National News

Angelo Falcón, Advocate for Latinos in New York, Dies at 66

Posted May 25, 2018 8:38 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — Angelo Falcón, a political analyst known for wielding data as a weapon to force elected officials into taking action on behalf of New York’s Latino community, died Thursday at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn. He was 66.

He died after having a heart attack in front of his home in Brooklyn while waiting for a ride to dialysis treatment, said Marta Garcia, who worked alongside him as leaders of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. Falcón had diabetes.

Falcón was the founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy, a one-man operation run out of his Brooklyn apartment. His institute was known for fastidious research and for a weekly newsletter in which he directed scathing criticism at those he felt were falling short on their commitment to Latinos.

“I guess it’s just in my blood to be a pain,” Falcón told The New York Times in a 2001 profile in which he described himself as a “guerrilla researcher.” “I’m always busting chops.”

Actually, as the article pointed out, his language was more colorful than that and typically had to be cleaned up “for the pages of a family newspaper.”

Friends and enemies alike would have their own choice words to describe him, often starting with “a pain.”

“I would describe him as a gadfly, a Puerto Rican, Latino gadfly,” Garcia said. “He was pushy, pushy, pushy.”

But to make his points, Falcón relied more on numbers than on sharp words. He peppered city leaders with detailed reports on poverty rates, education figures and Latino participation in civil service jobs that he used to prove disparities.

And he hounded elected officials and even Hispanic community leaders whom he felt had sold out to corporate interests. He spared no one.

When data showed that the number of Puerto Rican students and faculty at the City University of New York had plummeted, he successfully pressed the mayor’s office, the university’s trustees and its chancellor to create initiatives for Latinos.

In 2007, after viewing Ken Burns’ multipart World War II documentary, “The War,” before it was shown on PBS stations, Falcón joined a group of activists in complaining that the film had left out the contributions of Hispanic soldiers. They persuaded PBS to make changes to the film so that Latinos were represented.

Two years later, Falcón and others helped organize protests against Lou Dobbs, a CNN anchor whose hard-line positions on immigration rankled Latino activists. Dobbs eventually left the network.

“It goes back decades,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, a civil rights organization for which Falcón also worked. “You can trace his workforce participation analysis — no matter who was in government — and all of it is really damning.”

Falcón’s 2016 report about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, titled “Maintaining White Privilege? The Role of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in NYC Mayor de Blasio’s Appointments,” argued that the percentage of city posts that went to non-Hispanic white people had actually grown during the mayor’s first two years in office.

Angelo Manuel Falcón was born on June 23, 1951, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His family moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when he was an infant.

As a boy he led a fight at his public school to allow its mostly Puerto Rican student body to take the entrance exam for the selective Brooklyn Technical High School. He was the only one admitted.

Falcón graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in political science and urban studies. He later obtained a master’s in political science at the State University of New York at Albany. He took all the coursework for a Ph.D. but never completed his dissertation, according to his résumé.

Falcón’s first job out of college was as a director of ASPIRA, a Latino empowerment organization. He was working part time at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the city university system, when he founded the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy in 1982. In 2005, the organization’s name was changed to the National Institute for Latino Policy.

He was a co-author of several books about the history of Latinos in New York, including “Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition” (2017) and “Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City” (2005).

Falcón was married for a short time decades ago, his family said; the marriage ended in divorce.

He is survived by a brother, Mel Andrew Falcón; two half sisters, Yolanda Falcón and Yvette Grau; a half brother, Joseph Grau; his stepmother, Ada Falcón; and a niece and nephew.

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-N.Y., said Falcón’s data work on redistricting in the mid-1990s helped forge a path for politicians of color to be elected to Congress.

“The fact that I’m here today as an elected official and a member of Congress had more to do with his work,” she said. “With Angelo, there was no middle ground. He was quite honest, and he always spoke truth to power.”