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Mark-Viverito Enters Bronx Congressional Race

Former Council speaker recently targeted by Puerto Rico’s disgraced ex-governor

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is mounting a run for Congress on a platform of Medicare for All.
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Ritchie has some more competition.

Former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has jumped into the crowded race to replace outgoing Congressmember José Serrano in the South Bronx next year.

Mark-Viverito, who is the interim president of Latino Victory Fund and most recently lost her bid in the city public advocate special election earlier this year, is entering a contest that already includes out gay Councilmember Ritchie Torres, homophobic Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., and Assemblymember Michael Blake.

To this point, buzz surrounding the race has largely focused on the juxtaposition between Diaz’s conservative, anti-LGBTQ past and Torres’ historic chance to become the nation’s first out gay black congressmember, the first out gay Latinx congressmember, and the first out gay member of the New York City congressional delegation. That comparison is even more profound in light of the political anomaly that voters in one of the bluest congressional districts in the nation could possibly elect a candidate whose views align more closely with the Republican Party.

But Mark-Viverito, who grew up in Puerto Rico, would make history of her own as the first woman to occupy the 15th Congressional District seat. She is aiming to shake up the race just weeks after her name emerged at the center of a scandal that upended the political climate in Puerto Rico and forced out Governor Ricardo Rosselló. The former governor and his top aides called Mark-Viverito a “whore,” made anti-LGBTQ remarks, and joked about shooting San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. Notably, Mark-Viverito is the first woman to enter what is now a four-person race.

Mark-Viverito does not live in the 15th Congressional District or even in the borough — she resides in East Harlem — but her old Council district included parts of the South Bronx. She said in a tweet on August 7 that she “served as Speaker of the NYC Council for five years, where I’ve fought for women, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and black and brown New Yorkers that have historically been ignored by our government.”

She also penned a piece for the Bronx Free Press on August 6 in which she discussed her decision to jump in the race and reflected on her experience growing up in Puerto Rico.

“My Bronx-born Mami put me to work in the feminist movement in Puerto Rico alongside Afro-Boricua, Lesbians, cis, working, and middle-class women all fighting together for equality,” she said.

She continued, “Every movement emerges out of some injustice. Most recently, the revolution that has rocked Puerto Rico is one that has been heard around the world and has made its message clear: the government must serve you and NOT corporations, hedge funds, and special interests. That’s why I’m running for Congress, and I’m asking for your support.”

To that end, Mark-Viverito is making two significant campaign pledges. She noted in her Bronx Free Press piece that she is supporting Medicare for All, and she told The City that she is rejecting campaign contributions from corporate PACs and real estate developers.

Embracing Medicare for All has emerged as a popular stance in the party in response to discontent over Obamacare plans that have become riddled with rising premiums, high deductibles, and shoddy healthcare coverage. Local voters made their voices heard on the issue last year when it was a major part of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s platform during her successful campaign to unseat Joe Crowley in the 14th Congressional District. Notably, the 15th Congressional District is among the poorest in the nation, which could indicate that there is a considerable population of folks who have experience with Obamacare plans.

It is not immediately clear where other candidates in the race specifically stand on healthcare reform.

Despite a packed field of candidates, Torres jumped out as the clear-cut frontrunner in campaign cash as of the first campaign filing last month, having raised a whopping $522,000. Sixty-one of his donations came from the Bronx — the most among candidates — while Diaz yielded a larger percentage of borough-based donors, even as he totaled just $80,766 in his first filing. Blake received contributions from just seven Bronx-based donors as part his $120,941 haul in the first filing.

Although Mark-Viverito invoked the LGBTQ community on multiple occasions as she launched her campaign, Torres has gained significant LGBTQ-based support early on. The Equality PAC, which is the political branch of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which helps elect out candidates across all levels of government, are among those that have endorsed him. He also received a donation from out gay Rhode Island Congressmember David Cicilline and his PAC.

Since announcing her candidacy, Mark-Viverito launched a campaign site, mmvforthebronx.com. The website features a headline stating, “A better future for NY-15,” accompanied by the message: “You deserve a representative whose sole priority is your well being. A representative focused on ensuring that the same opportunities are available to you regardless of zip code, geography or income. I am committed to being that representative. A better today and tomorrow is possible.

Mark-Viverito could not immediately be reached for comment on August 7.

Updated 6:00 pm, August 7, 2019
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