Determined to make the most of her triumph is Latino Victory, a national organization that identifies potential Latino candidates, encourages them to seek office and supports their candidacies. The interim president of Latino Victory is Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rico native who made history in 2014 when she was the first Latina elected to serve as Speaker of the New York City Council.
Ms. Mark-Viverito, who left the New York City Council after reaching her term limit, visited Brunswick’s New York offices recently to talk about her efforts in New York and across the nation to increase diversity among elected officials.
What is the “21 in ‘21 Initiative?”
Before I left the New York City Council, I founded that initiative with two of my female colleagues in the council. Our goal is to raise awareness of the drop in women in the city council. We have a city that is led by men. We have a city council where we’ve seen the number of women drop to 11 women out of 51 members. When I came into the council, it was 18 out of 51. You can’t make policies and pass budgets in a fair and equitable way if you’re missing the point of view and perspective of a large percentage of the population.
To get that number to 21 in 2021, we created this initiative, which is basically a networking opportunity, to encourage women to “step up to the plate” and run for public office. We create networking sessions where they can get training on what it is to run a campaign, as well as help them to understand New York City’s campaign finance law, which can be complicated—and make sure that they’re prepared with the proper training.
Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example?
It’s a similar concept, but she was recruited. A lot of times people say that women have to be asked to run for office. I want us to get to a point where that’s not the case, where any woman can just step up and say, “This is a possibility. I want to make sure government is being responsive to the needs that I have as a woman and that my community has.”
As interim president of Latino Victory, what are your hopes?
The goal of Latino Victory is to build Latino political power. And the concept that government needs to be reflective of those it serves. We must see ourselves reflected in government. The idea is that we need to encourage and create a pipeline to encourage Latinos to run and to help raise money and support for those candidacies to be viable.
In Texas right now there’s a push to have a Latino Democrat run to challenge the Republican Senator Cornyn. Texas is tough. But our idea is that in a state with such a large Latino population, there should be a qualified Latino candidate. Latino Victory did this whole digital recruitment for Congressman Joaquin Castro to run for senator against Cornyn. It’s called “Run, Joaquin, Run.” We did something similar with New Mexico, where the senator there, Tom Udall, has just announced he’s not going to run in 2020, creating an open spot. Even though New Mexico is the state with the largest percentage of Latinos, they haven’t had a Latino elected statewide there in over 40 years so Latino Victory did a recruitment campaign for Congressman Ben Ray Luján to run for Senate.
When there are viable Latino candidates, it’s a great opportunity to energize the Latino base and to encourage people to register to vote. Because now they’re seeing someone that looks like them and that understands their issues. We want to make sure that our community, the Latino community, is relevant in that race and in deciding the future of this country.