What motivated you to get into politics?
I grew up in politics. Since I was very young and as a result of my father’s political career, I was influenced by political titans such as Gilberto Gerena-Valentín, Louis Nine, Bobby Garcia, Ramón Velez, Herman Badillo and many others. My passion for constituent service, social advocacy and community empowerment developed while knocking on doors and listening to people during my father’s campaigns. Interestingly enough, and something that many people don’t know, I was elected to the Assembly five years before my father was elected to a City office.
I first won public office in 1997. I was 23 years old when I was elected to the New York State Assembly, where I served for seven terms representing the 85th Assembly District. During my 12 years in Albany, I served as Chair of the Committee on Election Law and on the Assembly’s Standing Committees on Education, Ways & Means, Children and Families, Environmental Conservation and Transportation. I was also a member of the Assembly’s Puerto Rican and Hispanic Task Force and the Black/Puerto Rican and Asian Legislative Caucus.
In April of 2009 I was elected Bronx Borough President in a special election and since then I have been working hard to make the Bronx a better place to live.
What are some of the challenges facing the Bronx?
Our borough has come a long way, but we still have further to go. We know that the Bronx has seen tremendous improvement over the past three decades, however the statistics still show that we are the borough with the highest poverty and unemployment rates in New York.
The lack of resources within our Bronx schools is also a tremendous challenge. I have walked into schools that do not have basics like as gyms, science labs, libraries, theaters, and updated computers.
Also, the NYPD statistics revealed that in 2010 Bronx homicides jumped more than 10 percent from 2009. We have seen a great deal of heartache in the Bronx at the hands of illegal guns, and we can no longer tolerate this terrible wave of violence.
There is great deal of work to do to tackle the issues the Bronx faces. The challenges are many and some of them are very difficult, but I know that if we all work together those problems can be resolved and the Bronx can keep growing.
How are you working to address those issues?
During my almost two years as the president of the wonderful borough of the Bronx, I have been working side by side with elected officials, community leaders and residents to solve our problems and celebrate our successes.
I brought together leaders representing the competing needs of the business, residential and environmental communities to discuss important economic issues and to develop partnerships to improve our borough’s business environment. We have been providing important financial support and assistance to our business community, and the results are already showing.
I also have made it a priority to focus the majority of my office’s capital dollars towards education. More than half of my capital allocations went towards education investments such as technology upgrades and infrastructure improvements. I will continue this commitment during my administration.
To fight unemployment, I have been providing incentives for sustainable development in the Bronx and focusing on green jobs training to give Bronx residents the tools and skills needed to produce and install green products and provide green services. It is my goal to support the Bronx in developing as a leader in the new green economy.
To reduce poverty, I launched the “Living Wage NYC” campaign and led the introduction to the City Council of the “Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act” which requires that workers at development projects receiving city subsidies be paid at least $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 without benefits. When New Yorkers are already struggling to pay their rents, when they must worry about feeding and clothing their children, when our poverty rates are the highest in the nation, we cannot accept that the minimum wage is the best salary a developer can offer while they take so heavily from the taxpayers’ wallets.
My office is also working to bring a much needed and long overdue four or five start hotel to our borough. We have a great deal of attractions to offer here in the Bronx, and it’s unacceptable that our tourists have to stay in Manhattan or Westchester because our borough lacks a big hotel.
I will keep fighting for our neighborhoods to ensure that we no longer receive the short end of the stick when it comes to economic development, education, and the critical funding our communities need to thrive.