Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito of East Harlem is 1 of Just 2 Politicians in Upper Manhattan by Frank Lombardi - NY Daily News

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Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito is one of just two uptown politicians
Women are scarce in uptown elected offices. The list begins and ends with Democratic City Council members Inez Dickens of Harlem and Melissa Mark-Viverito of East Harlem, both Democrats.
That's just two out of 11 uptown legislators on the city, state or federal levels, or 18%. The city's population is 52.3% female and 47.7% male.
"It's a shame - that's embarrassing," said Mark-Viverito. "It's an indication that we haven't done enough to open doors to women to be in those positions."
Mark-Viverito and Dickens took contrasting paths to win their Council seats in 2005.
Dickens, 61, is an insider who was was invited to the party. She's a protegé of Harlem Rep. Charles Rangel and his co-leader in the potent Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club. Her late father, Lloyd Dickens, was a prominent Harlem insider.
Dickens was elected her first time out in the 9th District (Central Harlem and parts of Morningside Heights, the upper West Side and East Harlem). Then-incumbent Bill Perkins was blocked from seeking reelection by term limits, and is now a state senator.
Mark-Viverito, 41, is an outsider who had to crash the party to win her seat in the 8th District (East Harlem, parts of Manhattan Valley and a piece of Mott Haven in the Bronx).
Born in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, she came to New York at 18 to attend college, earning a BA from Columbia and a master's from Baruch College. She then worked for several nonprofit agencies, including the Hispanic Education and Legal Fund (HELF) and ASPIRA of New York, and was a strategist for 1199 SEIU, New York's health-care union.
She said she was involved in East Harlem issues and causes through her work, but got more involved after moving into the district in 1998. She made her first Council bid in 2003, getting crushed in a crowded primary against incumbent Philip Reed.
Two years later, with Reed term-limited, she won a six-candidate primary by 167 votes - becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to represent the East Harlem Council district.
Single and guarded about her private life, she explained that her hyphenated name comes from the last name of her late father, Anthony Mark, and the maiden name of her mother, Elizabeth Viverito (whose father was of Italian-American heritage). Her father was a doctor and a founder of San Pablo Hospital in Bayamón, where her mother still lives.
Mark-Viverito has a reputation for being outspoken and for embracing controversial issues - sometimes to the consternation of fellow Council members.
"Maybe that's why I won't be able to look at any other position, because I don't play well with others sometimes," she joked.
One recent example is her call for a pardon for Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican independence activist serving a 70-year sentence for "seditious conspiracy" involving the FALN paramilitary group.
Mark-Viverito insists Rivera, now 68, was never linked to FALN violence and bombings. She said his pardon after 29 years in prison would be "a matter of justice." The U.S. Parole Commission rejected a pardon last month, and Rivera remains in prison.
Her trail of controversies could also hurt her chances of moving up to Council speaker in 2013, when current Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) is forced out by term limits. Dickens also has been mentioned, among others. The new speaker will be chosen by a vote of the 51 Council members.
"I'm very flattered that people think that I may have the capacity and the ability to be in that position," Mark-Viverito said. "I mean people talk to me about it ... so I don't exclude it. I definitely want to be involved in that process."