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New York Post

The Power Five - These Latina Politicians Are Poised To Shake Up The World


March 10, 2004
Copyright ©2004 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

A member of the City Council commented recently, "A womans place is in the house," quickly adding, "the White House, the State House and certainly in this house." And five Latinas have proven this - theyve made City Hall their casa by giving the New York City Council the highest concentration of Latina elected officials ever in the city and nationwide.

While the five councilwomen share Latin American heritage -four hail from Puerto Rico, one from the Dominican Republic -each is very different. Some are mothers, others grandmothers, some are married and one is openly gay. The one thing that unites them is that all have broken barriers in their own way.

Latinas working in politics is nothing new, they have always been behind the scenes - organizing, raising funds, taking care of the men. What has changed, those whove been elected say, is the attitude.

"I said to myself Wait, enough is enough, I need to run, I have to represent. Its Maria time," says Councilwoman Maria Baez who ran against four men, including the incumbent councilman and won office in 2001.

"As mujeres, Latinas, mujeres puertorriqueas, we are traditional, we want to raise families, make sure our children are well-fed, tucked in bed, as our moms and grandmas did, but now there are more opportunities and we want more," says the Bronx councilwoman.

The current started long before Baez took office. It began six years ago, in 1998, when Margarita Lopez, 52, won a Council seat from the Lower East Side. An outspoken and energetic lesbian, Lopez has used her time in the Council to shed light on issues of people with disabilities.

"My fight to create consciousness about the need of representation for people with disabilities is my biggest contribution to the city," says Lopez, who has her eye set on becoming the next Manhattan Borough President. Two years ago, at age 27, her colleague Diana Reyna broke through the male-heavy Brooklyn political clubhouse to become the first Dominican woman to win elective office nationwide. Last year, the vivacious Democrat fought off a well-known challenger in a tough re-election campaign, fraughtwith allegations of anti-Semitism.

"An attractive political woman doesnt fall softly on the palette of others," says Reyna, who has become an advocate of public housing residents.

Reyna, now 30, turned an internship with Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez into a full-time job organizing Bushwick and-Williamburg residents. And she hasnt looked back. "My main priority is battling poverty at a grass-roots level," she says.

You cant get more grassroots than Sunset Park councilwoman Sara Gonzalez. The elegant Gonzalez, 51, known as "Mrs. Gonzalez" among her peers for the dignified way the former substance abuse counselor carries herself, also happens to be a grandmother.

"I personally needed to break down barriers. Women of my time and my age were not expected to do the job of a man. It was expected that you stay home, yet my husband was always incredibly supportive," she says.

Gonzalez priority is affordable housing in the quickly gentrifying area of Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Providing reasonable housing is also on the mind of the citys newest Bronx Council member Annabel Palma. Palma, 31, is a union organizer who beat out a veteran politician to represent the Castle Hill and Parkchester neighborhoods.

She jumped into the race just four days before petitions were due without giving it much thought. Two months later, shes still getting adjusted to her new position.

"I used to enjoy the fact that whenever my day ended, it was over, it was my time with my son," she says. "Now, the phones keep ringing. I miss the downtime when nobody knew who I was. But I wouldnt have it any other way."

As for the future of Latinas in government, the skys the limit, they all say.

"Maybe in two years, one might see a Latina speaker of the City Council or even mayor," says Reyna.

Margarita Lopez

AGE: 53

ELECTED: in 1996

REPRESENTS: Lower East Side

OFFICE: Chair Committee on Mental Health, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse & Disability Services.

STATUS: Companion. 19 years. Running for Manhattan borough president.

Diana Reyna

AGE: 30

ELECTED: in 2002

REPRESENTS: Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and parts of Queens.

OFFICE: Chair Sub-committee on Public Housing. First Dominican woman to hold elective office nationwide. STATUS: Married, one year, no children.

Maria Baez

AGE: 51

ELECTED: in 2001

REPRESENTS: Fordham/Kings-bridge and parts of the Bronx.

OFFICE: Chair of the Aging Committee.

STATUS: Single and "looking," says the councilwoman. One daughter, three-year-old grandchild.

Sara Gonzalez

AGE: 54

ELECTED: Elected in 2002

REPRESENTS: Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

OFFICE: Chair of Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice.

STATUS: Married 30 years, two children, one granddaughter.

Annabel Palma

AGE: 31

ELECTED: Elected in 2004

REPRESENTS: Parkchester/Soundview/Castle Hill in The Bronx.

OFFICE: Serves on General Welfare and Land Use Committees.

STATUS: Single mother, one child.


26 White

13 African-Americans

11 Latinos

1 Asian

Gender: 15 women, 36 men

Councilwomen (left to right) Diana Reyna, Anabel Palma, Maria Baez, Sara Gonzalez and Margarita Lopex in front of City Hall. (Michael Sofronski)

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