The First Latina City Council Speaker In New York Is Now Running For Public Advocate — Here’s Why

She’s Running is a FIERCE series highlighting Latinas running for office in local, state and federal elections.

New York City, considered one of the most progressive municipalities in the nation, has no women or people of color in its highest levels of public office, and Melissa Mark-Viverito isn’t OK with that.

In November, the former city council speaker said she was running for public advocate, where she would ensure women’s voices and perspectives are being heard at the decision-making table and be an aggressive watchdog to city government.

The Puerto Rican candidate isn’t new to the game. A long-time activist, she entered New York City politics in 2005, serving on the city council for more than a decade. In 2014, she became the first Latina to hold citywide office in New York when she was elected council speaker, leaving in 2017 because of term limits. Since then, Mark-Viverito, 49, has worked as a senior adviser for the Latino Victory Fund — a PAC aimed at increasing Latinx representation in local, state and federal government — where she recruited leaders, expanded fundraising and increased public involvement in a position that widened her political profile outside of the five boroughs.

But Mark-Viverito is back in New York, where she hopes her track record, including making the first citywide calls to close Rikers Island jail, securing funding to provide immigrant minors with attorneys, and putting free tampons and pads in the city’s public schools, shelters and prisons, could help her beat out her competition in the crowded Feb. 26 special election and ensure another woman of color fills the public advocate seat that’s been vacant since predecessor Letitia James became the first African-American woman elected New York attorney general last November.

We spoke with Mark-Viverito about her run for public advocate, having New Yorkers define her agenda, how she’d hold elected leaders accountable to the needs of the people, what government and communities lose without women of color in leadership positions and not fearing being aggressive to get the job done.

FIERCE: Why did you decide to run for New York City Public Advocate?

Mark-Viverito: I’ve been a fighter for equity and justice my whole life and really trying to make sure that we work toward a more just and equitable city when I was in government, when I was councilmember, when I was speaker. It was about always trying to ensure that all New Yorkers felt that government was being responsive to them. And that’s what I want to do as advocate. The advocate has a more direct relationship with New Yorkers to talk about, advocate and build coalitions around issues that they care about, like the debilitating and crumbling infrastructure, for instance. It’s being an independent watchdog to the mayor, making sure that the programs they administer are effective and really address the needs of New Yorkers. It’s about continuing that trajectory that I have of being a fighter for social justice with a track record of success, and I want to bring that experience to this position to continue to effect change. That’s my interest. One of the other things I’ve been talking about is when Letitia James made the decision to run for attorney general, I was already out of office and working in the private sector, and the idea that once she won we were not going to have any women in city leadership was something that was alarming to me. So I started to look at that, be concerned about that, talking to people, saying, “look, we have to make sure that we elect a woman.” I started talking to people that I have a relationship with and asked, “what do you think if I decided to run? Maybe there’s something I can offer here. I believe I can offer something here.” So that was something that led me to this decision to run, that lack of gender balance in government and the need to have a confident, capable, strong woman in a role in order to have our voice and perspective at the decision-making table.

FIERCE: You’ve definitely stressed that this is something you were concerned about since the beginning of the race. In fact, when announcing your campaign for public advocate, you said, “As the state and the nation move in one direction, our city is slipping backwards.” Currently, the highest positions in New York City are held by three white men — de Blasio; Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller; and Corey Johnson, council speaker. What do you think governments and communities lose without female leadership?

Mark-Viverito: It misses out on a lot. I mean, in terms of laws we enacted that do impact the quality of life of women, when we talk about flexible scheduling, how that impacts women in the workplace. When we talk about paid sick leave, how that empowers and affects women. When we talk about feminine hygiene products, in our schools and our correctional facilities, that’s a law that Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and I pushed forward and promoted. When we talk about the lack of perspective — the mayor and commissioner just recently sat at a table to talk about the historic lows in crime in New York City, which is great, but there was no mention of the fact that we had seen a spike in the number of rapes. And they’ll say it’s because of more aggressive reporting that’s resulted out of women feeling empowered with Me Too, but it doesn’t matter, it’s still an issue that needs to be addressed. The fact that that wasn’t even touched on is very dismissive and impacts us, so that perspective is really incredibly needed. Our experiences are unique, and we need to make sure that that perspective is brought to the table, and that’s what we miss. We miss out on being a more just and equitable city when we don’t have government that’s representative, whether on the gender side or when it comes to race and ethnicity, because we are the most diverse city in the country.

FIERCE: You identified the New York City Housing Authority, which you’ve called a “humanitarian crisis,”  and New York City transportation, what you’ve called “a disaster,” as two of the biggest issues impacting New Yorkers. But you’ve also stated that you want the people of New York to define your agenda if you are elected. Why?

