Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is running for Congress — painting herself as the early leader of the progressive wave now sweeping Democratic politics in New York.
“At a time when the norm was being pragmatic, I was being cutting-edge, ahead of the curve, and putting forward progressive policies that set us, as New York City, on a path for us to be a model for others,” Mark-Viverito told THE CITY in an exclusive interview announcing her candidacy.
She’s set to become the sixth Democrat running to succeed longtime South Bronx Rep. José Serrano and represent one of the nation’s poorest Congressional districts. The New York Post and the Daily News reported last week that Mark-Viverito was planning a political comeback.
Though as a Council member, she served part of the district she hopes to represent in Congress, Mark-Viverito does not live in The Bronx.
“Technically, my residence is in East Harlem,” she said, noting that she’s “literally one stop from the district” on the subway.
Congressional representatives do not need to live in the districts they represent, though they must live in the same state. In a column published Tuesday night in The Bronx Free Press, Mark-Viverito promised to “fight and to serve the Bronx.”
‘A Critical Moment’
When asked why she was entering the crowded contest, Mark-Viverito told THE CITY: “We are at a critical moment of time in our democracy.”
“We need those individuals who are centered in the people that they’re looking to represent, who are centered in that fight for equality or for justice, and are demanding that governments truly represent them and make them the center of their representation and the center of the work,” she added.
Mark-Viverito — who is the interim president at the Latino Victory Fund, a political action committee aimed at electing Latino candidates — said the recent corruption and leadership crisis in Puerto Rico “crystallized the need to step up.”
“I witnessed a people fed up with an ineffective government and a government that does not put them centrally in focus, and how people have to mobilize en mass to demand change,” said Mark-Viverito, 50.
She was the target of disparaging comments between now-former Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his inner circle, according to leaked messages that were made public, leading to his tumultuous downfall.
Only Woman in Packed Field
Mark-Viverito, who represented East Harlem and part of the South Bronx in the City Council, will be running against Bronx Council members Ritchie Torres and Ruben Diaz Sr., father of the borough president.
She’ll also vy against Assemblymember Michael Blake, who, like Mark-Viverito, ran a failed bid for public advocate earlier this year. Tomas Ramos, program director at the Bronx River Community Center, and Jonathan Ortiz, financial counselor at the nonprofit Phipps Neighborhoods, are also running.
The 15th Congressional District is overwhelmingly blue, with more than 293,000 enrolled Democrats to 14,000 active Republicans, according to voter enrollment data from the state Board of Elections. This means that the winner of the June 2020 primary most likely will become the next representative for the South Bronx.
The South Bronx district is 66.6% Hispanic, according to recent Census data. More than 781,000 people live there and the median household income is just over $28,000, according to the Census Bureau.
Seeking a Political Comeback
Although the former three-term Council member came in third in the 17-person special election for public advocate in late February, she had the most votes in the 84th Assembly district, which covers Hunts Point, Mott Haven and part of Highbridge, according to an analysis by the Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Blake, who came in fourth place overall, took the most Bronx votes in the public advocate’s race, which was won by Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn.
Mark-Viverito vowed not to accept campaign contributions from corporate PACs or from the real estate industry. That echoes a position that several progressives have embraced in recent years — among them upstart Democrats Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-The Bronx, Queens) and state Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn).
“I believe that’s going to set me apart from every other candidate,” Mark-Viverito said.
“This is about making sure that we reclaim government and that people feel that they have a representative is accessible to them,” she added.
The late entry into the race puts Mark-Viverito behind in fundraising. Though two accounts with the state Board of Elections show she has nearly $136,000 left in her coffers, those funds cannot be transferred to a federal campaign.
Meanwhile, Torres is leading the fundraising pack, collecting roughly $522,000 between April and May, Federal Election Commission records show. He has $467,000 left in the bank. Blake raised nearly $121,000 and has $105,000 on hand, while Diaz Sr. gathered nearly $81,000, with a little more than $29,000 left in his campaign coffers.
Serrano, who announced in March that he would not be running again in 2020 due to a Parkinson’s diagnosis, has been in Congress since 1990.
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