ANNAPOLIS, Md. — As the nation's military academies try to recruit more minorities, they aren't getting much help from members of Congress from big-city districts with large numbers of blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
From New York to Chicago to South Florida, lawmakers from heavily minority areas rank at or near the bottom in the number of students they have nominated for appointment to West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy or the U.S. Air Force Academy, according to an Associated Press review of records from the past five years.
High school students applying to the academies must be nominated by a member of Congress or another high-ranking federal official. Congressional nominations account for about 75 percent of all students at the academies.
Academy records obtained by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act show that lawmakers in roughly half of the 435 House districts nominated more than 100 students each during the five-year period.
But Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York City, a Democrat who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, nominated only four students, the lowest among House members who served the entire five-year period. Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat whose New York City district includes Harlem, was second-lowest, with eight nominations.
Two Florida congressmen made the list. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, whose district lies mainly south of Lake Okeechobee and includes parts of Broward, Palm Beach and Hendry counties, was sixth on the list with 10 nominations. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, was 13th with 16 nominations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose San Francisco district is 29 percent Asian, was also near the bottom, with 19. In fact, the bottom 20 House members were all from districts where whites make up less than a majority.
"It's beyond my imagination how someone that has the ability to nominate doesn't do it," Craig Duchossois said in last year at his final meeting as chairman of the Naval Academy Board of Visitors.
He noted what an academy appointment means: a free four-year education and a guaranteed job as an officer for at least five years after graduation.
Adam Sharon, press secretary for Meek, said, "There's a lack of interest in our districts for young people to apply." He said this year, Meek's office has received 10 applications. It doesn't mean all those will translate into nominations, obviously.
Sharon cited "the challenges of physical fitness" and "at least during the Bush years, the unpopularity of the war in Iraq" as other reasons young people don't apply to the academies.
Hastings' chief of staff, Lale Mamaux, also mentioned war as a deterrent.
"To be quite honest, we've not received a lot of requests for nominations," she said. "I think that probably has to do a lot with the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. … We are definitely going to be reaching out to the academies, seeing what we can do better.''
Velazquez, Rangel and Pelosi would not comment or did not return calls.
The academies can cite recent progress in minority recruits. The freshman class of 1,230 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., includes 435 students who are black, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian or part of another minority group. That is about 35 percent, up from 28 percent the year before.
At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., there are 330 minorities in the freshman class of about 1,300, or about 25 percent, up from 22 percent in 2008. The freshman class of 1,376 at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., includes 312 minorities, or 23 percent, also a slight increase.
Times staff writer Michael Kruse contributed to this report.