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Archive for the 'Port Chester' Category

Port Chester attorney points to non-citizen population in districting debate


In an opinion piece on LoHud.com, one of the attorneys in Port Chester’s voting rights case revives questions about the effect of including non-U.S. citizens in the population count for districting purposes.

This argument came up during the DOJ’s lawsuit in Port Chester when the village was fighting a switch from at-large voting to single-member districts for trustees. Aldo Vitagliano (at left), who wrote the opinion piece, and attorney Anthony Piscionere argued that the presence of so many non-citizens in Port Chester would skew the voting power of people in various districts, violating the “one person, one vote” principle. An organization called the Project on Fair Representation argued this point also.

At the time, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers in the case told me that such an argument was extremist nonsense — “a fairy tale.”

The village was ordered to change its trustee election system after it was deemed unfair to Hispanics, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. As it turned out, the village was not forced to create districts, switching instead to the unusual cumulative voting method as the remedy to its voting rights violation.

Posted by Leah Rae on Monday, August 9th, 2010 at 4:11 pm |

It’s ‘independence season’ in Port Chester’s Latino community


It’s still Independence Day season in Port Chester, given the various Latin American countries celebrating independence from Spain. For the fourth year, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church is incorporating the festivities into its “Cultural Fridays” series, intended to showcase the different nationalities in the congregation.

Peruvians celebrated their day recently with a traditional “scissor dance” (photographed at Port Chester Fest, left) and a salute to Luis Marino, the village’s first Hispanic trustee and a native of Peru. Next up, Friday, are the Bolivians, gathering on their actual independence day, Aug. 6. Ecuadorians are celebrating at the church Aug. 13, Dominicans Aug. 20, Mexicans Aug. 27, and Central Americans on Sept. 3. The festivities start at 7 p.m. The Bolivian event will start with a Mass and be held outdoors in the church parking lot.

Father Hilario Albert began the Friday events with the hope of mingling the various groups, but that remains a challenge. “It has still been very, very slow-moving,” he said this week. “People come to their own, and they forget about the other.”

Posted by Leah Rae on Thursday, August 5th, 2010 at 2:45 pm |

What rain? Brazil soccer fans crowd around big screen in Port Chester


At Cafe Brazil in Port Chester, fans are crowded around indoor and outdoor televisions to watch today’s World Cup soccer game against Chile. For the outdoor TV on the patio, fans used a tarp and a couple of brooms as a TV tent so they could keep watching. Here’s Jaja Diminas, a musician, showing off his Brazilian flag tattoo.

Posted by Leah Rae on Monday, June 28th, 2010 at 4:45 pm |


At Port Chester restaurants, World Cup fever rises


Port Chester is getting ready for the World Cup — in a big way. With just about every nation represented in the local population, restaurants are putting out signs and getting their big-screen TVs ready.

Inca y Gaucho, the Uruguayan-Peruvian place on Westchester Avenue, is advertising Uruguay vs. France tomorrow (photo at right).

Down the block, Tortilleria Los Gemelos is ready for Mexico’s game tomorrow also. But the real action will happen once the team gets to the quarter finals, owner Adelo Ramirez says.

“That’s when we go all-out,” he said this afternoon. The celebration for the Gold Cup, when Mexico beat the United States in New Jersey, was off the charts. During the World Cup, fans gather by nationality — Italian, Brazilian, and so on. “That’s the only time you get to see the Mexicans put together in Port Cheter,” Ramirez said. “That’s when you realize how big a population it has become.”

At Copacabana, the Brazilian steakhouse on North Main, all the games are being shown, every day. And they’re making a point of welcoming fans from every country. The flags are strung across the wall of a patio, which was furnished a year ago with the World Cup in mind.

“We’re expecting a lot of fun,” said General Manager Anderson Moretti.

Posted by Leah Rae on Thursday, June 10th, 2010 at 3:39 pm |

Celebrating culture, as only Port Chester can


What would you expect from a cultural festival in Port Chester, a village where half the population is foreign-born and the Latino population draws from every corner of the hemisphere?

Port Chester Fest, on May 22, is aiming to live up to the community’s own diversity, and you can expect quite the array of cultures.

For example: There will be a “tijeras” or scissors dance, a competitive, gymnastics-like performance from the highlands of southern Peru. Walter Velille and Luis Aguilar are pictured here with harp player Alejandro Velasco and his brother Ignacio on violin.

