The Shape of New York City's
Latino Elective Politics in 2018
By Angelo Falcón
The NiLP Report (December 27, 2017)
With the departure of New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the announced retirement of Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Latino representation at the higher levels of municipal government may entirely come to an end for some time. The Mayor Bill de Blasio administration's track record on Latino appointments has been embarrassing, with the naming of a Latina deputy mayor and top Hispanic advisor who seem like stealth positions. Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, Gladys Carrion, Cynthia Lopez, Ricardo Morales and Feniosky Peña-Mora are some of the more high-profile Latino departures from the de Blasio administration that have raised eyebrows.
The Speaker Exits.
Upon leaving the Council, it is not clear what role Mark-Viverito will be playing in the city's Latino politics. She shepherded her successor, Diana Ayala, into office and was reelected to a district leader spot in East Harlem. There is much speculation that she could be eyeing elective office at some level, getting a de Blasio appointment or going to work in the nonprofit and private sector. She has only expressed her intention to work on behalf of Puerto Rico from her base in New York, but what form this would take is also not clear. Despite her high profile as Speaker, Mark-Viverito has apparently not been successful in turning it into an immediate future power base as far as we can tell.
Latino Power Centers.
This moves the focus on to other Latino players. The main Latino political power centers are now those of Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez in Brooklyn-Manhattan-Queens, Bronx Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Congressman Adriano Espaillat/Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez in northern Manhattan. There is also Eric Gonzalez, elected as the first Puerto Rican/Latino to serve as a district attorney in the state and the highest-ranking Latino in the state's criminal justice system.
Lurking behind the scenes is Luis Miranda, Robert Ramirez and their MirRam Group. Miranda, as a political consultant for Mayor de Blasio in his reelection bid and lobbyist for the financially well-endowed Hispanic Federation, is in a potentially gatekeeper role within this lame duck and politically weakened administration, having installed his acolyte, Lorraine Cortez-Vazquez, as the Mayor's top and seemingly invisible Hispanic advisor.
With the reelection of Governor Mario Cuomo coming up, this also will have an impact on the distribution of Latino political power, mainly to the Bronx, depending on how Crespo and Diaz, Jr. play it. Cuomo's current Latino appointments have been very low key and do not appear very influential within his administration or in the Latino community. They certainly haven't impacted on the state government's dismal record of hiring Latinos (only 5 percent of state workers despite being 19 percent of the state's population).
The city's Latino Congressional delegation is now made up of three --- two Puerto Ricans and one Dominican. In the long run, the Latino Congressional delegation could be reduced to one and shift from being predominantly Puerto Rican to consisting of a Dominican.
Congresswomen Velazquez has quietly grown her political influence and with a district covering three Democratic county organizations --- mostly Brooklyn and including lower Manhattan and southwest Queens --- her growing influence reflected in her being the only Latino in the state party's leadership. She has arguably become the most significant player in Latino politics and will continue to be so in the coming year. However, in the long run, the Latino population in her district is declining and the demographics changing dramatically with gentrification and a growing Hasidic, Chinese and Mexican communities, raising speculation about whether a Puerto Rican or Latino can still hold on to that seat once Velazquez leaves.
There is also much talk about the future of Bronx Congressman José Serrano's seat and whether he will be challenged this coming year or retire (potential challengers or successors include Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Michael Blake). In northern Manhattan, freshman Congressman Espaillat has a relatively strong Dominican base, with Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez gaining strength, but still has a lot of work to do securing greater African-American, White and Puerto Rican support when he's up for reelection next year.
At the state legislature, the Latino Assemblymembers are dominated by the Bronx, with Marcos Crespo as both Chair of the Bronx County Democratic Committee and of the Puerto Rican/Latino Legislative Caucus. But his leadership does not always result in political cohesion in the Bronx, as when Mark-Viverito's candidate to replace her in the Council, Diana Ayala, was supported by Ruben Diaz, Jr. and her opponent, Robert Rodriguez, supported by Crespo and his machine. The other Latino power center in The Bronx is Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. because of his title, requiring a constant negotiation between the liberal Bronx and his father's socially conservative political machines.