Mark-Viverito: Government should be in ongoing dialogue with those it represents. This position is not just about me and my interests, although I do want to definitely focus on NYCHA and I want to definitely focus on the MTA because both are such crises in our city that cannot be ignored. But the issue also is that there are different needs that arise. My interest through my Office of Community Engagement, where I’m going to hire community organizers to aggressively go out to all five boroughs to engage with communities, through my dialogue when I do my town halls, when I have my meetings, I want people to understand what this role is and what you think this office should be focusing on and have them help dictate. I won’t be able to address every single individual issue that comes up, but if there are certain issues that keep percolating up to the top and that I constantly hear is of concern, then that’s something that we can investigate. If a city agency is not performing in the best way for the disability community, or whatever it may be, whatever is emerging from the dialogue and that conversation is a way that leads the agenda that we craft as the Office of the Public Advocate.

FIERCE: As you stated, this position is one of being a watchdog and also holding elected leaders accountable to the needs of the people. How do you intend on doing that?

Mark-Viverito: Always shedding light on stuff is important, so I would want to do investigations, take a look at issues. For instance, I use this example that in my conversations with people, I was talking to a group of restaurant owners recently, and some of them were from the Washington Heights area, and one of them raised the concern that he felt the Department of Health was being very punitive to certain neighborhoods in terms of how they issue fines. So that’s something we could investigate and take a look at. The fines that are being issued by the Department of Health, are there certain neighborhoods that seem to be disproportionately impacted and why is that the case? This is about holding government accountable and making sure that government is being truly representative of all, so those are issues you can look at like, what are the disparities and how do we try to create more equity, more justice, more fairness? Those are things to talk about.

FIERCE: When announcing your run for public advocate, you stated, “I think it’s about time for a progressive — even aggressive — Latina woman to lead, to advocate, to fight for you.” Aggressive is a word many would shy away from in politics. Why do you think it’s necessary in this position?

Mark-Viverito: We are severely underrepresented in this city. We have less women in the city council. We have no women in citywide leadership. And we’re supposed to be this progressive city. We cannot call ourselves a progressive city if government is not representative. Those of us that do, once I’m in that position, I’m going to be one of a very limited number of women. So you have to be aggressive. You’re bearing a brunt and a responsibility to represent the interests of women and make sure our voices are being heard, so you cannot be drowned out. You can’t allow others to try to intimidate you, so it is a level of being aggressive and being forceful and being outspoken and not being afraid. And I’m not going to shy away from that language. That’s the truth. I’m not apologetic about being aggressive. Being aggressive is what you define it and in this case it’s about making sure that I’m bringing my ideas to the table, making sure my voice isn’t drowned out and that I’m being heard, and that does take a level of aggression and being aggressive to do that.

FIERCE: As city council speaker, you broke several times from Mayor De Blasio, most memorably pressuring him into supporting the planned closing of Rikers Island and into providing lawyers for undocumented immigrants. Do you think this track record could help you win over New Yorkers in this crowded race?

Mark-Viverito: Yes. I’m by far the most progressive, consistently progressive, candidate on all issues. I have a track record of having built coalitions over decades in my activism, working with all communities. I will prove that while visiting communities and talking about my track record and my record of accomplishment. I can differ and be at odds with the mayor, but as speaker I also have to build consensus and move an agenda forward. So I was able to negotiate. This is a very different role, where it is about being an independent watchdog, so it is about eyes and ears and looking at what’s going on, figuring out what things we can do better, where is the city going wrong and being very watchful of all of that. My track record speaks for itself. As I said, I am a passionate, social justice activist with a track record of success. I have differed with the mayor and I have also agreed with the mayor at times, but I am able to be very much understanding of the role I’m going to assume and playing the role of making government more effective. That’s what this role is about. It’s about being mindful of that.

FIERCE: Finally, as a seasoned New York politician, I think you can offer a lot to young Latinas who aspire to run for office. Do you have a message for Latinas with political dreams but perhaps see those as unfeasible?

Mark-Viverito: One of the things I did, understanding there was a lack of women in the city council and the concern of seeing such a drop in numbers, me and a colleague of mine, Elizabeth Crowley, created and founded the 21 in ’21 initiative here in New York, where we wanted to create a space where women could feel comfortable to come in and say that they were interested in running for office and surround those women with support, create a network, having women get to know each other, bring in women with experience on how to run a campaign, how to raise money, demystify what it is to run for office and that whole process and make women feel comfortable and know this is something they should think about. This is a profession. This is a job. Serving people is something that is a calling. So definitely creating opportunities to network and mentorship is important, and I did that with that initiative, and it’s going really well and we are getting a lot of support in it. You have to build a network around yourself. You have to find those people who really know who you are and who will keep you grounded and will provide mentorship along the way, depending on whatever path you take. You have to make sure. It’s a two-way street. Young women should be looking and seeking out assistance and we have to make ourselves open as women to mentor other women and reach behind us and be open to working with young women and taking young women in. So women should not be afraid to step up and seek that mentorship from others. We can’t expect that to happen for us. We have to be looking for it. So I would encourage young women to think about who those people are who ground you and know you and that regardless of what direction you take will always always be there to support you and to also be real with you, to tug at your coattail when you are not being true to yourself or losing yourself a little bit. You have to surround yourself with people who will be very honest with you.

