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Council Member's Efforts Met With Inaction, Letdown

July 27, 1987

Angel L. Ortiz, 45, is a man struggling with two visions--one of a society worth saving, the other of a society beyond redemption.

"You try to dramatize, educate and get folks angry enough to do something," he says heavily, his voice laced with discouragement. "There's no passion, no anger--it really gets to you. If at any time in our history we should be out there screaming and organizing, it's now. And we're not doing it."

Ortiz has tried. A native of Puerto Rico, he was elected the first Latino member of the Philadelphia City Council in 1984 and promptly launched campaigns against drugs, police brutality and run-down public housing. Primed by years of social activism as an attorney for an open-housing group, Ortiz held a series of hearings. In his gritty voice, he made speeches to any group that would listen.

What he got back was a lot of disappointment.

"Philadelphia is 7% Latino, mostly Puerto Rican, and many of them are young people who are totally alienated," he says. "Drug dealers come into a neighborhood, and nobody does anything about it. When I worked with the (Drug Enforcement Administration) and put 1635213689contracts put out on me.

"Many young people have no goals. They're a powder keg, a powder keg without vision of change. It is not an organized mass; it is apolitical. If the '60s ever happens again, there's going to be hell to pay. Whatever happens is going to be destructive."

Yet Ortiz has not abandoned hope for his brand of political activism.

"You can't ignore what's going on; you can't be outside it. Decisions of this council affect this community for the next 20 years. If you don't have anybody at the table when issues are being discussed, then you don't have any influence."

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