Rep. Jose Serrano (D)
Elected: Mar. 1990, 10th full term.
Born: Oct. 24, 1943, Mayaguez, PR .
Education: Lehman Col..
Family: Divorced; 5 children.
Military career: Army Medical Corps, 1964–66.
Elected office: Dist. 7 Schl. Bd., 1969–74; NY Assembly, 1974–90.
Professional Career: Banker, 1961–69.
The congressman from the 16th District is Democrat José Serrano, who won the seat in a 1990 special election. A native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, he grew up in the Mill Brook project in Mott Haven. After serving in the Army, he worked at a bank and as a school administrator. Serrano moved up while other Bronx politicians fell by the wayside because of corruption. He was elected to the New York Assembly in 1974 and chaired its Education Committee. In 1985, he ran for Bronx borough president, bucking the Democratic organization, and nearly won. Then in January 1990, U.S. Rep. Robert García of the South Bronx was convicted of accepting money from the minority contractor Wedtech. His conviction was later reversed, but his resignation paved the way for Serrano’s election to the House.
|Jose Serrano (D-WF)||127,179||(97%)||($386,734)|
|Ali Mohamed (R)||4,488||(3%)|
|Jose Serrano (D-WF)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (95%), 2004 (95%), 2002 (92%), 2000 (96%), 1998 (95%), 1996 (96%), 1994 (96%), 1992 (91%), 1990 (93%), 1990 (92%)
Serrano has one of the most liberal voting records in the House. As one of the Appropriations subcommittee chairmen, he is a member of the powerful “college of cardinals,” which wields great influence over spending decisions. He also brings as many federal dollars home to his economically strapped district as he can. Serrano chairs the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, which oversees many federal regulators
Serrano is a critic of outsourcing government services, and in 2007, he moved to end the Internal Revenue Service’s use of private debt-collection companies for delinquent taxes. He was the only House member from New York City who voted in 2008 against the federal bailout for banks and other financial-services companies. He said he couldn’t justify giving money to the wealthy people who’d created the problem. In 2008, his subcommittee’s appropriations bill included a policy rider that relaxed travel restrictions on Cuba; it also lifted restrictions that barred the District of Columbia government from using local funds for needle-exchange programs for drug users.
A big local priority for Serrano has been cleaning up the Bronx River, and he delivered about $30 million for the effort. (When the river progressed to the point where it could support wildlife, a beaver appeared and was dubbed “José” in honor of Serrano’s work in behalf of the waterway.) In 2007, he helped broker a $2 million deal to purchase for the city the heavily wooded, seven-acre South Brother Island in the East River.
Although he has an important subcommittee post, Serrano’s attempts to join the Democratic leadership have been stymied. In 1997, Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt passed over him and picked the less-senior Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who was a better fundraiser, to be chief deputy whip. In 1998, Serrano ran for Democratic Caucus vice chairman as “the candidate who refuses to raise money to buy your vote for leadership.” He again lost out to Menendez, who went on to become a senator.
In opposition to Cuban Hispanics in Congress, Serrano has been Fidel Castro’s greatest champion in the House. He has sought repeal of economic sanctions against Cuba. When questions arose about Castro’s future after major surgery in July 2006, Serrano issued a press release telling President George W. Bush, “Hands Off Cuba.” When Castro’s brother, Raúl Castro, took control, Serrano said that it was “long past time to end the charade and begin dialogue and engagement with Cuba.” Another of his issues is statehood for Puerto Rico, which he calls an American “colony.” He backs a long-stalled referendum to determine the status of the island. In 2000, Serrano was arrested at the White House while protesting the Navy’s bombing range at Vieques, Puerto Rico. He also took credit for working with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Citizen Energy Corp. to strike a deal to bring cheaper oil to the South Bronx. He has criticized the reluctance of House Democratic leaders to pass immigration reform.
In New York politics, Serrano backed former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer for mayor in 2001 and 2005. He backed civil-rights activist Al Sharpton for president in 2004. His son José, a former city councilman, ousted a Republican incumbent in 2004 to win a state Senate seat. Serrano the elder remains secure in his district.