Alan Grayson: the Democrat Who Punches Back, Enraging GOP Hacks and Tea Party Billionaires
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On the ground, however, experts and observers are not so sure. Thanks to his media profile and celebrity endorsements, Grayson has already raised more than $4 million, making him one of the top ten House fundraisers so far this cycle -- so much that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has decided he doesn't need its help. More to the point, Grayson has demonstrated that he is no patsy. "Is it a necessary element of this job that I take shit from people?" he asked in an interview. "No one gets a free pass if they attack me. I don't think it's beneficial to turn the other cheek. There is no reason a Democrat has to be a weakling."
Grayson is certainly pulling no punches at a Latino town hall meeting on a sunny Saturday morning in late May at the Englewood Neighborhood Center in East Orlando. The seventy-five people packed in rows of metal folding chairs want to hear about an array of issues of interest to area Hispanics. Grayson is clearly in his element. Although he does not speak Spanish, he tells the crowd he has visited every country in Latin America, and he refers to trade unionists there who were "martyred" by repressive, right-wing regimes in decades past. The district is nearly 25 percent Hispanic, and he boasts that his campaign registered 5,000 new Hispanic voters in 2008. Grayson acknowledges that an overwhelming majority of the district's Hispanic voters backed him in the general election.
This Latino forum is a perfect showcase for Grayson to highlight his accomplishments in repaying that support. He has deftly cultivated his local base with his success as a master of the Congressional earmark process. Grayson notes that he has doubled federal grants coming into the district, from $100 million to $200 million -- creating or saving thousands of jobs -- and that overall federal spending in the district is up 500 percent. Outside Congress, he prevailed on state judges to require banks to mediate with homeowners before foreclosing. Grayson ticks off other winning efforts for the Latino community: passage of the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, which provides for a referendum on the island's future status; a cleanup of military bombing ranges in Orlando, as well as on Vieques in Puerto Rico; a $200,000 grant for small-business training, administered through the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando; and a $500,000 grant for Spanish-language materials for the district's libraries.
Grayson's message is "We deliver," shifting to the third-person political for emphasis: "Alan Grayson delivers. I want people to know how hard we work. Latinos are concerned that they get their fair share" of government spending. Still, he cautions, there are larger battles, including compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform (although most Hispanics in Central Florida are already citizens). The problem in Congress, he says, is that Republicans "don't like brown people."
Like a more seasoned politician, he strives to make personal connections with his audience. His wife, Lolita, he volunteers, is a Filipina immigrant. One of his favorite anecdotes involves New York Congressman and Puerto Rican native José Serrano. As a boy attending Bronx's PS 43, Serrano caught the eye of Grayson's father, the principal, who helped Serrano progress through the school's bilingual education programs. Now a veteran legislator, Serrano never fails to recall "the love and support" from Grayson's father when introducing the Congressman. Standing shoulder to shoulder at the Latino Forum with Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's nonvoting representative in Congress, the lawmaker receives Pierluisi's blessing: "Alan Grayson is your champion, a great Congressman and a fierce advocate of the middle class. Alan Grayson speaks from his heart. He says things in plain English. Some people don't like that."