Hispanic activist, Levy hold discussions

Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America, speaks Fernando Mateo, president of Hispanics Across America, speaks about the indictment of Felicia Smith, 18, of Selden and Sean Allen, 19, of Middle Island on multiple charges of robbery that police said Smith has said targeted Hispanic males. (April 20, 2010) Photo Credit: John Dunn

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Three days after the hate crime killing of Marcelo Lucero in November 2008, Westchester County resident Fernando Mateo came to Patchogue and publicly called for the resignation of Suffolk Executive Steve Levy for "sowing hatred against Hispanics and immigrants."

Thursday, the Latino activist and official spokesman for the Lucero family has met with Levy, spoken to him on the telephone a couple of times, and aims to keep "open communication."

Mateo and Levy said they first met for about an hour a few weeks ago. Mateo, who according to Levy's office initiated the meeting, says he's hopeful for more.

Mateo said he's undergone the turnaround because he believes it's important to maintain access to people in power. "There may be things that I may or may not agree with regarding Steve Levy," Mateo said. "But one thing that I do understand and respect is that he is an elected official and does have an impact with his decisions in our community."

He added: "I am hoping that I am able to get to know who Steve Levy really is, not reading it in the paper and not watching it on TV, rather sitting down with him and having dialogue on many different things."

For his part, Levy said in a statement he'd gotten to know Mateo "on a more personal basis, which helped eradicate the false images that the media has created of the two of us."

"It was a very constructive and pleasant dialogue," he said. "And while our respective philosophies have not changed, our ability to reach common ground has progressed considerably."

The meeting is surprising also because as recently as November, Marcelo Lucero's brother, Joselo, said he felt "ambushed" by Levy when the county executive showed up at a church memorial service for Marcelo. "There are people I don't want to talk to," Joselo added.

This week, Joselo Lucero, whose family is still being represented by Mateo, said he had no immediate comment on the activist's meeting with Levy.

Mateo is a major national Republican fundraiser, but said he is not assisting Levy in his bid to become governor.

Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf said Levy "is using [Mateo] as a lifeboat to try to cut down the anger Hispanics throughout the state feel toward him." Levy said through a spokesman he's already popular with Hispanics in Suffolk County and expects Hispanic support throughout the state.

Local Latino and immigrant advocates, some of whom have clashed with Levy, say he ought to establish relationships with them as well. They say they have not met with Levy in years, despite their readiness to do so.

Patrick Young of the Central American Refugee Center, whom Levy once labeled part of a "1 percent lunatic fringe," said Levy "needs to meet with leaders of the immigrant community on Long Island - including those who are not afraid to be critical of him." Levy's spokesman Dan Aug did not immediately respond.

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