia says. “We have to demand what we want. We’ll never earn respect. Never. But before our demands are met we will have to substantiate to politicians that the Latino community votes, that we’ll only vote for those who support our issues and that our votes can decide an election. Votes are the same as money and we need both so that we can demand concessions in return. It’s the only way.”