Interviews & Profiles

Luis Miranda Jr.: Elected officials need to improve outreach to Latino voters

The veteran political consultant reviewed the results of his own poll of Latino New Yorkers and urged for better communication from politicians.

Luis Miranda Jr. attends “The Harder They Come” opening night at the Public Theater on March 15 in New York City.

Luis Miranda Jr. attends “The Harder They Come” opening night at the Public Theater on March 15 in New York City. John Lamparski/Getty Images

Veteran political consultant Luis Miranda Jr,. has been mulling the results of the latest poll of Latino voters in New York commissioned by the Hamilton Campaign Network, a national political firm he founded with his longtime business partner Roberto Ramirez and led by former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. For Miranda, the report is a case of déjà vu.

Latinos, as was the case in the 1990s when the 69-year-old Puerto Rican native, founded the nonprofit Hispanic Federation, still struggle to identify the most influential Hispanic leaders in New York state. How bad is it today, according to the study shared with City & State? When asked, “Who do you consider to be an influential Latino leader in New York?” almost 27% responded: “Don’t know, unsure or not sure.” Nearly 15% answered Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, while 6.7% said Rep. Adriano Espaillat.

The poll also asked some loaded questions about Democrats and Republicans. When asked how much Latino voters thought Democrats cared about them, 34% said: “Don’t care too much.” Republicans fared worse at 60%. Another 13% said the GOP was “hostile” to Latinos.

The results were not surprising for Miranda, who sees the dissemination of political and policy news across traditional and social media platforms as lacking when it comes to Latino New Yorkers. That was especially the case, he said, in the failed judicial nomination of Hector LaSalle, whom he and Ramirez fiercely defended against critics who said the judge was too conservative and viewed him as anti-abortion.

Miranda discussed the results of the poll with City & State, which he said were not scientific but confirmed a problem with reaching the Latino electorate that he has watched for years. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You just conducted a poll of Latino voters in New York to learn what their attitudes were toward political representation and policy issues. Before diving into some of the conclusions, why do such a survey at this time?

We have heard so much over the last year that Latinos “think this, that or the other.” We have heard so much that somebody believes that “we are supporting ‘X’ candidate versus the other candidate.” And we know in the usual polls that are done that we are a small percentage of the overall poll, given the percentage of the state’s population. So the margin of error is usually very large. So, we figured, do a poll that only speaks to Latinos, that talks about the issues that we want to know more about and let’s do it throughout the state and end up with a margin of error that is 4%.

So what jumped out for you from the poll results?

There were several takeaways, but one thing that jumped out at us was that Latinos don’t know their leaders. If, overwhelmingly, we don’t know who our Latino leaders are, that’s a bit problematic. Because when you don’t know you’re represented, you feel you’re not represented. Other than AOC, Adriano Espaillat and Nydia Velázquez, almost all the other Latino elected officials were unknown. But if we also look overall, a third of Latinos knew who Chuck Schumer was, who Kirsten Gillibrand was. So there is an overall lack of knowledge of who our elected officials are. Quite frankly, I used to do polls like this when I was head of the Hispanic Federation in the ’90s, and we always found out that Latinos didn’t know their leaders. So very little has changed in several decades.

The other thing that jumped out at us was that Latinos think similarly to the general population, in terms of what we believe are the main problems that we face as a community. On one hand, crime, it’s crime. On the other hand, inflation. But we are also concerned about being represented, which leads to our evaluation of the parties, the Republicans and Democrats. When you look at those numbers, Latinos, not by very different margins, believe that those Democrats and Republicans ignore (them). The main difference is that around 13% believe that Republicans are hostile towards our community. On the Democratic side, we found that (34%) don’t believe that the Democratic Party does enough. So for Democrats, it’s benign neglect, and for Republicans it’s hostility.

You say the results of your polling of Latino voters has changed little in decades. What’s going on here?

This is not scientific data. This is my own shit. So, I start with that caveat. It’s interesting that Adriano Espaillat and Nydia Velázquez are among the best known. I believe that is partly because they speak Spanish fluently, and because they are usually the persons who explain things to our community on Telemundo and Univision. So they have more exposure than many of our other leaders in New York. But then just look at TV, which is where a lot of the news is being consumed from home. From the morning shows to the news, if there’s an accident, those speaking to our community about COVID, about the latest law, about what’s happening in the city, the validators that are usually on TV are not Latinos. So when you’re absent from the media, communities don’t get to know you. We are in a highly sophisticated society where you cannot be a leader just by being retail. It has to be with mass media that you get there. And we’re absent for the most part from it.

Your polling discovered some Latino New Yorkers, when asked to name prominent Latino leaders, named Eric Adams?

