Several politically connected Latino leaders plan to announce the formation of a new research and advocacy group Friday, hoping to channel the tremendous growth in the Chicago area’s Hispanic population into policy gains.
Leaders of the new Latino Action Research Network are careful to say they don’t plan on competing with the powerful Hispanic Democratic Organization, which is run by a former top aide to Mayor Richard Daley.
Still, the new group’s long-term ambitions include developing Latino leaders who will someday run for office—one of the HDO’s stated goals. Some political observers believe the HDO has been weakened in recent months as city workers affiliated with the HDO have been caught up in corruption investigations.
The new group is a reincarnation of the old Latino Institute, a civil rights think tank that raised Latino concerns in Chicago for 25 years before it shut down in 1998 amid poor bookkeeping and other financial problems.
While the Latino Institute documented problems in immigration, affordable housing or education with a typically passive voice, the Research Network plans on drumming up grass-roots support for its causes, said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of the new organization.
“We definitely see it being about empowerment, in terms of creating a more comprehensive, coordinated voice for the community so legislators and other power brokers have to listen to us,” said Irizarry, who has directed Latinos United, an affordable housing group that will become part of the Research Network.
The new group’s supporters include U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), state Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago) and several leaders of corporate and non-profit organizations around the city, according to a roster of its executive council and board of directors.
But its real strength lies in the rapid growth of the Latino population in the six-county area. The community’s problems are quickly becoming regional problems also affecting non-Latinos, Irizarry said.