Historic Primary for Philadelphia Puerto Ricans and Latinos

   Quinones Sanchez Wins//Diaz Impact

El Hispano/J.Smith

Philadelphia – “History baby. History.”

A voice cried out from among a gathering at American and Lehigh’s Isla Verde Cafe, Tuesday night, as Nelson Diaz – the first Puerto Rican mayoral candidate – began a concession speech in the wake of a Democratic primary victory by James Kenney.

An acknowledgement of the historic significance of the Tuesday’s election, the cry was equally applicable to the narrow victory of incumbent Seventh District Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez, whose grassroots organization and record of  achievements overcame the opposition of local ward leaders.

Longtime supporters of Council Maria Quinones Sanchez, Wil Gonzales, Luz Salena.

Longtime supporters of Council Maria Quinones Sanchez, Wil Gonzales, Luz Salena.

While the “media never gave us a chance, we showed today that a Latino could be a credible candidate,” declared Mr. Diaz, as his wife Sara stood at his side. “A Puerto Rican who has struggled for 40 years to give our community representation in this city can be a real candidate.’

“The next time nobody will make the mistake of treating us as a mole hill,” said Mr. Diaz to boisterous applause.

“A poor kid from Harlem is not supposed to work in the White House, a poor kid from Harlem is not supposed to become a Judge, much less oversee the entire court system; and a poor kid from Harlem is certainly not supposed to run for mayor of Philadelphia,’ said Diaz.

Pedro Rodriguez and friends were major supporters of Jim Kenney for Mayor.

Pedro Rodriguez and friends were major supporters of Jim Kenney for Mayor.

“My whole life people have been telling me no, telling our community no. I’ve never listened to them,” continued Diaz. “But don’t lose sight of what we’ve achieved here. We made sure that the next generation can rise higher than I did.”

 Latino & Puerto Rican Pride

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In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Hector Lucena drove to pick-up his 84 year-old mother Guillermina, and 80 year-old father Luis. Although both of them are in wheelchairs, Mr. Lucena said, “They wanted to go.”

“They knew a Puerto Rican was running for mayor and as Puerto Ricans we have a lot of pride. They were determined to cast a vote for Nelson Diaz.”

“Our family has been part of Philadelphia since 1952,” noted Mr. Lucena. “My cousins, who lived in South Philadelphia at 2nd and Federal, were the first Puerto Ricans to be part of the Mummers parade (comics),” noted Mr. Lucena. “So we’ve seen the progress.”

On the second floor above the Centro Musical store front, Wilfredo Gonzalez, a Vietnam veteran and longtime supporter of Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez was huddled with half dozen other Quinones-Sanchez campaign workers, a group that included Luz Loeb, her brother and mother Luz Salena.  A security guard at the entrance of the campaign office was an indication of the ferocity of the 7th district contest between Quinones Sanchez and Manny Morales.

For both Miguel Cruz and Andy Nolasco, her work on behalf of the local community was why they favored Maria Quinones Sanchez. “The McPherson playground (Kensington) used to be a dark and creepy place. It had homeless and drug dealers there. But Maria helped with the library and made the park cleaner and better for little kids and families.’

Andy Nolasco, owner of a new business between 5th and 6th and Allegheny says he hopes his support for Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez will enable to get “a few trees” for the front of his “MVP Sandwich”  shop.

“”She’s been here for the people and helped feed a lot of poor families,” said Tinina Mobley, donning a bright t-shirt for Quinones Sanchez.

Although Nelson Diaz had significant support within the Latino community, James Kenney’s record of support for immigrant community, ending stop-and-frisk, organization and strong endorsements from Latino leaders such as Pedro Rodriguez, Ken Trujillo and the LUPE Latino organization allowed him to win the heavily Latino 19th ward, winning 684 votes to Diaz’s 543.

“Jim Kenney is more for our people,” said Synthia Figueroa, expressing a consensus view in kensington.

Francisco V., a block captain and vendor along Lehigh Avenue, praised both Jim Kenney and Maria Quinones Sanchez for constituent service. “Kenney really helped out a friend of mine who needed to file some papers for a new business. He was a really great.”

Of Maria Quinones Sanchez, “I needed a park cleaned up in our neighborhood. I went to her and the city was there within a week.”

As early voting numbers came in indicating that Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez was trailing badly, with just 39 percent of the vote, an anxious Nilda Ruiz, the Director of the APM agency – a leading developer of affordable housing- joined Hector Lucena in denouncing the opposition to her.

Both Ms. Ruiz and Mr. Lucena, who had been speaking English, now launched an angry verbal barrage in rapid Puerto Rican Spanish. Mr. Lucena gestured towards the general neighborhood of Lehigh Avenue, appearing to say the defeat of Quinones Sanchez would ‘ruin’ the neighborhood.

But as more returns came in, Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez’s supporters erupted into celebration at Makumba’s on Castor Avenue. And Mr. Lucena laughed and said, “We’ve won.”