Tom van Buren, director of Folk Arts and Performance Programs at ArtsWestchester, helped identify performers that reflect the area’s immigrant traditions. Here’s his description of the tijeras performers and th dance he calls “traditional Peruvian break dancing”:

“Walter Velille, whose stage name is Qesqento (the name of a cicada native to Peru) is one of the foremost dancers of this style in the New York region and has lived in Port Chester for over five years.  He grew up in Lima, the capital of Peru, in a family from Apurima in the southern Andean region.  He learned the tijeres dance from elders in his family.  His father was also a Tijeras dancer and later played the violin for dancers during community events.  Later, Walter had the opportunity to teach the dance to apprentices in a program of the Museo de la Nación.  He has performed this dance in Europe, China and Japan, and has also performed widely in the United States since 2002, when he attended a native American gathering in Seattle.  He has performed many times for the UN conference on Indigenous peoples.  He will be performing with Luis Aguilar “Paccaricha” (Quechua for ‘Tomorrow’).”

Another act is Grupo Ujyuna, a group of Bolivian musicians in Port Chester who play Andean flutes (see a video here).

Read on for the list of groups taking part in the festival. For more on the event, click here.

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Posted by Leah Rae on Wednesday, May 19th, 2010 at 3:08 pm |

Port Chester’s Latino candidates reflect village’s diversity


Port Chester’s June 15 village trustee election is bringing an assortment of firsts. One of them is the unprecedented diversity of candidates for Port Chester village board. I wrote today about the three Latino candidates among the 14 people running for trustee — one each on the party slates and one independent. All six seats are up for election under cumulative voting.

Befitting Port Chester — where the Latino community draws from multiple nationalities and no one group seems to predominate — the three Hispanic candidates are originally from three different countries: Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. The Andean nations are quite well represented this time around, though Mexicans, Central Americans and Caribbeans also figure prominently into the population.

Data analyst Tim Henderson sent me this set of Census estimates from 2008 for Port Chester’s Latino population, broken down by region of origin.

Total Port Chester population: 27,773

Hispanic/Latino: 13,633

Mexican: 3,206, or 24 percent of Hispanics

Puerto Rican: 830, or 6 percent

Cuban: 514, or 4 percent

Dominican: 451, or 3 percent

Central American: 2,761, or 20 percent

South American: 5,618, or 41 percent

Other Hispanic/Latino: 253, or 2 percent

For more on the election click here, and check out portchestervotes.com.

Posted by Leah Rae on Monday, May 17th, 2010 at 2:30 pm |


Port Chester attorneys see link in Supreme Court voting rights case


The Supreme Court’s voting rights decision this week dealt with a situation very different from Port Chester’s, but the village’s attorney is calling attention to a few lines within the opinion that he thinks have local implications.

Port Chester has already been found in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Essentially, the judge ruled that the deck is stacked against village board candidates who are favored by Hispanic voters; the at-large system diminishes their political clout. So the village is only awaiting a ruling on how its village trustee elections should be remedied. As Randolph McLaughlin, attorney for one of the plaintiffs, told me yesterday, “It’s a dead issue. The only issue before this court right now is whether to create districts or not.”

But as we reported, the Republican challenger for mayor is talking about a possible appeal if the village is ordered to create single-member districts. And this week, attorneys Aldo Vitagliano and Anthony Piscionere, who represent the village, contacted us and said the Supreme Court decision cast doubt on the local ruling.

Piscionere pointed to an aside in the written decision by Justice Kennedy. It has to do with bloc voting by the white majority.

One of the things that the Justice Department had to prove in Port Chester was that the white majority was voting sufficiently as a bloc to defeat the candidates preferred by minorities — Hispanics, in this case.

In the North Carolina case that went to the Supreme Court, Justice Kennedy raised questions about whether the bloc-voting requirement had been met: “(We are skeptical that the bloc-voting test could be satisfied here, for example, where minority voters in District 18 cannot elect their candidate of choice without support from almost 20 percent of white voters….”

Piscionere pointed to evidence that Hispanic-preferred candidates in Port Chester, such as Cesar Ruiz, gained more than 30 percent of the white vote under the old system. He said, “This is the first case that I’ve ever seen (from the Supreme Court, he clarified) that has quantified the level of white bloc voting that should be looked at.” Piscionere had not yet decided whether to raise the issue with U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson. Here was his formal comment:

The Supreme Court today decided a Voting Rights case which has implications for the Port Chester Voting Rights case. The Court decision casts serious doubt on a key element of the Government’s case and the Court’s decision on liability. The government contended and the Court found the presence of white bloc voting in Port Chester and decided the third Gingles prong against the Village.

Today’s Supreme Court decision questions how a plaintiff could satisfy the third Gingles prong when a minority preferred candidate of choice had support from almost 20% of white voters. In the Port Chester case, Cesar Ruiz and other minority preferred candidates received support from well in excess of 33% of white Port Chester voters.

