Last night, shortly before 9 p.m., Ronnie Sykes, the spokeswoman for Congressman Charlie Rangel’s re-election campaign sent out a press release announcing Assemblyman Guillermo Linares’ endorsement of Mr. Rangel. The release identified Mr. Linares as the “first Dominican elected official in the U.S.” Less than two hours later, Ms. Sykes sent out a modified press release calling Mr. Linares “the first Dominican elected to a major political office in the United States.” Ms. Sykes confirmed to The Politicker that the press release was corrected because Mr. Linares is, in fact, not the first Dominican elected official.
Recently, a Democratic club in Washington Heights held a meeting to endorse candidates in the local Congressional race. Afterwards, a group of reporters and some campaign staffers went out for beers at a nearby diner, Tu Sabor Latino. Once inside, they ran into a table full of volunteers working on the other major political campaign in the neighborhood—the race for a president of the Dominican Republic, between Danilo Medina and Hipólito Mejía, better known as Papá to his supporters.
Outside the diner, sirens flashed as the police escorted a motorcade carrying one of the Dominican presidential candidates up Broadway. It was a physical manifestation of a phenomenon that has long been familiar to Uptown politicos, in the upper reaches of Manhattan, local politicians can’t avoid bumping into the Dominican campaigns. (There is even a seat in the Dominican congress for a representative
from the U.S., such is the size of the ex-pat community.).
Every four years, the Dominican elections play out on the streets of Washington Heights and Inwood—with colorful signs, flags, trucks with speakers blasting Spanish songs and campaign slogans and personal appearances by the candidates. According to a 2005 study by CUNY’s Center for Latin American, Caribbean & Latino Studies, Dominicans make up over 53 percent of the population in the area, and many of the residents are dual citizens who also vote in their home country.
It turns out, this unique political landscape is riddled with potential landmines for local politicians.
Last month, Dominican Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States Roberto Saladin sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo expressing his support for the creation of a new, predominantly Latino Congressional district in New York. After the letter drew criticism it was an inappropriate foreign intervention, Dominican Ambassador to the United States, Aníbal de Castro sent an email to The Politicker disavowing Mr. Saladin’s letter and clarifying his government’s position on New York’s redistricting dilemma.
“I would like to categorically state that the Dominican Republic views the electoral affairs of the United States, including redistricting issues, as internal and sovereign concerns,” Mr. de Castro wrote. “While it is true that the Dominican people would be pleased and proud if the valuable contribution of Americans of Dominican descent were celebrated through the election of one of their representatives to Congress, we respect the absolute right of the competent authorities in the United States to handle the enfranchisement of its citizens in different jurisdictions without external interference.”
Dominican Ambassador Roberto Saladin has thrown his support behind the push to create a new predominantly Latino Congressional district in Northern Manhattan and the Bronx. Mr. Saladin sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo last Tuesday describing the creation of the district as a “question of utmost importance” for the Dominican Diaspora that would “open the opportunity to elect a Congressman of Dominican origin to the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C.”