The battle over who will run this year's Hispanic Festival took a new twist after a special election yesterday left Washington with two sets of officers, each proclaiming to be the official organizers of the popular summer festival.
Although Mayor Marion Barry announced Friday that the District will recognize and work with the original set of officers, elected in December, one of the organizers of yesterday's election said that many in the community are backing the second set of officers.
"The community ratified the fact that we should decide who our leaders should be," said Eduardo Perdomo, a past president of the annual Hispanic Festival and one of the organizers of yesterday's special election.
Perdomo said 487 people voted at the Marie Reed Learning Center and elected Arturo Griffits as the president of this summer's festival. Griffits lost to Jose Sueiro Dec. 17 and immediately lodged a complaint of voter fraud, alleging that Sueiro bused in voters, breaking election rules.
Neither Sueiro nor Griffits could be reached for comment last night, but Marina Felix, one of the board members elected in December, called yesterday's election ridiculous.
"The community itself is sick and tired of this situation," Felix said. "We went through a democratic process in December's election, and that's what this country stands for."
Sonia Gutierrez, a past president of the Hispanic Festival, compared yesterday's election to an attempted coup. Gutierrez said that nearly every past president of the festival recognizes Sueiro as the head of this year's festival and that the officers chosen in December already have begun working on the summer event, which has attacted as many as 150,000 people in past years.
"This isn't a Third World country where if you don't like the results of an election you have a coup d'etat," she said.
Leadership of the Hispanic Festival has come to mean much more in terms of prestige, and this year's controversy is being seen as a series of vendettas between the two factions.
Griffits and Israel Lopez, owner of a Laurel radio station who also lost to Sueiro in the December election, persuaded last year's executive committee to investigate the original election and issue an opinion.
Perdomo, who headed that investigation, said the committee declared the election null and void and set yesterday's balloting. This was done despite claims by Sueiro that the executive committee has no provision in its bylaws to annul an election.
The battle came to a head Friday when Perdomo said on a Spanish radio talk show that the city government was taking a back seat in the controversy and was waiting to see what the community would decide.
Within hours, the Mayor's Office of Latino Affairs issued a statement by Barry saying that the mayor recognized the results of the December election, striking a severe blow to yesterday's voting.
However, Perdomo said last night that community leaders will meet with Barry this week and that he is convinced that the mayor will change his mind once all the facts are put to him.