There are 12 Latinos in the city's Assembly delegation, 5 of which are women. Two of the Latinas in the Assembly are of "mixed" Latino heritage (Greek-Cuban and Israeli-Argentinian), with 94 percent still being fully Latino, majority Puerto Rican. The Bronx has 4. Brooklyn 3, Manhattan 2, Queens 2 and Staten Island 1. This Latino Assembly delegation lost 1 Latino, Francisco Moya, who was elected this year to the City Council, leaving a vacancy to be filled next year.
The city's State Senate has 6 Latinos. The Bronx has 2, Manhattan/Bronx 1, Brooklyn 1 and Queens 1. This Latino Senate delegation has only 1 female member. This year, this delegation lost a member --- Ruben Diaz, Sr, who was elected to the City Council, and whose close ally, Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, intends to replace in a special election early next year (we hear that fellow Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera is heartbroken over Diaz, Sr.'s leaving the Senate).
Latinos are in the middle of a major power struggle within the Senate involving the IDC, Independent Democratic Council. There are two Latinos, both Democrats, who are part of the IDC --- Marisol Alcantara from Northern Manhattan and José Peralta from Queens. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a plan to get the IDC to merge with the mainstream Democrats, but this issue has not be resolved and will continue as a challenge for the Democrats in the coming year, with some threatening to primary Alcantara and Peralta over it.
The New York City Council has 11 Latino members of the total 51. This includes 4 from The Bronx, 3 from Brooklyn, and 2 from Manhattan and 1 from Manhattan/Bronx. The big story in its makeup is the sharp decline in the representation of Latina women --- from the current 4 down to 2 next year, after having a Puerto Rican woman as Council Speaker for the last four years.
As the Council moves to select its next Speaker, which the Council members vote on themselves in early January, it is clear that it will be a White male. There were two Latinos in the running for this position, Ydanis Rodriguez from Northern Manhattan and Ritchie Torres from The Bronx.
Who will emerge as the major players in the Council next year will depend, in part, on who gets to head what committee based on whoever becomes Speaker. An interesting development at the very end of this year's session was the division over the two younger progressive poster boy Councilmembers --- Ritchie Torres from The Bronx and Antonio Reynoso from Brooklyn. It will also be interesting to see how the doubling of the Puerto Rican social conservatives on the Council --- Rev. Fernando Cabrera, now to be joined by Rev. Ruben Diaz, Sr. --- will affect the Council's "progressive" politics.
Looking to 2018.
While nationally, the focus politically will be on whether the Democrats can capture control or just get a greater share of the House of Representatives and the Senate, in the New York Latino community it will be focused on the reelection of Governor Cuomo and Democratic control of the State Senate. In the Governor's race we will see how big a political payoff will be for Cuomo's high profile support of Puerto Rico's recovery effort. It is expected that all the Latino power centers will be backing the Governor in his reelection bid, but the question will be which of them will get the most support for the Governor and boost their political capital within the Latino community.
The issue of the control of the State Senate appears more complicated. Two Dominican elected officials --- Marisol Alcantara and José Peralta --- have joined the renegade IDC and its coalition with the Republicans to control that chamber. If the IDC rejoins the Democratic mainstream, will this increase these two politicians' influence in that body? If they don't, will they are primaried or will they achieve sufficient progressive legislation, such as finally getting Senate support for the state DREAM Act, to shield them from being challenged?
Overall, for both the city and state, will be the many problems that are anticipated from the threatened Trump federal budget cuts and realignments, as well as the adverse economic impacts of the recently adopted GOP tax plan. While Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio had strong economies to play off of regarding a wide range of initiatives they have proposed, it appears that the near future will be much more challenging economically. This could result in a significantly different political style and agendas on the part of both the Governor and Mayor as they need to grapple with bigger budgetary shortfalls and an intensifying shock politics we can expect to be coming out of the White House the closer next year's Congressional elections approach.
is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). He is a co-editor of the recently published book, "Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition" (University of Notre Dame Press). He can be reached at