Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D)
New York 12th District
In 1957, amid a vast wave of Puerto Rican migration to New York, Leonard Bernstein wrote his musical West Side Story, with Romeo as an Italian-American and Juliet as a Manhattan Puerto Rican. Before World War II, there were 60,000 Puerto Ricans in New York City. Three decades later, with cheap airfares and no need to go through passport control, there were 800,000. But as the city’s industrial base grew stagnant, the number of Puerto Ricans in New York declined, and young New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent increasingly moved to Puerto Rico. By the late 1990s, New York City was experiencing a large influx of Latinos from places not under the U.S. flag, and today most Hispanics in the city come not from Puerto Rico but from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru.
2008 Presidential Vote
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The 12th Congressional District of New York was designed to stitch together many of these diverse people. More than two-thirds of the district’s population is in Brooklyn, with the remainder split between Queens and Manhattan. In Brooklyn, the district hugs the waterfront and dips inland to include areas with many Hispanics. But this is New York, so it takes in many other ethnicities as well. Overall, the district in 2007 was 47% Hispanic and 17% Asian (mostly Chinese). Sixty-seven percent spoke a language other than English at home. The 12th includes the upscale Brooklyn Heights waterfront, with its stunning but after September 11, haunting views of Lower Manhattan, and nearby Carroll Gardens with young professionals intermingled with Italian immigrants. To the south is Sunset Park, once the home of Irish, Polish and Norwegian immigrants, now filled with Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Colombians and Ecuadorans. North of Brooklyn Heights is DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), with artists in old industrial lofts, and just above that, Vinegar Hill. Williamsburg has many Orthodox Jews and recent Latino arrivals as well as some hip young people.
Inland is Bushwick, with low-income Latinos. Just a few streets away, across the Brooklyn-Queens border, is Ridgewood, once mostly Irish, then Polish, now filled with new arrivals from Poland, Romania, Albania, Serbia and Bosnia. Nearby is industrial Maspeth. In Manhattan, the 12th District includes parts of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy, although today there are virtually no Italians (only Italian restaurants), but still many Chinese, including the largest Chinese Roman Catholic church in the nation. The Bowery, which a century ago was the city’s entertainment center, is the birthplace of punk rock and is slowly gentrifying. Politically, the 12th District is heavily Democratic.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: March 28, 1953, Yabucoa, PR .
Education: U. of PR, B.A. 1974, N.Y.U., M.A. 1976.
Family: Married (Paul Bader).
Elected office: NY City Cncl., 1984-86.
Professional Career: Instructor, U. of PR, 1976–81; Adjunct prof., Hunter Col., 1981–83; Special asst., U.S. Rep. Edolphus Towns, 1983; Migration dir., PR Dept. of Labor & Human Resources, 1986–89; Secy., PR Dept. of Community Affairs in the U.S., 1989–92.
The congresswoman from the 12th District is Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat elected in 1992. She grew up in Puerto Rico, one of nine children of sugarcane-field workers. Although her father never finished elementary school, he was a political leader in her hometown of Yabucoa and inspired her to pursue politics as a career. She studied political science at the University of Puerto Rico and taught there in the 1970s. After graduate school in New York City, she went to work for Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York. In 1983, she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the New York City Council. When the 12th District was created in 1992, Velázquez was a major contender in the Democratic primary but had to overcome Rep. Stephen Solarz, who had decided to run in the new district rather than in the Manhattan-dominated 8th or in the 9th District, where incumbent Democrat Charles Schumer had a heavy advantage. Velázquez got the endorsements of Mayor David Dinkins and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, and in a light turnout election, beat Solarz 34% to 28%. After the primary, confidential hospital records that were leaked to a New York tabloid indicated that in September 1991, Velázquez had attempted suicide, was hospitalized and underwent counseling. Evidently, it was of little concern to voters. She won in November with 77% of the vote.
|Nydia Velazquez (D-WF)||123,046||(90%)||($816,108)|
|Allan Romaguera (R-C)||13,747||(10%)|
|Nydia Velazquez (D-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (90%), 2004 (86%), 2002 (96%), 2000 (87%), 1998 (84%), 1996 (85%), 1994 (92%), 1992 (77%)
In the House, Velázquez has a solidly liberal voting record, with occasional pro-business votes on economic issues. She is the chairman of the Small Business Committee, where she has sought to give small businesses more time to comply with the tougher accounting standards of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley law. In 2008, she tried to win enactment of a bill that would have expanded subsidies for small-business innovation by diverting $650 million from other federal research funds, but she backed off after the Bush administration strongly objected. In March 2009, she praised the Obama administration for requiring the nation’s largest banks to report monthly on how much lending they do to small businesses.
Earlier, when the Republicans controlled the House and Velázquez was the ranking Democrat on the panel, she joined with Chairman Don Manzullo of Illinois to reinstate a Small Business Administration loan program that had guaranteed lenders a 75% return if a borrower defaulted on loans of up to $750,000. The Bush administration insisted on abolishing the SBA subsidy and funding the program with higher fees to borrowers and lenders. In 2004 Manzullo and Velázquez won approval to add $79 million to the SBA budget to support the loan program, although some fees were also increased. Velázquez also initiated an annual scorecard to show whether the federal government had met its goal of granting 23% of contracts to small businesses. In 2005, the SBA Office of Advocacy found that the agency had miscoded a significant number of loans to small divisions of large firms and had counted them as small-business loans. Velázquez accused the Bush administration of “cooking the books.” In 2006, her scorecard showed that the government had miscoded $12 billion in contracts and that only 22% of contracts went to small businesses. She also charged that the SBA repeatedly fell short of its goal of granting 5% of loans to women.
She has been equally vigilant in overseeing SBA problems in approving loans to small businesses affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2004. After a government report pointing to chaotic service, failure to plan for increased staff and office space, and a loan approval process that lagged behind demand, she said, “At this point, SBA has given us no reason to believe it can adequately respond to another Katrina, and that is simply not acceptable.” She called on Administrator Hector Barreto to resign, and in 2006, he did resign.
Velázquez has been a leading voice on issues related to Puerto Rico and the ongoing debate over whether to change the commonwealth’s status. She favors an inclusive process that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to determine the status of the island. Velázquez has authored legislation authorizing a constitutional convention which would produce a recommendation that would then be subject to a referendum. Those results would then be submitted to Congress. In 2007, she opposed a bill sponsored by New York Democratic Rep. José Serrano, which she said bypassed a consensus process. She strongly advocated clemency for several members of the FALN terrorist group who had sought Puerto Rican independence; they’d been responsible for the deaths of six people and had been imprisoned for 19 years, after being convicted on seditious-conspiracy and weapons charges. When President Bill Clinton granted clemency in 1999, on condition that they renounce violence, Velázquez said that clemency should be unconditional. The House condemned the clemency move, 311-41. Velázquez also champions the cause of immigrants. She favors no time limits on welfare and benefits for legal immigrants, and in 2006, she participated in a Brooklyn march protesting immigration-restriction proposals. “Si se puede,” she cried, adding, “We should not be in the business of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.”
In 2009, Velázquez became chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, an influential group of Hispanic House members. She had run for the post two years earlier and been beaten by California Democrat Joe Baca. Her friendship with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has contributed to her rising influence. A longtime combatant in New York City’s political wars, Velázquez she has won re-election easily every two years. In the contested 2008 Democratic presidential primary, she was an enthusiastic backer of Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in 2008, and she voiced doubts about how well Barack Obama was “connecting” to Hispanics.