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N.Y. mayor hones Spanish skills to court Latino voters

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is using his Spanish skills more. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is using his Spanish skills more.
Associated Press / March 9, 2009
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NEW YORK - For a long time, it was hard to get Mayor Michael Bloomberg to say more than a few words in Spanish. But as his third bid for mayor gets off the ground, he can't seem to stop speaking it.

Bloomberg has been studying Spanish since his first run for mayor, and he has mostly limited his public displays to a few phrases and greetings here and there. But now, with more and more Latino voters in New York City, along with higher-rated Spanish-language news broadcasts, Bloomberg is looking for more ways to be heard, despite his inelegant accent and clumsy verb conjugations.

He now concludes every news conference by summing up the main points and taking some questions in Spanish, and at two recent events he answered reporters' questions in Spanish without any help.

The responses are sometimes filled with awkward phrases like "the streets have cleaned" and "it was a lot of windy," but the fact that he's willing to try could be important in wooing a growing Latino electorate.

At the beginning of 2007, there were about 676,000 Latino registered voters out of 3.8 million citywide. Now, that number has grown to more than 860,000 out of more than 4.2 million, according to Voter Contact Services, which processes voter files.

"It's a group that all the campaigns will be going for," said Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant and specialist on voter data.

The two leading Democratic mayoral challengers, Comptroller William Thompson Jr. and Representative Anthony Weiner, both speak conversational Spanish occasionally at public events and with Spanish-language media, and have taken lessons to keep up their skills.

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