Read: Austin Council Member Delia Garza Just Became The City’s First-Ever Latina Mayor Pro Tem

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The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

No Pos Wow

The Spanish ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Is Being Shared To Honor Hispanic Workers Fighting COVID-19

There’s no denying that the world looks a lot different now than it did in 1947. And while the list of all of the positive changes that the decades stretching between now and then have done for the world and minorities, a recent campaign is also highlighting the ways in which our current president could take some notes on certain values the United States held dear during this time. Particularly ones that had been pressed for by one of our former presidents.

As part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Good Neighbor Policy” effort, he worked to promote positive and healthy relations between the United States in Latin American countries.

At the time Rooseveltaimed to ensure that the North, Central and South American countries avoided breaking under the influence of Axis countries during World War II. As part of this campaign, Roosevelt comissioned a Spanish and a Portuguese version of the U.S. national anthem. According to Time Magazine he also “recruited Hollywood to participate in this Good Neighbor Policy; Walt Disney went on goodwill tour of South America, hoping to find a new market for his films, and ended up producing two movies inspired by the trip: Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). The Brazilian star Carmen Miranda also got a boost, and her role in The Gang’s All Here made her even more famous in the U.S. And alongside these cross-cultural exchanges, the U.S. government decided it needed an anthem that could reach Spanish speakers.”

According to NPR, Clotilde Arias, wrote wrote the translation at the end of World War II, was born in the small Peruvian city, Iquitos in 1901 and moved to New York City to become a composer when she was 22-years-old. Her version of the anthem is now part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Now in an effort to support Latino communities affected by the coronavirus, the non-profit We Are All Human Foundation’s Hispanic Star campaign commissioned the a remake of the song.

Hoping to raise awareness of its Hispanic Recovery Plan and efforts to help to connect Hispanic small businesses and workers with resources during the pandemic, the campaign brought the old recording from obscurity.

For the song, the 2019 winner of the singing competition La Voz,  Jeidimar Rijos, performed “El Pendón Estrellado.” Or, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

The song has already received quite a bit of comments and support on Youtube.

Hang in there, fam. We can only get through this together.

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A 9-Year-Old Girl Was Detained By Border Patrol On Her Way To School


A 9-Year-Old Girl Was Detained By Border Patrol On Her Way To School

A 9-year-old U.S. citizen was separated from her mother for 36 hours after agents at the border accused her of lying about her citizenship.

Like thousands of students in our country, Julia Isabel Amparo Medina’s daily commute requires her to cross the U.S. border.

The fourth-grade student attends Nicoloff Elementary School in San Ysidro, California and was in a carpool to school from her home in Tijuana when she ran into traffic. Medina, was commuting to school in a car driven by her mother’s friend Michelle Cardena, Cardena’s two children and her own older 14-year-old brother, Oscar. When the long line to get into the U.S. seemed to be jampacked upon their 4 a.m arrival, Cardenas instructed the kids in her car to walk to the border. She assured them that when they reached it, she would call them an Uber to get them the rest of the way to their school.

But Medina and her never made it across the border or to school that day.

According to the New York Times who talked to a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, two Amparo and her brother arrived at one of the San Ysidro port of entry facilities for pedestrians at 10:15 a.m. last Monday.

Upon their arrival, Amparo and her brother presented their U.S. passports to a CBP officer who soon accused her of being someone else. Note: Amparo’s passport image which was taken years before so she did not look exactly like herself. They also accused her brother of smuggling.

A CBP spokesperson has said that Amparo “provided inconsistent information during her inspection, and CBP officers took the 9-year-old into custody to perform due diligence in confirming her identity and citizenship.”

After CBP officers the confirmed that her brother was a U.S. citizen, he was permitted to enter the U.S while his sister stayed behind. It wasn’t until 6:30 pm on Tuesday, that Amparo was confirmed to be a U.S. citizen as well and was released and admitted to the U.S. to her mother.

Speaking to NBC7, Amparo said she was “scared” of her detention and that she was “sad because I didn’t have my mom or my brother. I was completely by myself.”

According to Amparo’s mother Thelma Galaxia, her daughter claims that she was told by an officer that she and her brother would be released if she admitted to being her cousin. Galaxia claims that officers also convinced her son Oscar to sign a document that Amparo was his cousin and not his sister.

When Galaxia was alerted that her children had been detained she contacted the Mexican consulate.

After being notified by the consulate that her daughter would be released at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. While the family felt relieved to be grateful to be reunited with their daughter, Galaxia says the separation should never have happened.

Over the weekend, Twitter was swift to express their outrage over the incident.

Some even expressed their dismay of having a similar situation happen to them.

Many are using the incident as an example of the racial issues plaguing so many U.S. citizens like Amparo.

So many of the comments included outside opinions from those who have yet to experience the direct targetting of ICE.

Over all, nearly everyone was quick to point out the saddest aspect of Amparo’s experience.

Read: Preschool Students Are Doing Active Shooter Drills And I Guess This Is The New Normal Now

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