Dixon, Turner both promise Hispanics improved services

The District’s Hispanic community has been virtually locked out of the city government’s political process and neglected in the delivery of services, the Republican and Democratic mayoral nominess said last night.

Vowing to change the way Latinos have been treated by elected officials, Democrat Sharon Pratt Dixon and Republican Maurice T. Turner Jr. both promised to reach out to the growing minority.

With few exceptions, Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Turner agreed during a forum sponsored by the Committee on Hispanic Political Education that bilingual education and bilingual city employees should be mandatory. And both candidates promised to retain the D.C. Office of Latino Affairs.

City officials have estimated that 110,000 Hispanics live in the District – about 10 percent of whom are registered voters. Officials have said Hispanics make up about 800 of the 48,000 employees in the city government.

Mrs. Dixon proposed making the teaching of Spanish mandatory for every public school student beginning with 2-year-olds.

“We need to have Spanish as basic to everybody as English is. Bilingual education should be mandatory,” she said.

She also pledged to increase the number of Hispanic and bilingual workers in government.

Mr. Turner, who retired last year as city police chief, said he fought vigorously to get Hispanics on the force. One of his continuing complaints, he said, was the lack of Hispanic or bilingual employees in other city agencies.

“For eight years, I said to the fire chief, ‘How can you treat an injured Hispanic if you have a paramedic who can’t speak the language?’ My commitment to the Hispanic community is for those issues – language and education,” said Mr. Turner.

Mrs. Dixon and Mr. Turner both said they have seen failings in the D.C. Office of Latino Affairs in recent years.

“I support the office. What I don’t like is restricting any community to one office. We need a full reflection of every community in every agency and department,” said Mrs. Dixon.

Mr. Turner also used the forum to again criticize Mrs. Dixon’s pledge to cut 2,000 mid-level management employees from the government.

“I’m not going to take a shovel and get rid of 2,000 people. That’s insensitive, inhumane and not compassionate,” he said. “I’m going to take a shovel and shovel the crime and send people down to Lorton. That’s what I’ll do with a shovel.”

Mrs. Dixon said her promise to “clean house” is not meant to rid the government of hard-working, productive workers.

“I plan to use a broom, but I don’t travel by broom. I intend to get rid of the political bloat,” she said. “We have a demoralized work force because of a lot of people are making a lot of money but have not produced a thing or delivered any service.”

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