NEW YORK — President Bush might be able to identify with the plight of embattled Rep. Stephen J. Solarz, the Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the House resolution authorizing U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf.
Not long ago, Solarz was riding high as one of Congress' experts in foreign policy. He had predicted a quick defeat for Iraq in the face of U.S. resolve. Several years earlier, his House hearings on the Philippines helped expose the corruption of the Ferdinand E. Marcos regime.
But that was then, and this is now. And as he battles for survival in an election year in which foreign affairs hardly predominate, Solarz has a problem that even the President doesn't face. Not only have the key issues changed for him, but so have the voters themselves.
Since 1974, Solarz has represented a heavily Jewish district in Brooklyn. But faced with a population loss in the New York City area, state lawmakers sliced up Solarz's old base into six pieces. None of the new districts contained as much of a quarter of his former constituents.
Left politically homeless--although possessing a $2-million campaign war chest--the 52-year-old Solarz tried a bold gamble. In today's primary, he is hoping to triumph in a new district created specifically to form a Latino majority.
The octopus-shaped district consists of Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and lower Manhattan in which 58% of the 580,000 residents are Latinos. Ironically, most political observers say Solarz has a good chance of winning because so many Latino politicians jumped into the race. Five will be on the ballot, raising the prospect that they will divide the Latino vote.
But neither are local observers predicting a Solarz victory. Hanging over him is the House bank scandal--Solarz was revealed as one of the prime abusers, having written 743 bad checks. And his foreign policy expertise is seen as something of a liability now.
Solarz was a congressman who boasted of his many trips abroad--at least 20 visits to the Mideast, for example--and some New Yorkers say he is more familiar with the troubles of Latin America than with the problems of Latinos in Queens.
Solarz is "very intelligent and wants terribly to be secretary of state," said Richard C. Wade, a professor at City University. "But he was so deeply entrenched that he didn't seem to pay much attention to the issues here."
But lately, New Yorkers who turned on their television sets saw Solarz portraying himself as the type of politician who solves local problems. "Paying Attention. Getting Action" is his slogan. He also ran ads on Spanish-language television channels where, speaking Spanish, he said his goal in Congress will be to create jobs.
His effort has not mollified Latino leaders.
"Solarz is a carpetbagger," said Jaimes Estades, the editor of a community newspaper in Brooklyn. "This is a Latino district created to give Latinos real representation. He has no business running here."
Two female candidates appear to have the best chance of beating Solarz. Nydia Velazquez, 39, a leader in New York's Puerto Rican community, has been endorsed by New York Mayor David N. Dinkins. Elizabeth Colon, 40, heads a Puerto Rican community group and is backed by Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.