The Importance of Being Dan Ramirez

It's time for members of Charlotte's Latino community to take their places on ballots, boards


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Dan Ramirez, the former Mecklenburg County commissioner who died Sunday, was as self-made a man as you’ll ever find, someone who hacked his own path through life.

Raised poor in Bogotá, Colombia, he immigrated to the United States in 1970 with a wife, child and $79—and ended up founding his own successful GIS firm in Charlotte.

Elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2002 and re-elected in ‘06, Ramirez was a staunch conservative—but in the original sense of the term, someone who merely thought the board should tend carefully to taxpayer dollars. He didn’t beat his chest about it, and he never sought higher office.

And he was, uniquely, Latino. More than one obituary this morning referred to Ramirez as the first Latino elected official in Charlotte. As far as I can tell—and someone please correct me if I’m wrong—he’s the only one, ever, at least on the county board, City Council, school board or in the legislative delegation.

That’s an odd thing, considering that the Latino population in the state has more than doubled since 2000. But once they’re here, as in other communities, language and cultural barriers and reflexive distrust of institutions tend to keep Latino communities from assimilating. Prejudice among some of the natives doesn’t help, either. So far too many Latino immigrants move here physically but stay in social and cultural isolation.

The disconnect shows at election time. In 2012, Democracy North Carolina published “A Snapshot of Latino Voters in North Carolina,” which showed that Latinos made up almost nine percent of the state’s population (13 percent of Mecklenburg County's) but only two percent of its registered voters. Of course, the absence of people like them on the ballot might be part of the reason why.

There’s a significant voting bloc—and a fascinating, culturally rich segment of our local and state populations—that simply isn’t represented enough on the public bodies that make the decisions in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Changing that would be a fine tribute to Dan Ramirez’s memory.

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Greg Lacour on Politics

Charlotte had a Democratic mayor that got rebuffed by a Democratic majority council before the president appointed him to his cabinet; a former mayor in the Governor's Mansion after an oh-for-infinity streak; membership in a state that sees Charlotte as, well, another state; a neighboring state where public officials do very, very silly things (and sometimes go "hiking"); and a county commissioner who specializes in insulting constituents yet can't seem to get himself unelected. Sounds interesting to me, so I write about it and other matters public. Hashtag #nestpoke. You want to yell at me, email nestpoke@gmail.com.

About Greg Lacour

Greg Lacour spent nearly 10 years as a reporter for the Observer, where he covered Charlotte and Mecklenburg County government, including the infamous Nick Mackey for Sheriff farce of 2007-08, which made him simultaneously homesick for his hometown of New Orleans and hopeful that Charlotte might yet attain "world-class" status. He has written several features for this magazine and took part in the Hurricane Katrina coverage that won The Sun Herald of Biloxi/Gulfport, Miss., another former employer, a Pulitzer Prize. Lacour is single and lives in NoDa.

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