Power of Diversity: Latino 100
Power of Diversity: Latino 100
From the major influx of Puerto Ricans to New York City in the 1940s to the more recent migration of Central Americans to the five boroughs, Latinos have steadily broken barriers across all sectors of city life, including politics.
In New York City, Rep. José E. Serrano bids farewell to Congress after 30 years serving the South Bronx as the longest-serving Puerto Rican legislator, while on the other side of the Bronx (and Queens), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has taken the progressive baton, amplifying the concerns of a demographic whose poverty rate – currently at 29% in New York City – ranks the highest of any ethnic group in the five boroughs. Latinos are also being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City – a statistic that has been linked to poverty – further evidence that while gains have been made, the work for equity continues.
Within these pages, we spotlight the leaders helping to carve a path for greater visibility and a seat at the table, the many men and women who wield power in telling the story of Latinos while demonstrating the impressive strides made.
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1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is considered one of the most powerful foils to President Donald Trump and the GOP writ large, countering their tweets with her own, which are then frequently magnified by the media.
A social media influencer and member of the Squad – four progressive first-term members of Congress who swept into the House in 2018 – Ocasio-Cortez has increasingly brought progressivism into the national political conversation, much to the chagrin of moderate Democrats.
But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t omniscient. She hasn’t done well when handicapping local and national races, including endorsing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary. Ocasio-Cortez has now entered her second term, fending off two challengers, all while building a progressive wing of the party that can force the establishment to pause.
2. Richard Carranza
Chancellor, New York City Department of Education
Schools chancellor Richard Carranza commands one of the most complex school systems in the country – and he doesn’t appear to break a sweat over it. His actions aimed at integrating the deeply segregated school system have been met with both praise and rancor, but it’s his choice to close schools for more than a month during the coronavirus outbreak that tested his decision-making skills. The move was both an inconvenience and relief to millions of parents. As the new school year draws closer, Carranza will again be under intense scrutiny.
3. Nydia Velázquez
The first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress, Rep. Nydia Velázquez stays relevant by doing what she does best: advocating for the voiceless. The 14-term Brooklyn legislator has also become something of a stateswoman, advising fellow colleague Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to stand down in targeting her own party. Unlike other veteran Congress members running for reelection, Velázquez didn’t face any serious challengers.
4. Robert Mujica
State Budget Director
With a multibillion-dollar budget hole in need of filling, the tough decisions will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s to make, but state budget director Robert Mujica’s to recommend. Mujica, a member of the governor’s inner circle who has served in the Cuomo administration since 2016, is serving on the MTA board despite failing to comply with a residency requirement that was waived by the state Senate last year.
5. Félix V. Matos Rodríguez
Chancellor, City University of New York
As the first Latino chancellor for the City University of New York system, Félix V. Matos Rodríguez reflects the dominant demographics of the system’s student body. Presiding over a network comprising 25 campuses and enrollment of more than 275,000 students, Rodríguez has bolstered the economic impact that CUNY schools, particularly Queens College and City College, can generate.
6. Rafael Salamanca Jr.
New York City Council Member
As the chair of the powerful New York City Council Land Use Committee, Rafael Salamanca Jr. has pumped the brakes on rezoning projects across New York City, including the Southern Boulevard rezoning project in the South Bronx, much to the chagrin of Mayor Bill de Blasio. The former Bronx Community Board 2 district manager has impressed colleagues enough that he’s being considered for council speaker; he would be the first Bronxite to hold the post.
7. Betty Rosa
Interim Commissioner, State Education Department
As chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Betty Rosa was in the thick of the back-and-forth over the education funding formula during budget negotiations, legislation to ease school discipline policies and the possibility of banning vape use by teens. Now, as New York grapples with how to start the fall semester during the coronavirus pandemic, the former principal and administrator has taken on a new role as interim state education commissioner.
8. Eric Gonzalez
Brooklyn District Attorney
Eric Gonzalez rose through the ranks of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to become the first Latino district attorney elected in the state in 2017, but he began implementing initiatives well before then. In 2014, Gonzalez rolled out the Conviction Review Unit that has so far exonerated 28 incarcerated men and women while also easing up on marijuana convictions. Gonzalez now worries bail reform could make Brooklyn more susceptible to crime.
9. Adriano Espaillat
Adriano Espaillat was among the first members of Congress to call for drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, reflecting the majority of constituents in his Manhattan and Bronx district. The first Dominican American member of Congress, Espaillat has spread his wings more forcefully with the creation of the Northwest Bronx Democrats for Change, which looks to give Dominicans an even more dominant presence in the Bronx.
10. Raul Perea-Henze
New York City Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services
Dr. Raul Perea-Henze had been deputy mayor for health and human services for less than six months when COVID-19 stormed New York City. But the Obama administration veteran, who’s credited with coordinating early efforts in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic, has risen to the challenge, marshaling his experience at the federal level to get much-needed resources in the fight against the virus.