January 12, 2001

Chavez's withdrawal spares Hispanics difficult choice

By Darlene Superville
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Linda Chavez's decision to step aside as the nominee for labor secretary saved Hispanic groups from a difficult decision: to oppose one of their own.

The conservative Chavez can claim few friends among leaders of Hispanic civil rights and advocacy groups, but none had taken a formal position against her. Some appeared headed down that road, however.

Chavez withdrew from consideration Tuesday in the face of persistent questions about a Guatemalan woman, in the country illegally, who lived with her in the early 1990s, did some housework around Chavez's suburban Washington home and occasionally was given money by Chavez.

In stepping down, Chavez said she wanted to "put a human face on the story" and appeared at a news conference with two Hispanic women, one with two children, and a Vietnamese man and brought them to the microphone to speak about her generosity toward them when they needed help.

She decried what had happened to her since Sunday, when her ties to the woman, Marta Mercado, came to light, as typical of the Washington-style "politics of personal destruction." She said she was stepping aside to spare President-elect Bush further distraction.

"I believe that I would have made a great secretary of labor," Chavez said.

Her decision also spared Hispanic groups from having to make a tough choice.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which had expressed "serious concerns" about the nomination, praised her decision to step down.

"Our concern with Chavez heading the (department) began long before the news broke about her having an undocumented immigrant," said Marisa Demeo, MALDEF's Washington lawyer. She cited Chavez's opposition to affirmative action, increases in the minimum wage and other labor laws.

The National Council of La Raza had called the selection "troubling," citing what the council considers Chavez's contempt for affirmative action and views "largely out of step with the interests of American workers."

"What has been very clear is that she has not received a ringing endorsement from any segment of the Latino community," said Lisa Navarette, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza.

With Chavez's decision, Hispanic groups got what they wanted without being put in the position of having to oppose one of their own for a top federal post.

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