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Electeds Hopeful State Will Draw New Latino Congressional District

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez at redistricting rally in Washington Heights.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez at redistricting rally in Washington Heights.
Sam Levin

Pray for fair redistricting, y'all!

Politics and religion mixed this afternoon at a rally in a Washington Heights church where civic leaders, backed by a handful of elected officials, pushed for the state to draw a majority Latino congressional district that would include parts of upper Manhattan, the west Bronx, and Corona and Jackson Heights in Queens.

Before the speeches began inside the United Palace Cathedral on 175th Street, the hundred or so rallying on the steps of the large church said a prayer.

"We are here today under the umbrella of God," said Maria Luna, a district leader in upper Manhattan, leading the press conference. "Just to make things right, and just to make sure that our voices are heard, we are going to start with a prayer."

The activists and community leaders were pushing for a district that they say would unite communities of interest and give a stronger voice to the city's Latino population which has grown dramatically over the last decade. (Latinos make up the city's largest minority group at 29 percent of the total 8.1 million population).

Toward the end of the press conference, after a handful of speeches from civic leaders emphasized the importance of Latinos coming together and getting fair representation, Luna told the crowd that she had good reason to be optimistic.

"We have secured the endorsement for our plans [from Senate Majority Leader Dean] Skelos...Although he is a Republican, I need to say, as a Democrat, thank you, because we need all the help that we can get," she said.

Apparently, Skelos made his stance known at the New York State Federation of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce last night.

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez later added, "I am so happy that last night the Republic Senate Majority leader...said that he was optimistic on the creation of a new congressional seat to elect a Latino person...representing our city. So now we will continue knocking the door to all brothers and sisters, Republican and Democrat, to be sure that a new Latino congressional seat is created so that we will have the voice that is needed, and it is justified."

It's been rumored that State Senator Adriano Espaillat, who attended the press conference but didn't make a speech, would run for a seat in Congress if this kind of majority Latino district were drawn.

Runnin' Scared, alongside several other reporters, caught up with Espaillat after the news conference to ask him about this potential bid for Congress.

He deflected the question back to the topic of redistricting.

"I am running right now for re-election for the New York State Senate and that's what I'm concentrating my efforts on. This is a civic rally that I think answers to a very American question -- whether someone that pays taxes, whether communities that have common interests should also have representation at all levels of government," he said.

State Senator Adriano Espaillat
State Senator Adriano Espaillat
Sam Levin

"That's what this country is about -- having not only fair representation but that the representation is reflective of the composition of the state itself," he continued.

When Runnin' Scared asked him if he was confident that the state would ultimately create this district, he said, "More people have testified in the series of hearings that the legislature has held for this issue than any other issue in the state of New York. So if they don't respond, then they must be deaf. But I think that they will respond."

When another reporter pressed him again about a potential bid for Congress, he repeated that he is focused on the State Senate. "I like my job. I'm working hard to do what I need to do for my district. If a new district were to open up, I would take a good serious look at it. But right now all my efforts are supporting the community..."

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