Politics

State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda is Dominican now. Other Dominican lawmakers don’t like how he did it.

His critics wondered if the move was for political gain after he was redistricted into a Dominican community.

State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda’s critics said he became a Dominican citizen without a history of helping the community.

State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda’s critics said he became a Dominican citizen without a history of helping the community. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Dominican American lawmakers are fed up with state Sen. Luis Sepúlveda, saying that the Puerto Rican legislator has gone too far in adopting a Dominican identity for political gain – without allying with actual Dominicans.

Tension boiled over in the Bronx after Sepúlveda announced on Oct. 14 that he had been granted Dominican citizenship in a ceremony at the presidential palace in Santo Domingo. Sepúlveda was born in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican parents and has never lived in the Dominican Republic. But he has been building political relationships in the country, and just this month introduced a bill that would make New York recognize Dominican driver’s licenses.

But fellow lawmakers said he hasn’t been putting in the work with Dominicans in the Bronx. “I think the whole thing is outrageous and a slap in the face to the Dominican community on so many levels,” Assembly Member Amanda Septimo, who is Dominican, told City & State. “The senator has never really taken an interest in the Dominican community here or abroad … but now in the name of political expediency given the redrawing of his district lines to include more Dominicans, he’s fashioning himself as a champion.”

Sepúlveda has represented state Senate District 32 since 2018. But this year’s redistricting shifted his district away from the East Bronx and into Central Bronx neighborhoods with growing Dominican populations, such as East Tremont. Earlier this year, Sepúlveda hired a journalist who had been working in the Dominican Republic, Rusking Pimentel, as his communications director.

But fellow legislators like Assembly Member Karines Reyes, who was born in the Dominican Republic, said he has been doing it all wrong by co-opting the identity, rather than working with Dominicans. “I feel like he has burned a lot of bridges. He’s not a very easy person to work with,” Reyes said. She and Septimo both pointed to the way that Sepúlveda in July began organizing a New York delegation trip to the nation  on his own, without any apparent input from Dominican legislators. They felt as if they were invited as an afterthought. “We’ve all given him the opportunity and had conversations with him,” Reyes said, but she felt like he hasn’t changed.

Sepúlveda expressed surprise at lawmakers taking offense, saying nobody had complained to him about it. “If anybody’s upset about that, that’s unfortunate, because all I’m trying to do is help an island that I absolutely love,” he told City & State. “I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone, but I think that sometimes, maybe elected officials complaining feel that only they can do things for the Dominican Republic.”

Sepúlveda added: “When they do things for the island of Puerto Rico, I don’t get offended. I don’t get upset. They don’t have to come and get my blessings.”

Some outsiders thought Sepúlveda had a point. “This is a sign of their growing political power. They should embrace it!” said one political consultant, who asked for anonymity to discuss the conflict among lawmakers they had worked with. The consultant compared Sepúlveda’s alleged pandering to the way that many elected officials visit Israel, as a way to appeal to Jewish constituents and political leaders.

Dominicans have been building influence in New York politics for decades in Washington Heights, Manhattan. In the past few years, more Dominican American candidates have been elected than ever before, particularly in the Bronx. Many have come up with support from Rep. Adriano Espaillat, the godfather of Dominican politics and the first Dominican American member of Congress in the United States. Others, like Reyes and Septimo, or Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, have won outside of Espaillat’s power structure. But Dominicans – both allies of Espaillat and otherwise – said Sepúlveda hasn’t helped in elections. One Dominican American politician, who asked for anonymity to discuss a colleague, called Sepúlveda’s actions “disrespectful,” saying he “didn’t help us achieve what we achieved.”

Sepúlveda himself said he has a “great working relationship” with Espaillat. But Espaillat’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Sepúlveda also emphasized that his love for the country was nothing new, and that his own son, and many other family members, are of Dominican descent. But that speaks to the other tensions at play here – and why fellow politicians were willing to take the relatively rare step of criticizing a fellow Democrat on the record. Sepúlveda’s estranged wife is Dominican, and he was arrested and charged with strangling her last year. She had sought an order of protection against him years earlier. The state senator denied wrongdoing in the 2021 case, and prosecutors dropped the charges in October 2021. Sepúlveda also annoyed some fellow Democrats – particularly fellow Latinos – by staying in the primary for Bronx borough president last year despite having no path to victory while facing the charges. His campaign may have contributed to Vanessa Gibson, who is Black, winning the seat rather than a Latino candidate. Sepúlveda has largely been welcomed back into the Democratic conference in the state Senate, but some bad feelings remain. “There is some irony there that the woman who accused him of domestic violence multiple times happens to be a Dominican woman,” Septimo said.

Sepúlveda didn’t see anything wrong with becoming Dominican. “I really feel a closeness to that island,” he said. “Now as a citizen, I’m going to do everything I can to help the people that live there and help the diaspora here.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.