McLaughlin, who is representing plaintiff Ruiz, said he wouldn’t hang his hat on that argument:

This case (USA vs. Port Chester) asked the question, ‘Has the white community historically over time voted in such a fashion as to defeat minority-preferred candidates?’ The answer to that question is yes, yes and yes.

(Photo: Tom Nycz/The Journal News)

Posted by Leah Rae on Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 at 11:48 am |
| | 1 Comment »

Disfigured Salvadoran teen gets help from Port Chester group


Yesterday, I witnessed perhaps the saddest most shocking sight I have ever seen. Lenis Alvarenga arrived at St. Peter’s Church in Port Chester with a blanket covering her head to shield her from the light.

Underneath sat Lenis, her face unrecognizable, disfigured from the tumors and oozing sores that covered it. The 18-year-old Salvadoran teen suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare genetic disorder that causes tumors and neurological problems. XP sufferers lack the ability to repair DNA damage caused by sunlight.

Lenis is  here because UCET, a Port Chester-based nonprofit, raised the money to get her medical attention here. Her mother said in El Salvador doctors offered no hope.

Yesterday, I saw a girl in excruciating pain, unable to remove the baby wipe from her face for fear that it would fall off. She was surrounded by dozens of people praying for her, dedicated to giving her some sort of relief. It was tragic and touching at the same time.

Sadly, some of the posts on the forums today focus on the girl’s legal status and on her family bilking the U.S. health care system. I’m not sure that this blog post will change their opinions, but, for the record—and as mentioned in the article today—Lenis and her family have visas (which means they are here legally) and UCET is dedicated to raising the funds needed for her care. They have already collected $9,000.

Posted by Marcela Rojas on Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 12:41 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

In New York burbs, Hispanic voter enrollment surges


We’ve got some new data on how many people registered to vote this year in Westchester County, and Hispanic enrollment appears to be surging.

Hispanics are about 8 percent of the voter rolls in Westchester, but they account for 14 percent of registrations this year, says Tim Henderson of our Journal News data desk. (He’s making estimates based on Hispanic surnames — not an official tally, but a common means of estimating voterforms.jpgthe number.)

Latinos account for about 18 percent the the overall Westchester population, so their share of the voter rolls still lags, relative to others.

In Port Chester, about 24 percent of registered voters are Hispanic. But Hispanics appear to account for 40 percent of new registrations, more than 300 out of 755.

Similar trend in Carmel, Putnam County: Latinos account for 7 percent of enrolled voters, but 13 percent of the newly enrolled.

And the Hispanics are trending Democratic. The big picture: More than 8,000 Hispanics have registered to vote this year in the Lower Hudson Valley, and that will bolster the Democrats’ edge in Tuesday’s election. Hispanics registered Democratic at a 4 to 1 rate in Westchester and Rockland counties, and 2-1 in Putnam. The estimates are based on an analysis of Hispanic names on the voter rolls in October.

Posted by Leah Rae on Thursday, October 30th, 2008 at 1:40 pm |


Port Chester’s voting system is now up to the judge


The attorneys in the Port Chester voting rights case are done talking, and now a federal judge will decide how to reform Port Chester’s village board election system. His job is to choose a system that will allow Hispanic voters to participate fully and that will fix the problems he found in his January ruling.

Judge Stephevoter.jpgn Robinson has found that Latinos are at a big disadvantage in a system where the trustees run in village-wide races for two open seats each year. The court found that if trustees ran in separate districts, one of which had a Hispanic majority, then Latinos would have a means to gain representation in their local government.

The case is complicated and easily misunderstood. Basically, the Department of Justice proved a set of problems with the old system. The voting pattern in Port Chester has been racially polarized, and candidates supported by the entire Hispanic electorate routinely lost. There was also the matter of a racist flier in 2007 and a lack of language assistance at the voting booths. No Latino, incidentally, has won office in a village that is nearly half Hispanic.

ruiz.jpgOne of the details mentioned in the final day of arguments yesterday was a bit ironic. (I didn’t have room for it in today’s Journal News article, attached below.) Cesar Ruiz, at right, the unsuccessful board candidate who sparked the case and became a plaintiff, doesn’t live within the proposed Hispanic-majority district. His attorney, Randolph McLaughlin, proposed that candidates in each new district not be subject to a residency rule.

There was also an intriguing discussion about how non-U.S. citizens figure into all this. I’ll get to that later.

(Top photo: Carucha L. Meuse/ The Journal News)

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Posted by Leah Rae on Wednesday, September 24th, 2008 at 1:39 pm |

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