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Racial math more complicated for Latino community

Let's begin today with another thought about the so-called racial math in Philadelphia politics. Yes, black voters often support black candidates and white voters tend to support white candidates.

Let's begin today with another thought about the so-called racial math in Philadelphia politics.

Yes, black voters often support black candidates and white voters tend to support white candidates.

But this is 2015, not 1971. There are no monolithic communities where every member of a race always supports a candidate with the same skin color.

Let's turn to the city's Latino community, where politics is often personal and fractious, for proof.

Consider last week's political slapfest.

Latinos United for Political Empowerment, a group of Democratic ward leaders and public officeholders known as LUPE, had endorsed for mayor former Common Pleas Court Judge Nelson Diaz in January - and then reversed course last week to endorse former City Councilman Jim Kenney.

Diaz, irked by that double-cross, said he had refused LUPE's demand for $102,000 to fund get-out-the-vote efforts for Manny Morales, the group's primary election challenger to City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez.

Diaz endorsed Morales last month, but then called for him to drop out of the race a week later when Sanchez revealed that her challenger's Facebook page was littered with posts more in line with a Klansman from Kutztown than a big-city Democrat.

Morales claimed he had been hacked and then wandered off into the political wilderness in search of proof for that assertion.

A pause here to note that politicians of every race in this city mix it up when it comes to support.

Here's an example: Supporters of State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams' campaign for mayor were more than a little peeved when a group of ward leaders and elected officials known as the Northwest Coalition endorsed Kenney for mayor. Williams and the Northwest Coalition members are African American. Kenney is white.

Here's a key difference: a group of computer whizzes known as Code for Philly this month ranked the city's Democratic ward leaders based on their history of turning out voters.

The Northwest Coalition ward leaders were in the top five for turnout. The LUPE ward leaders were in the bottom five.

That contrast is not lost on Ken Trujillo, the former city solicitor who briefly ran for mayor before dropping out in January.

The Northwest Coalition builds a team with a strong bench. The LUPE group is, in Trujillo's view, much less welcoming.

"You have this very emotionally immature group of people who don't have an understanding that they can do better themselves and the community can do better if they build people up," said Trujillo, who has butted heads with the LUPE crowd.

Ed Rendell has seen the Latino pols' infighting as mayor and governor. He sees time as the cure.

"I think it will be generational," he said. "The old guard, I think, will fade out over time. I think that's the time for there to be more opportunity for them to get together."

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city's Democratic Party chairman, has the complicated job of balancing the constituent interests of black and white ward leaders, who don't always view the world the same way.

He thinks Latino voters in the wards with low turnout are "disenchanted" by all the bickering.

"There probably should be more Latino officials," Brady said. "But they just don't get along. And the people suffer."

There is a lingering perception that Puerto Ricans dominate in Latino Democratic politics here. That may be because they are by far the city's largest Latino group. But it does not necessarily mean a politician with different heritage gets iced out.

"Most people don't know if I'm Mexican or Puerto Rican and don't care," said Trujillo, who is of Mexican descent.

Latinos make up 13.3 percent of the city's population, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated last year. Census data show the Puerto Rican population growing from 65,014 in 1990 to 121,643 in 2010. But as a percentage of the city's Latino population, Puerto Ricans dropped from 77 percent to 65 percent in that 20-year span.

People with Mexican or Dominican heritage made the biggest gains in population in those 20 years but still haven't reached double-digit percentages.

Trujillo predicts the community will eventually become 50 percent Puerto Rican and 50 percent from other Latino heritage. But by then it won't matter.

What country did you come from? Or your parents? Or grandparents?

"The younger Latinos, they just don't care," Trujillo said. "They're interested in issues."