Thursday, May 03, 2007

NYC Mayor Makes Spanish Breakthrough

05/03: AOL News: NYC Mayor Makes Spanish Breakthrough

NYC Mayor Makes Spanish Breakthrough
c The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - After years of struggling, the mayor of America's largest city is finally getting good marks in the native language of many of his constituents.

It wasn't long ago that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempts to speak Spanish elicited laughs and puzzled looks - as when he appeared to ask voters for their chicken instead of their support.``I'm not making a lot of progress,'' he said last year, ``but every day I work at it and someday I will learn.''

Perhaps that day has come: When he was in Mexico last week to study an anti-poverty program, he gave a 10-minute speech in Spanish, and afterward held a news conference where he answered questions in both languages, without any help from a translator. The gains he showed there are just the latest example of his noticeable advancement in recent months after years of struggling to grasp the language.``Congratulations for your Spanish - I was very impressed,'' a bilingual reporter told him in Mexico before asking a question. ``We've been covering you for many years now, and it's very good.''

Spanish is an important language in a diverse city like New York, home to more than 2.1 million Hispanics and several Spanish-language television stations and daily newspapers.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who speaks Spanish, suggested Bloomberg might have political motives for learning the language. Many speculate that the term-limited mayor may run for president, though he denies any interest.``The fastest growing voting bloc in the United States is Hispanics - I imagine that Mayor Bloomberg might be preparing to speak to these people,'' Carrion said.

Bloomberg says his motive was more personal.``I was impressed with myself, whether they understood it or not,'' he said after returning from Mexico last week. ``Seriously, you have no idea how hard this is, the hardest thing I've ever done.''

Since his first campaign in 2001, the mayor and his aides have maintained that he studies Spanish every day. His instruction includes a private tutor, as well as iPod-listening exercises that he does while being driven to meetings or events.

Many who heard him speak Spanish during his first term, and even at the start of his second, said it seemed impossible that he was studying every day, given his poor grammar, thick accent and apparent lack of improvement for many years.

At a news conference in 2005, a reporter caught him by surprise and asked in Spanish how long he had been studying the language.

He told the reporter to ask the question in English, so that everyone would understand, but eventually gave a response that actually answered a different question: ``Una hora y media, cada dia,'' he said, which translates to ``an hour and a half each day.''

The Republican was running for re-election that year. One of his Spanish television ads was roundly ridiculed among Spanish speakers because his slurred pronunciation made it sound like he was asking for chicken, ``mas pollo,'' instead of support, ``su apoyo,'' as the script said.

During both of his mayoral campaigns, learning Spanish made sense as a political move. He also ran ads in which he spoke a few words or sentences in Korean, Chinese and Russian.

05/03/07 04:52 EDT

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