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Friday, July 27, 2007

Dinner with Obama and other political notes

Couple of quick political notes.

Earlier this week, I had a long conversation with Haile Rivera, a University Heights activist who was one of four people picked to have an intimate dinner with senator and presidential candidate Barrack Obama in DC a few weeks ago. He says he was randomly picked to attend the dinner after donating $25 (not a huge contribution but a relatively big chunk of change for Rivera) to Obama's campaign.

Though Obama, who was in Iowa earlier that day, didn't show up until 10 p.m. (Rivera joked to an Obama aide that, at this hour, they should all just go out for beers and shoot pool), Rivera said the Senator from Illinois was very thoughtful, modest and easy going during their meal at the District Chop House and Brewery. Rivera said they had a great conversation, a portion of which aired on the Today Show, that ranged from war (one of the diners was the wife an American soldier serving in Iraq) to poverty and teen pregnancy.

Toward the end of the meal, Rivera gave Obama two gifts: a book on the history of the Domincan Republic (Rivera's home country) and a Bronx baseball cap. He then invited Obama to visit the Boogie Down as a presidential candidate and Obama replied: "Let's make that happen."

Now Rivera is working to create a pro-Obama movement here in the Bronx and citywide called New Yorkers for Obama (New Yorkers con Obama in Spanish) because he believes in him.

In addition to his duties working for the New York City Food Bank, Rivera has started his own nonprofit and is also contemplating a City Council run in the slot soon to be vacated by the term-limit departure of Maria Baez. Rivera wants to be the first Dominican council member in the city, he says. Rivera's never worked in politics before, but says that is a positive.

"I'm not anti-establishment," Rivera told me, "but at the same time you gotta get some fresh blood in there."

Speaking of fresh blood, I also spoke earlier this week with Council member Koppell's right hand man, Jamin Sewell, who told me he's already created a fundraising committee with an eye on taking his boss' job when his term, like Baez's, runs out next year.

From the looks of it, next fall should be a lot of fun.

Update: Thanks to a couple of readers for accurately pointing out that Guillermo Linares (1991-2001, Washington Heights) was the first Dominican elected to the New York City Council. However, and this is what Haile Rivera said and what I meant to write, there has never been a Dominican elected to the City Council from a Bronx district (Linares actually grew up in East Tremont, but now lives in Marble Hill, according to a 2006 NY Times story). And now, with the Dominican population in the borough growing rapidly and up to an estimated 200,000, Rivera said in an email that he thinks it's time their interests were being better represented.


  1. Too late to be first: Guillermo Linares was the first Dominican elected ot the City Council and served from 1991 to 2001.

  2. I'm sure Alex/Haile meant the first Dominican-American elected to the City Council from The Bronx.

  3. Is Haile Rivera insinuating that only a Dominican can best represent the Dominican Community? That is a bad way to start a city council race in a diverse community. Under that rationale, while he is better serving the Dominican Community, who will better serve the rest of the community?

  4. Let me be straight: I am not saying that only a Dominican "can best represent the Dominican community." I have never believed that race should play no role in who your leader is. The community should elect whoever represents their interests best (or at least says so during the campaign trail). The 14th Council District is very diverse indeed. No argument there! Furthermore, I am not running on race here, I'm running on values and commitment.


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