When the Votes Don’t Match the Needs of the Community

Manny de los Santos, Co-President of Northern Manhattan for Change Democratic Club, affiliated with Espaillat and Alcantara

The New York State Senate is too white and too male. We need more diverse legislators representing districts across the state.

That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to oppose Senator Marisol Alcantara. On the surface, she’s seemingly a breath of fresh air in the stale Senate chamber. A Dominican immigrant, she promises to be a true representative of my community, Washington Heights and Inwood, a neighborhood the NYS Comptroller says is two-thirds Dominican and is comprised of 48% immigrants. The Comptroller also reports the district has the highest percentage of English language learners in New York City. That’s in a district with overcrowding in 33% of schools. Both immigrant and US-born, white and Latinx people, all people in truth, gain from having someone like Senator Alcantara in the Senate, at least on paper.

The problem is her votes don’t match the needs of her constituents.

Senator Alcantara is a member of the eight-person Independent Democratic Conference, a splinter group off of the mainline Democrats that empowers Republicans to control the Senate. Now that Senator Felder has said he would caucus with the Democrats, if these eight Senators — Alcantara, Klein, Savino, Carlucci, Avella, Hamilton, Peralta and Valesky—were to rejoin the Democrats, the party would have a majority and be able to pass all the progressive legislation New Yorkers want.

As Donald Trump and his merry band of racists, xenophobes, misogynists, and bigots continue to march all over our rights, we need New York to protect us. That can happen in the form of a number of progressive bills, like the Liberty Act, the DREAM Act, the $4.3 billion owed to public schools in Foundation Aid for over 20 years (Trump’s budget proposal cuts $284 million from school programming funding, deepening our public schools’ deficits), free college tuition for undocumented students, and the Reproductive Health Act and Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, to name a few.

But because of the IDC keeping Democrats from leading the Senate, these bills are stuck in committee, where they die. The Republican leader, Senator Flanagan, empowered by Alcantara and the rest of the IDC, won’t pressure the committee chairs to release these bills for a vote. In the unlikely event these bills do get out of committee, Flanagan certainly won’t do any work to make sure the bills pass to become law. Republicans are not progressives, which is why the IDC, elected Democrats in name only, putting them in charge is so counterintuitive and counterproductive.

People have been saying this for years, of course, but in the Trump era, the grumbling has caught on. So much so that yesterday there were rallies at the eight IDC members’ district offices. I attended the rally at Senator Alcantara’s office because she is my senator. There were about 30 of us there, and shortly after we arrived a group of IDC supporters arrived, too. One of the signs they held is pictured at the top of this article: Immigrants Deserve Representation.

As I said in the moment on Twitter, this is 100% true. Immigrants deserve representation in government. As a firm believer in “no more white silence,” I’ll say it again: Immigrants deserve representation. Immigrants are my neighbors, my friends, my grandparents, my father-in-law. My community is richer for its diversity, and a government that doesn’t respect these people is a broken one. A legislator who fails to act in the best interest of immigrants fails us all.

Senator Alcantara has failed us all.

She has either been absent from key votes or voted against measures that would help both her immigrant and non-immigrant constituents. She has joined a group of turncoats that has hobbled the Democrats to bolster the opposition. We voted for a Democrat, but we got a Republican.

The IDC wants you to believe it’s progressive and inclusive. They just released a propaganda video about it actually. (You can read more here.) Senator Alcantara wants you to believe she’s a progressive, too; she talks about being a Bernie Sanders delegate all the time. She also wants you to believe she’s fighting for immigrants, but she’s supporting a group that actively keeps laws from changing in favor of immigrant communities and People of Color.

Look at what Alcantara has done since taking office:

  • Failed to pass the DREAM Act, getting only a one-time fund of $10 million for immigrant defense (for comparison, a dirt road upstate got $77 million)
  • Was absent from a vote for full Foundation Aid funding (the $4.3 billion owed to public schools; $55 million to her district alone)
  • “No” votes on increased voting access, single payer health insurance, and an emergency fund for Planned Parenthood if Trump defunds the organization
  • Supported a watered-down Raise the Age that still leaves predominantly Black and brown adolescents in danger of being tried as adults instead of the children they are
  • Helped enact a broken free college tuition program that leaves out undocumented students
  • Failed to advocate for the Liberty Act, a sanctuary state bill

Immigrants deserve representation. Senator Alcantara is representing the Dominicans and immigrants in our community in appearance only. A true representative would have the polar opposite record to the one I just listed above.

In all fairness, it’s not just Senator Alcantara who’s falsely saying she’s a champion of immigrants. The whole IDC is saying it, too. But if immigrants are so important to the IDC, why are they taking money from Roger Hertog, a funder of hate candidates. If you take money from people like Hertog, can you be unbiased and do the right thing where immigrants are concerned? I don’t have a crystal ball handy, but my guess is donations from Hertog and people like him would dry up if Alcantara got the “sanctuary district” she wants, Peralta his DREAM Act, or the IDC’s “support” of the Liberty Act materialized into a law. The $10 million for immigrant legal defense is probably too small potatoes, especially given a dirt trail upstate got $77 million, for these bigots to care.

Beyond bills that affect the lives of immigrants and People of Color directly, keep in mind Hertog is also a lover of school vouchers. Instead of investing resources into ailing public schools in communities of color and those with lower socioeconomic status, one of the IDC’s main funders wants to draw resources away, primarily harming black and brown children. Research shows that kids who stay in their public school, when the school is better funded, have better outcomes that those that use vouchers to go to private schools. Hertog believes differently; Hertog holds the purse strings, so what’s the motivation for the IDC to pressure Cuomo and the Republican Senate leadership to make sure the $4.3 billion owed to public schools in Foundation Aid is paid out?

When you add all the money pouring into IDC coffers from the charter lobby, that motivation shrinks even further. That money manifests in the form of Senators Klein and Flanagan talking about expanding the number of charter schools while our public school kids are given 16% of what they’re owed. There can be a place for charter schools in the system, but not when their existence (and growth) profits on the backs of underfunded public schools.

Similar money pours in from health insurers, like Aetna, and medical association PACs, like the Healthcare Association of New York State. Again, no crystal ball, but I’m guessting that money would cease to flow to the IDC if we had single payer health insurance in New York.

Ultimately, we have to believe the actions, not the words of Senator Alcantara and the IDC. We shouldn’t take them at their word because they have failed to provide the results to match their promises. More so, we need to resist the temptation to make this a fight about race. It’s false and it weakens our community. We need a more diverse legislature, but we don’t need one that’s diverse and run by Republicans who don’t have our best interests at heart.