OP-Ed: Menendez Indictment A Blow to Latino Political Influence?


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The trajectory of Latinos’ political influence can’t be charted without including Sen. Bob Menendez, who faces federal charges following a corruption investigation.

The New Jersey Democrat was the first Latino to serve in House leadership when he became the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus in 2003. He is one of three Latinos in the U.S. Senate and the only one who is a Democrat.

So the Department of Justice’s announcement Wednesday that a grand jury has indicted him on charges that he improperly used his office to benefit a political donor carries with it significant ramifications for the Latino community and for growing effort to increase the numbers and political influence of Hispanics in Congress.

“He is clearly a very significant figure, being the lone Latino Democrat in the Senate and all the more so because there are two Republican Latinos in the Senate and one already has announced he’s running for president and another is about to,” said Roberto Suro, a professor of public policy and the director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California.

The effect of the indictment was already being felt. Soon after the announced charges, sources told NBC Menendez was already planning to step down as top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The indictment alleges that between January 2006 and January 2013, Menendez accepted nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions from Florida opthamologist Salomon Melgen, who also was indicted, in exchange for using his Senate office to benefit Melgen and to support visa applications for several of Melgen’s girlfriends. The Justice department said Menendez did not report the gifts he recieved from Melgen.

A defiant Menendez said in a news conference Wednesday: “I am not going anywhere.” He said he began his 40 year political career fighting corruption and that being under a cloud of accusations of corruption “is no how my career will end.”

To read full article: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/menendez-n334241