The sudden death of Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, leaves New York without one of its most tireless, passionate and principled advocates for Latino empowerment. He will be greatly missed.
In a city full of self-righteous shouters, Falcón kept his cool, quietly excavating damning facts to hurl at the politicians. A first-rate numbers cruncher, he relentlessly scoured obscure public databases to pinpoint the sources of Latino poverty and the best ways to cure it.
Not long after Bill de Blasio was sworn in as mayor, Falcón phoned me to slyly suggest I visit the steps of City Hall, to witness what would be the first public demonstration against the young administration.
The protest turned out to be led by a coalition formed to protest a lack of hiring of Latinos by de Blasio. The group made its case by citing data supplied by Falcón.
For decades, he tracked the rate of hiring of Latinos, and urged activists to raise hell about how few were ending up in government. According to a 2014 report by Falcón, Latinos made up 41% of the enrollment in the public schools, but only 14% of the teachers — with those concentrated in high-poverty districts.
And while Latinos made up 25% of the city’s workforce, they held only 20% of municipal jobs in 2014, said Falcón, with the number falling to between 12% and 15% under the de Blasio administration.
The underrepresentaiton of Latinos in government, said Falcón, could be cured with a simple, two-point program. First, hire a critical mass of Latinos into the middle- and upper-levels of city and state government; second, use that foothold to recruit Latinos into the solid civil-service jobs that have been a reliable path to economic advancement for countless ethnic groups.
“We’d like to be a part of decisions that are being made in city government in a significant way,” Falcón once told me. “The public sector has been an economic driver for many communities in terms of the middle class.”
And while he had nothing against de Blasio personally — “I actually like the guy,” he told me, “The mayor has shown a lot of disrespect to our community. What we want to see is a good-faith effort.”
He issued a similar critique of Gov. Cuomo and state government hiring. While Latinos make up 15% of the state workforce in 2013, said Falcón, they held fewer than 5% of state jobs.
If Latino representation in state positions was proportionate to their overall labor partcipation, argued Falcón, it would mean more than 15,000 additional jobs at a median salary of over $55,000 a year — numbers than translate into more than $858 million of income every year for Latino households that could really use a boost.
You’d think these kinds of numbers would be a central focus of every Latino elected official. But Falcón frequently chided Latino politicians and civic leaders for not putting more pressure on the city and state administrations to improve hiring practices and publish the results.
“The extreme underemployment of Latinos in state government is a long-term problem that has never been addressed seriously,” Falcón’s newsletter noted in 2014. “This is not an issue that the 13 Latino members of the state Assembly and six in the state Senate are addressing at all.”
He occasionally cited the agenda of gatherings like Somos el Futuro, which is New York’s best-known Latino political empowerment forum, noting that the bread-and-butter issue of public employment got little or no sustained attention.
The issues Falcón fought for remain relevant and important. Only a few days before his death, a few advocates were publicly grumbling about an absence of Latino candidates being considered for any of the statewide slots being fought over at the Democratic and Republican state conventions. Similar concerns are already being raised about the 2021 citywide elections.
I hope that Falcón’s many admirers will lift up his torch and continue his work, making sure we understand, respect and advance the dreams and aspirations of New York’s Latino communities. It would be the most fitting tribute to our departed friend.