The Latino leaders who assembled yesterday to talk with Washington's mayoral candidates and their representatives have made no official endorsements, but many were making no secret of their favorite.
"I'll tell you the truth," said Marcela Davila, an influential community organizer who is a member of the city's Latino Commission, "our candidate is Marion Barry. For a long time he has been helping us, not telling us."
"Whenever we call," said Sonia Gutierrez, president of the Council of Hispanic Agencies, "he's there."
The first candidate to make up appearance in the conference room of the Upper Cardozo Neighborhood Health Center, however, was city council chairman Sterling Tucker.
Tucker advocated formation of a special unit in the city's Department of Labor "that will focus on this (Hispanic) population," an expansion of bilingual programs, perhaps a special housing program for the city's Latinos, and an extensive affirmative action program oriented toward bringing more Spanish-speaking Americans into the city's government.
Tucker also took a stand against a city council bill proposed earlier this year by Wilhelmina Rolark. The bill would make it a crime to hire illegal immigrants in the District of Columiba - a sensitive issue because many Latinos feel it would lead to discrimination against all foreign workers.
Al Shaw, speaking for Mayor Walter E. Washington, pointed out that no Hispanics are employed on the city council staff, while there are about 250 working for the District government. Other than that, however, Shaw concentrated his remarks on the mayor's efforts to bring the city together over the last decade.
He was given a cool reception and during the question and answer period Silverio Coy. another community organizer, expressed what seemed to be the feelings of many there. "That the mayor didn't attend this meeting is an insult to us," he said. The mayor was also criticized for what the Latinos gathered yesterday perceived as his inattention to their concerns.
Republican candidate Arthur Fletcher was received warmly when he outlined his proposals to help the Latino community.
But the most enthusiastic reception was decidedly for Barry, who is credited with having helped establish the Latino Commission and upgrading the status of the Office of Latino Affairs from the Department of Human Resources to the mayor's office.
"I'm not a stranger to the Latino community," said Barry. "I didn't send anyone to deliver my message for me."
Barry did not outline many specific proposals to help the Latino community, but the meeting soon took on the atmosphere of a friendly reunion. Instead of questions, most of the people who spoke to Barry delivered testimonials to his help in such areas as bilingual education when he was president of the school board and on other issues.