They’ve enlisted notable Latino actors to narrate their commercials, flexed their own language skills, danced down the Puerto Rican parade route and highlighted their ties to Spanish-speaking communities.
With a week left until primary day, Democratic mayoral candidates are making their final case to New York City’s nearly one million registered Latino voters, a group that largely remains undecided and could sway the upcoming elections.
“I think this is the year of the Latino in New York City. I think the Latino community could very well decide who’s the next mayor of the city of New York,” said U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Manhattan), who immigrated from the Dominican Republic as a child.
The last time the mayoralty was up for grabs, Latino New Yorkers made up roughly a fifth of the nearly 646,000 Democrats who turned out to vote in the 2013 primary, when Bill de Blasio won.
This year, many of the leading Democratic candidates are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each to place ads on Spanish-language TV stations, produce Spanish-language mailers and take out Facebook ads courting Spanish-speaking New Yorkers.
Sprinting to the front of the pack in the final days of the election: Dianne Morales. Last week, her campaign — after shedding dozens of staff following an uprising — dropped a combined $617,000 on more than 500 spots on local Telemundo and Univision TV stations.
Wearing a “phenomenally Latinx” shirt, Morales, a former nonprofit executive, narrates in Spanish: “This city was built by us — workers. But for a long time the opportunities we created have benefited the powerful. It’s time to change that.”
Some of her rivals had been buying Spanish-language TV station ads for weeks, at a more modest scale. All told, the Democratic candidates for mayor have spent at least $1.4 million on hundreds of 30-second ad spots on Univision and Telemundo, the two leading Spanish-language TV stations, according to THE CITY’s review of contracts filed with the Federal Communications Commission.
‘Not a Latina’
Kathryn Garcia spent the second-highest amount at Telemundo and Univision: a combined $279,000 on some 320 ads starting in early May, records show. Though Garcia — the former sanitation commissioner — is white, she has mentioned that her children with her ex-husband are half Puerto Rican.
Stumping for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at a campaign stop in Queens on Monday, Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) alerted voters that Garcia is “not a Latina” despite her last name. Her Spanish-language ad highlights that she was adopted into a multiracial family.
Andrew Yang’s campaign ranked third with the most spending on the two channels, dropping roughly $253,000 on ads that aired during morning programming and the evening news. Adams followed with $206,000 in ad spending.
Unlike their competitors, both Yang and Adams’ campaigns also bought ads on other Spanish-language TV stations with more niche audiences. Records show Adams’ campaign purchased ads on CNN en Español and Galavision. Both candidates also purchased ads on Spanish-lanauge sports channels, such as ESPN Deportes and Fox Deportes.
Former HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and current city Comptroller Scott Stringer spent less than $20,000 each at Univision and Telemundo.
For Stringer, Garcia, Adams and Morales, their largest buy was a single $10,000 ad that’s slated to air Wednesday during the next mayoral debate hosted by Telemundo.
Maya Wiley and Ray McGuire did not buy airtime on Telemundo or Univision, FCC records show, nor did either cut ads in Spanish. But Wiley’s “Vaya Con Maya” initiative and “Plan to Uplift Latino and Hispanic Communities” are offered in dual languages on her website, and McGuire’s website has an entirely Spanish version.
No Latino Monolith
Yet courting “the Latino vote” is a complicated matter, especially in New York City where Latinos hail from a variety of countries with differing ideologies, socioeconomic status and cultures.
“We’re not monolithic, it’s very true. The things that move us may be very different,” said Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former speaker of the New York City Council who is Puerto Rican.
What “mainstream politics” has yet to figure out is messaging to Latino voters, which varies greatly depending on the group you’re trying to reach, said Espaillat, who endorsed Adams after pulling his support from Stringer following an accusation of sexual misconduct against the comptroller (Stringer has denied wrongdoing).
The priorities of Latinos in Upper Manhattan, who are largely of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, may be different than the growing Latino communities in Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights in Queens, many of whom are of Ecuadorian, Colombian or Mexican descent.
“Immigration may be more important to Mexicans and Dominicans — not necessarily to Puerto Ricans,” who are more likely to be engaged over discussions about the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and the economic crisis on the island, Espaillat said.
Further complicating matters are the generational differences among Latino voters, said Eli Valentin, a political analyst who appears on Univision.
While younger Latinos tend to be more progressive — like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Queens, The Bronx), who endorsed Wiley — their elders are typically more focused on public safety and the city’s economic recovery, which are reflected in several ad campaigns.
Garcia, Yang and Adams all tout the need to reduce crime in their Spanish-language Facebook ads. Another theme: recovery from the pandemic, which hit Latino and Hispanic New Yorkers harder than any other group.
The likeliest Latino voter, according to Valentin, is a woman aged 55 or older.
But Valentin said television advertisements — as well as radio spots, mailers and other forms of communication — only do part of the work campaigns need to make headway with Latino communities.
“TV ads are essential because it gets you out there to a greater number of people, but Latinos are big on physical presence. So I think the campaigns that are able to organize on the ground, those will be the ones that will get a big chunk of the Latino vote,” he said.
From Valentin’s perspective, Adams has stood out among his rivals in demonstrating the “most intentional outreach” from early on, picking up support from communities around the five boroughs, especially in Queens and the Bronx.
Amig@s Por Eric in Sunset Park! I'm so proud of the diverse movement we've built -- let's keep this momentum going! pic.twitter.com/AEdPfDS7CZ— Eric Adams (@ericadamsfornyc) June 13, 2021
TV ads employ a “shotgun method of communication,” versus a “sniper method” from a campaign’s ground game, Valentin added.
Endorsements from political figures and elected officials with deep ties to Latino communities can help — but only to an extent.
In addition to Espaillat’s support, Adams also notched the endorsements of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who appears in a Spanish TV ad to extol the candidate’s leadership chops. Wiley won the backing of Rep. Nydia Velázquez, the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in Congress.
Without sustained, in-person outreach — which the pandemic made difficult for most of the election cycle — ads on television are insufficient, say political vets.
“It’s just like throwing money at the end trying to get people’s attention, but how are you, along the way, building a relationship with the diverse communities in the city?” Mark-Viverito said.