East Bay Latinos under-represented in elected posts

By Denis Cuff, Contra Costa Times

Manuel Gonsalvez found many things to like when he arrived in Concord from Panama this summer seeking a new life. He found a day labor center to help him find work, housing he could afford, nice parks to stroll in and many shops and stores where employees speak Spanish.

``I need more work, but Concord is a nice place,'' he said through a translator.

What he won't find is any Latinos in local elected office. No Latino sits on the city council or on the board of the Mount Diablo Unified School District, even though Latinos make up about 22 percent of the population in Concord, the biggest city in Contra Costa County.

Concord isn't the only East Bay city where Latinos are much less common

in public office than in the community. Latinos make up 18 percent of Contra Costa County's population but hold only 5 percent of the 99 city council posts and 90 school board posts in districts overseeing elementary and high school education, according to a survey by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

In Alameda County, where Latinos make up 18 percent of the population, they hold just 8 percent of city council and school board posts.

``There is such an underrepresentation of Latinos that the needs of Latinos have not been completely understood and met,'' said Argentina Dávila-Luevano of Antioch, state deputy director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, a civil rights group. ``We are not getting the respect that we merit.''

On the state level, Latinos have made more gains. They occupy 22 percent of the seats in the state Legislature, where reapportionment has created several districts with heavy minority representation.

But just 14 percent of city council members statewide are Latino, mostly elected in at-large seats, according to figures from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

Experts cite politics, culture, tradition and economics to explain the gap.

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