Days after rejecting the endorsement of Gov. Pete Wilson, supporters of the campaign to end bilingual education in California heartily welcomed news Wednesday that Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan is preparing to launch a self-financed advertising blitz on the measure’s behalf.
Riordan is spending a little more than $250,000 of his own money to put an ad on Spanish-language television nearly 300 times between now and election day. The ad will begin appearing today, at a crucial time in the race–a juncture at which the multimillionaire mayor’s aggressive move could affect the outcome.
Riordan is mayor of the city that is home to more Latinos than any other in California. He has a demonstrated ability to win Latino support, having won their strong backing in his reelection campaign last year. What’s more, Riordan successfully campaigned last year for a local school bond measure overwhelmingly favored by Latinos, and he has a long history of personal philanthropy toward schools; he has donated millions of dollars to education programs, chiefly in California and many of them in predominantly Latino communities.
Combined, those elements of his political and personal background give Riordan unusual credibility among Latinos when it comes to Proposition 227, which most politicians have chosen to oppose or avoid. Just last week, in fact, state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren came out against the measure.
Riordan’s credibility is all the more important in the final weeks of a campaign that has raised some of the same hackles as Proposition 187, which sought to deny most public benefits to illegal immigrants. That measure was blasted by opponents as racist, and some of the same arguments have been raised in opposition to the anti-bilingual initiative. With the campaign coming to a close and some evidence of eroding Latino support for Proposition 227, Riordan’s decision to go on the air with a Spanish-language pitch directed at immigrant voters is all the more important.
Riordan, in fact, said that the charges of racism are what drove him to go beyond his endorsement of Proposition 227 and instead put a substantial sum of his own money behind it.
“I felt that there was too much misinformation out there,” he said Wednesday. “I wanted to say to Latino parents that they can vote strictly on what’s best for children.”
The television advertisement will air throughout California’s largest Latino markets starting today. It was produced by political consultant Arnold Steinberg and was made independently of the formal Proposition 277 campaign.
Backers of the drive said they have not seen the ad, but they were elated by Riordan’s decision to make it.
“We are thrilled by his generous sharing of his commitment to educating the children of the Latino community,” said Sheri Annis, spokeswoman for English for the Children, the initiative’s campaign organization.
Opponents of the measure retorted by dismissing Riordan’s importance, especially in areas outside Los Angeles.
“This sounds like a desperate attempt by a desperate campaign,” said Holli Thier, statewide spokeswoman for Citizens for an Educated America, the main group opposing the initiative. “I think what really affects people is that Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren and every candidate for governor–Republican and Democrat alike–opposes Proposition 227.”
In the advertisement, Riordan is joined by his daughter, Mary Beth Farrell, who speaks fluent Spanish and narrates the spot. After an opening shot of Riordan with a group of children, Farrell introduces him.
“This man supports Proposition 227 to give your children a chance,” she says in Spanish. “This man is my father, Richard Riordan, the mayor of Los Angeles.”
Concluding, Ferrell says: “He believes your children deserve better. So do I. Join us in voting yes on Proposition 227.”
In English, Riordan then adds: “Yes for the children.”
The ad will appear on Spanish-language stations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento and Fresno, and is designed to capitalize on Riordan’s close identification with educational issues among his Latino supporters.
“He has a long history of trying to help the students of inner-city schools,” Annis said. “He’s well-respected in immigrant communities.”
By contrast, Gov. Pete Wilson–who, like Riordan, is a Republican–has been shunned by the campaign largely because of his past support for Proposition 187 and for Proposition 209, the effort to strike government affirmative action programs. Both initially were favored by large numbers of Latinos in the polls, but that support evaporated as election day approached.
Wilson’s role in those campaigns was viewed by critics as ethnically divisive and inflammatory. The governor has shrugged off his rejection by the leadership of the Proposition 227 campaign, saying that he likes the ballot measure regardless of how his endorsement in treated.
As for Riordan, the mayor opposed the anti-affirmative action campaign and never announced a position on the illegal immigration effort, although he now says he believes the measure should have been defeated.
“I think it was a big mistake, and I thought that almost immediately after it passed,” he said Wednesday. “It did, literally, divide people.”
Riordan for months weighed whether to speak out on Proposition 227. Although he has long been critical of bilingual education as it is practiced in California schools, the mayor at first was troubled by what some sources close to him described as “the sledgehammer approach.”
After conferring with advisors inside and outside his administration, however, Riordan became convinced that the status quo in bilingual education was so harmful that the initiative could only be a step in the right direction.
Opponents of the initiative were shocked and infuriated by Riordan’s decision, saying it was evidence that he did not understand what the proposition’s likely effect on education would be. Since he endorsed Proposition 227, the issue has dogged Riordan–after his recent State of the City address, he waged a spirited, informal debate with two Latina reporters–but they seem only to have redoubled his commitment to pushing for it.