Senator Mendez’s RaceBy Jose B. Rivera
East Harlem - April 14, 2004. Senator Olga Mendez may have a tough race on her hands in her bid to seek reelection to the 28th State Senatorial District in East Harlem. Then again, she may not.Senator Mendez is a very popular figure in the East Harlem community. She was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to office on the ‘mainland’. She is tough and generous. To most East Harlemites she is a figure of iconic proportions. Bigger than life, so to speak.
Many (including this writer) love her most persistent trait, that of speaking her mind no matter how anyone takes it. She has had an almost stubborn insistence on speaking her mind, quite freely and without reservation. This total freedom to express herself has gotten the senator respect from all quarters even from her enemies. It’s as if she is able to do what we all wish we could, but can’t for various reasons.
Senator Mendez recently switched political parties. She went from being a Democrat for the people, to being a Republican for the people. And that has made many local democrats angry. They feel betrayed, and they smell an opportunity. A few are contemplating challenging her for her seat, and one is actually actively running. Newly elected Democratic District Leader, John Ruiz has announced he is running for her seat. And can be seen meeting voters around the community on weekends.
The question here is this, does opportunity naturally translate into an easy win? Not necessarily. Senator Mendez has always been a formidable opponent. No one has ever garnered more than 33% of the vote against her. It’s is said that since opponents almost always get 33% of the vote when running against Sen. Mendez, that she has just that much 33% who can be counted to vote against her. But that means that 67% of the voters like her just as she is.
The State Senatorial election comes down to getting just 18% more of the voters to vote against her in this election in order to barely win by 51%. This may sound easy, but it isn’t. Again, remember the senator’s popularity, her history in the community and the bigger than life figure she projects.
Does it matter that she is a Republican when she can deliver just as much and more than likely more than she could with the Democratic Party? And wouldn’t a smart electorate play both parties against each other in order to get more for the community? This writer does not think it matters that she is a Republican. She is still the same person we all love. She is right when she says that the Democratic Party (especially the top level of the Manhattan Democratic Party Leadership) has all but ignored our community and taken it for granted.
This writer is not sure how the voters will feel on election day. They may be angry enough to vote Olga out of office. Or they might remember that Senator Olga Mendez has been there for us for over 20 years. Remember, many an East Harlem elected official has run on both Democratic and Republican lines at the same time. These same Democratic Republicans are now upset she is running on the Republican line. Interesting heh?
Does no one else see the bravery and principle it takes to stand for your community by stepping out and declaring an alternative to things as they are? It can never be said that Olga has no backbone. She is an vertebrate in a sea of jelly fish.
When given the choice I hope they vote for someone with gumption, pride and a long history in our community. And not just see the Republican label next to her name. She is still the same Olga we all love.
To John Ruiz I say, just wait a little longer. Your turn will come. And this writer has no doubt that you will be a good State Senator. This writer does not want to loose a community treasure just yet. How about John Ruiz for City Council?