As the first New York City Council Speaker of Puerto Rican descent, Melissa Mark-Viverito placed a high priority on immigration issues that have helped raise her national profile as a staunch Democratic supporter of immigrant rights and vocal critic of the Trump administration.
And as she finishes her last month in office and as speaker, Mark-Viverito, representing the 8th Council District in the South Bronx and Harlem, sees herself lobbing even more criticism at the Trump administration sans a political pulpit.
“That’s why we have to fight so hard,” Mark-Viverito said. “There’s so much at stake.”
Those were some of her remarks in her last, hour-long roundtable discussion with reporters from community and ethnic media before leaving office. The event was hosted by the Center for Community & Ethnic Media, which has forged a stronger relationship with the speaker’s office in recent years.
The last year has arguably tested Mark-Viverito’s strength as a speaker and the Council’s relentless approach to reinforcing New York City’s status as a so-called Sanctuary City. It’s done so by passing resolutions that have stymied federal officers from arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses, schools and other public facilities. Conceding that the city may not save every undocumented immigrant from deportation, Mark-Viverito said there is a deliberate slowdown in keeping authorities from doing their job.
There’s also help in the form of providing legal services to those facing deportation or understanding their immigration status. “In some cases they actually do have status and may not even know it,” Mark-Viverito said.
As speaker, Mark-Viverito kept a pulse on the city’s issues. Among them is the multi-faceted issue of homelessness, which has increased over the last four years, prompting the de Blasio administration to build more homeless shelters. Norwood is among the neighborhoods under consideration for a shelter, with Sam’s Floor Carpeting on Webster Avenue being eyed for a shelter.
“We have a mandate that we have to honor and sometimes we have to build or lose a hotel in order to access—we’re trying to stay away from that—but considering this mandate we have to do something,” Mark-Viverito said.
The answer to the homelessness crisis is preventing it altogether, according to Mark-Viverito. “Having access to a lawyer now is going to help people stay in their homes,” said Mark-Viverito, citing the availability of lawyers for low-income residents fighting their landlords in housing court. The service was enacted through the New York City Council.
As 2018 sees her out of office, the last bit of business for Mark-Viverito to contend with is influencing who will be the next speaker. Though coy on who she would endorse, Mark-Viverito acknowledged that the best speaker isn’t one that has to align with a certain ethnic demographic. Her endorsement will not run on ethnic lines. “Just because you’re a Latino candidate, doesn’t mean that you’re the best candidate,” she said. “You could be a fighter for my issues even if you’re not be Puerto Rican.”
Her endorsement will likely come before she decides what she will do next.
“There’s a lot of doors that could open,” said. “[A]nd I have to be ready.”