City Council Races a Test to Latino and Women’s Power 

Council members at a hearing. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The political race for the 51 city council seats is in full swing and, although this year’s campaign is atypically subdued, more than 125 candidates in the five boroughs are challenging 42 current legislators seeking reelection.

Still, the hottest local races are in 7 electoral districts whose council members – mostly women and four of whom are Latino – will be saying goodbye as they reach their term limits.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who was heavily rumored to be lined up for the speaker job, will leave her seat vacant and has declined to seek reelection. This means an almost certain loss of female representation in the post. The candidates vying for the seat are Assemblyman Francisco Moya, Cristina Furlong, Erycka Montoya, Yonel Letellier-Sosa and former Councilman Hiram Monserrate, who is seeking forgiveness, having attacked his girlfriend in 2008 and having later been convicted of mail fraud.

Another position to open up is that of District 44, currently held by David Greenfield. He announced his retirement just a few days ago – after the candidate sign-up period had closed – and nominated his successor himself, raising transparency questions.

Beyond the question of who will emerge triumphant in this municipal election – which will begin with a primary on September 12 and conclude with a final vote on November 7 – the concern of many voters and analysts is that, unless voters defend them on the ballot, women’s representation and Latino political power in the council will lose steam.

Minorities with power

There are currently 13 women – 4 of them Hispanic – and a total of 11 Latinos in the council. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose term has ended, is the highest-ranking Latino in the city’s government.

“What we are seeing is that women may lose representation after having had so much of it. This indicates that the Democratic Party, which has the majority in New York, has made fewer efforts to promote interested and capable female candidates,” said Carlos Vargas-Ramos, a political analyst at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.

The expert said that Latino representation may not be affected in terms of numbers, as Hispanic districts are likely to continue voting for members of their community, but he warned that some of the power attained thanks to Mark-Viverito’s leadership position might be lost.

“It depends on who gets the speaker seat, which, in turn, depends on what negotiations are made. If Ydanis Rodríguez wins – the only Latino to have expressed a desire to follow Mark-Viverito – the council will continue being progressive. If not, then we will have to see what is going to happen with the others,” said the analyst.

Jon Greenfield, a political affairs expert, also is concerned about a possible reversal in the achievements made by Hispanic women.

“Our city risks going from having its first Latina speaker to having no Hispanic women in the council. A large part of the population would lose its voice in our government at a very critical moment,” he pointed out, adding that he is confident that some of the nine Hispanic women who are currently in the race for seats in various districts will have the support of the voters. “There are a number of Latina candidates – Carlina Rivera, Marjorie Velázquez and Diana Ayala among them – who are true leaders in their communities and could bring fresh air to the council,” said Greenfield.

The most awaited contest will be for District 8, covering El Barrio in Manhattan and part of South Bronx, which is currently represented by Melissa Mark-Viverito. Her Deputy Chief of Staff, Diana Ayala, of Puerto Rican descent, is rumored to be in the lead, along with State Assemblyman Robert Rodríguez. Still, they have yet to face off against 5 other hopefuls, including Edward Santos and John Ruiz, both Hispanic.

In addition to Julissa Ferreras’ exit from District 21, District 2 – which will be left vacant by Rosie Méndez – may also lose its female representative. Eight people are interested in replacing her, including Hispanic candidates Carlina Rivera, Jasmín Sánchez and Jorge Vásquez. Meanwhile in District 4, of the 11 candidates up for Daniel Garodnick’s seat, only María Castro is Latina.

Similarly, in District 13, whose seat will be left vacant by Councilman James Vacca, the contest will take place between 6 candidates, 2 of whom – Alex Gómez and Marjorie Velázquez – are Hispanic. In Annabel Palma’s District 18, Latinos are represented by Amanda Farías, Elvin García, John Pérez and Rubén Díaz out of 7 hopefuls.

None of the almost 20 candidates aspiring to the seats currently occupied by Vincent Gentile in District 43 and Darlene Mealy in District 41 are Hispanic.

Replacing Melissa and Julissa

One of the hottest races in the municipal election – and one that will measure the power of Hispanics in the Big Apple – is for the speaker’s seat, which Mark-Viverito will occupy until the end of the year.

Among the council members who have expressed their interest in replacing the Puerto Rican-born politician, the only Latino is Ydanis Rodríguez, chair of the Committee on Transportation. In his desire to keep a Hispanic as council speaker, the Dominican-born leader will have to face Chair of the Jewish Caucus Mark Levine, Democratic Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, Chair of Housing and Buildings Committee Jumaane Williams, Chair of The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises Donovan Richards, Chair of the Small Business Committee Robert Cornegy, and Chair of the Committee on Health Corey Johnson.

“I am working very hard alongside my fellow council members seeking to replace my colleague Melissa, so we can continue the work on a progressive agenda that remains focused on defending immigrants, quality education and securing investment by protecting small business owners,” said Rodríguez about his aspirations, adding that he lamented the fact that women’s representation in the council may be diminished after the upcoming municipal election.

“There is no doubt that, with Melissa and Julissa’s exit, we lose two great, hardworking women. That has an impact on the council. However, we must continue working to maintain representation, not just for women, but also for Hispanics, as we are currently 29 percent of New York’s population and we do not have as prominent a voice as we deserve,” he added.

Equally, Hispanic Councilman Rafael Espinal called on voters to participate in the process so that Latinos and women in the city can continue reaching leadership positions and fighting for their communities in the council at a time when the federal government is attacking them.

“It would be a shame if we lost some of our most diverse seats. We need to ensure that our council reflects that diversity, particularly now, in the era of the Trump administration,” stressed Espinal.

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  1. Pingback: Mass Incarceration, Election Reforms: Campaign Headlines for Tuesday August 15 | City Limits

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