Melissa Mark-Viverito is the new speaker of the City Council and the first Hispanic to hold a citywide office.
Over the last few weeks she was subjected to numerous newspaper articles, many of them attacks on her as—linking her to Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, because she went there as an observer during one of the presidential races; just yesterday the New York Post lambasted her for calling for freedom for the Cuban Five; for her role in the campaign for release via presidential pardon of Puerto Rican Political Prisoner Oscar López; and for many of the other positions she has taken in the past—all aimed at basically turning the council members against her, but did not succeed.
By unanimously choosing Melissa Mark-Viverito as City Council speaker — the second most important post in municipal government — the 51 members of that chamber broke ground Wednesday in more ways than one.
It’s not simply that Mark-Viverito, the Puerto Rican-born councilwoman from East Harlem who also represents the South Bronx, broke a big glass ceiling, becoming the first Hispanic to hold a citywide post.
The population of this town, after all, is already 30% Hispanic. Many young Latinos are bound to be inspired by Mark-Viverito’s example. She instantly becomes an influential figure nationwide.
That explains why so many Latino community and political leaders, including former mayoral candidate Fernando Ferrer, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez and state Assemblyman Jose Rivera, packed the Council chambers during the vote.
With Mayor de Blasio, Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and Controller Scott Stringer, citywide government is now in the hands of the most ethnically diverse and liberal Democratic coalition in memory.
This contest provoked nearly two months of fierce lobbying among Council members. It featured first-ever public forums in all five boroughs with all the candidates.
It was also marked by a string of astounding news accounts aimed at derailing Mark-Viverito, who emerged from the start as the most liberal of the candidates and as de Blasio’s choice.
In the case of the Cuban Five, this is the story:
In 2009, The Popular Education Project to Free the Cuban 5 announced that City Council Members Rosie Mendez, of the 2nd District NYC, Melissa Mark Viverito, of the 8th District NYC, and Charles Barron, of the District 42 NYC, had joined their voices with the hundreds that have sent Ms. Navanetham Pillay, High Commissioner of Human Rights for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-UN Office at Geneva, a letter asking Ms. Pillay to request the US government grant Visas for the families of the Cuban 5.
In her letter she said:
“Since 1998, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and René Gonzalez, known as the Cuban 5, have been unjustly imprisoned in the United States for trying to prevent terrorist attacks against Cuba. Throughout their incarceration the Cuban 5 have been victims of multiple human rights violations. One of the most unjust and inhumane of these violations has been the systematic denial of visitation from their relatives; a basic right of all prisoners.
The US government has imposed a number of obstacles and unjustifiable delays in granting visas to their families. Hence, some of the Cuban 5 has only received an annual visit from family. In the cases of Gerardo Hernandez and Rene Gonzalez, the situation is far more critical, as their wives, have not been allowed to visit them in prison.
In order to bring to an end this flagrant violation of human rights, I ask that you intercede in this matter and request that the US government grant visas to the families of the Cuban 5 and allow them to see their relatives on a regular basis.”
(with information from New York Daily News and Democracy Now)