Interviews & Profiles

Rossana Rosado on serving the immigrant community

The secretary of state describes the responsibility of being one of the most powerful Latinas in New York.

New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado has not followed the typical path to state power.

New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado has not followed the typical path to state power. Michael Groll/Department of State

New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado has not followed the typical path to state power. The daughter of Puerto Ricans transplants to the Bronx grew up to become a newspaper reporter and even won an Emmy before she ended up working for Democratic and Republican mayors of New York City. Add more than a decade as the publisher of the Spanish-language publication El Diario and you’ve got a résumé unlike any other in Albany.

Her department oversees a sprawling list of responsibilities that span regulating nonprofit cemeteries to issuing boxing licenses as well as a significant role in managing state economic development projects. Rosado said she takes her role as one of the most powerful Latinas in the state especially seriously.

City & State caught up with Rosado earlier this month to hear about the work she has done in state government over the past five years as well as her thoughts on the new governor. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You were once one of us! How did you first get into politics?

I was a journalist and then I left El Diaria to become a television producer, won an Emmy and then I was like, “Well, that’s the top of that game.” And then I went to work for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp. under Mayor David Dinkins. I wanted to be involved in his reelection campaign, which shows you how good I am at politics. He lost. I stayed on another two years in that job under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Then I went back to El Diario as editor. And did 14 or 15 years as publisher and CEO. It was a time of extreme growth in the Latino community.

So how did journalism lead you to become secretary of state under then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo?

All these people who run for office in New York state, especially in New York City, all came to El Diario to speak with the editorial board when I was there, so I knew all of them. I was on the transition team for him in 2011 and when they heard I was leaving El Diario, they called me and said: “Is there anything you want to do for the state?” There were a lot of conversations and there was a moment where my predecessor decided to retire and they said: “Ooh, that’s the right job!” So I had about four months to study for a state Senate confirmation hearing in 2016.

What have you done over the past five years in office?

In my own agency, we have been looking at ways that we could facilitate licensing for people who have been involved with the criminal justice system. The position of secretary has also allowed me to communicate across what we call “The Enterprise” – across state agencies. We’ve done that for the immigrant community as the DMV was preparing to implement the Green Light Law. The only infrastructure for immigration in the state is here in my department: the Office for New Americans. When the office was formed, before I came in, it was kind of a feel good, nice thing to do for immigrants – but then it became kind of the only place where people were able to get emergency help when President Donald Trump was in office.

Do you feel a special responsibility as one of the most powerful Latinas in state government?

That's the reality for most Latino professionals, whether you’re in state government or the private sector. There are presently five Latino commissioners that I can think of off the top of my head. We come from families who made great sacrifices to get here. Whenever you stand, you represent the community and that means you have to serve them, right?

What’s an example of that?

I also sit on the board of the Port Authority. A few years ago, Héctor Figueroa of 32BJ (SEIU) was advocating for the $15 minimum wage for airport workers. These union organizers kept wanting to get on my calendar and bring their folks in to talk me into it. So I called Hector, and I said: “Your people are still trying to see me, but you know we’re going to help make this happen.” And then he said: “Yes, but these people don’t have access to people like you. You and I know what’s going to happen, but they don’t. They don’t really believe me and they don’t have access to people like you. You’re the secretary of state.” It was a good lesson for me and I saw them. It was their chance to speak not just to the secretary of state, but someone who happened to be Latina. They were mostly Latinos around the table. You’re never not one of them. You’re never not at their service, because that’s what moves you to public service.

A new governor is in office, do you want to continue serving?

We traveled together to Puerto Rico last year. We went to five cities that had been hit by earthquakes. The Puerto Rican press was like: Does she speak Spanish? And I was like: “No, but I speak Spanish!” She and I have wound up at a lot of similar events over the last five years. We’ve worked together and if she wants me, I’m here. I think it’s going to be exciting to see New York run by a woman. It’s just hard not to be excited about that.