Up there with Jennifer Lopez. Those are the results you get when someone mentioned a name (in their response).

How do you get Latinos more informed about and involved in city and state politics? 

I have always believed that we have created a system that calls on people when they need them, but not in a participatory way always. We don’t have enough political effervescence in communities. I don’t believe that we have enough town hall meetings that our elected officials should be doing all the time. I believe that only by doing that, we will be more present in voters’ lives. What we usually do is we go to voters when there is an election, and we ask them to come and vote. Political effervescence needs to exist every day, year round.

When I see that (34%) of Latinos don’t believe the Democratic Party is really strong enough with them, I get worried. We should be base votes for the Democratic Party. The moment that we stop being base votes for the Democratic Party, we are in trouble. Because (people who need to be persuaded), you have to talk to them constantly. The base, you’ve got them, and you’re constantly touching base. We need to do more of that, and to the extent we do more of that, our political participation rates will be larger. If not, we are allowing the media and social media to define what the issues are.

What’s preventing better communication with voters?

I just think that our community gets to a point of saturation where everything you’re listening about someone is bad. That person has to be bad. We get lots of information. But the job of political parties and leaders is to organize that information and take it to voters in an organized way. That’s where I believe we are failing. As a party, we’re not organizing our principles, what we believe in, what we’re doing, and what we have done and take it to the larger community. As leaders, we’re not doing enough of that.

Using the failed Hector LaSalle judicial nomination as an example, were Latino voters attuned to what was happening, and what would you have done differently?

This is what happens sometimes: a particular segment of the political spectrum defines an issue that everyone takes as the truth. I was away when the whole thing happened and when I got to New York a week later, I asked, “Is it true that this guy is anti-abortion?” And then when you look at the data, you’ll find there were fabricated lies that a particular segment with a particular agenda, aided by some members of our own community, sold to the larger community.

So when people begin to have the discussion, the issue had been defined. To this day, I find people tell me, “Pero Luis! Your wife is on the Planned Parenthood board. How could you support (LaSalle’s) employment when he is anti abortion?” I have to go through the long explanation of that particular case and how it had nothing to do with abortion. Our own leaders, in their maximum stupidity, took the agenda and ran with it, at a disservice to our community. Because at the end of the day, this guy is not the one portrayed in the media, the one that they were selling. This was a missed opportunity that doesn’t come by easily.

Lately, we’ve seen Latinos elevated into positions of leadership, including Eddie Caban’s historic appointment as the first Latino commissioner of the New York City Police Department. What would you like to see next after Caban?

There are plenty of positions. We need elected officials, particularly at the state and at the city level, to take a chance and name more Latinos to positions of power because to the extent we’re in those roles, our community will see that their group is represented at the highest level.

In fairness to Mayor Eric Adams, the mayor said he would appoint a Latino deputy mayor (Ana Almanzar), and he did. Then he appointed Eddie Caban to the police department. And Gov. Kathy Hochul tried to appoint (LaSalle) to the highest court in the state. I just think that we constantly have to support opportunities like that, if people are capable of doing their jobs that they are being put forward for.

I think the more (elected officials) speak to the issues we speak about and care about, and appoint the people who look like us and communicate beyond English in Spanish as well that our leaders can do better.

How would the LaSalle nomination have turned out if Latino voters had known the backstory on the anti-abortion narrative as you’ve presented it? You and Roberto Ramirez, among others, fiercely defended the judicial candidate.

With the poll, what we learned is that Latinos want to make sure other Latinos are appointed to top positions. So how do you transfer that action into making sure that there is support, not generically, but specifically for a person? Because, right now, the poll tells us overwhelmingly that we want to be appointed to those positions. We want to make sure that those in power appoint us to those positions. In the case of LaSalle, how do you get the support that you know you get generically?

Some analysts, after the latest Siena College poll found voters are growing concerned about the migrant crisis, do you think Latino voters will share the same concern?

Republicans have been demonizing immigration since Trump came down from his castle and told us that all Mexicans were “rapists” and “criminals.” Quite frankly, the narrative right now should be: Can we work hard to get these people just arrived on our shores working papers? Because nobody walks for miles for welfare. People want to work. You give them work papers, and they start working. Our economy, fortunately, is at a stage where it will absorb most of these migrants. If not, they’re just going to be exploited, because they’re going to have to work off the books.

Latinos, I have learned in polls and in politics, we have an affinity with migrants and immigrants. Not many of us will go and pick on a group of migrants, because you just have to remind them, “That could have been your grandmother, you dumbass.”

I don’t believe that politically Republicans will be able to do what they have done with other groups, which is basically to say, “These people are coming to take away your jobs.” We know that that is not true, and we need to work doubly hard not to continue to demonize the people who are coming to our shores. All they want to do is work.