By Nelson Santana
August 23, 2018 [Updated August 24]
With the backdrop of feminist merengue, “Que Gobiernen las mujeres” (1984) by the pioneering group Las Chicas del Can, turncoat Democrat Marisol Alcántara is using questionable, divisive, and even discriminatory ethnic politics to secure her seat in the New York State Senate for a second term.
The 13-second video advertisement ends with the song lyrics:
de decir lo que uno quiere to say what we want
es la hora de formar it is time to form
un gobierno de mujeres a women’s government
“Que Gobiernen las mujeres” was released the same year as the Poblada de abril, when a series of protests rocked the Dominican Republic from April 23rd through the 25th. Protests erupted in response to Jorge Blanco’s government, accused of ongoing political corruption, the devaluation of the Dominican peso, and which imposed unreasonable increase in food and gas as a result of signing an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It should also be noted that the song was released six years after Los Doce Años (Twelver Years) of Joaquín Balaguer, a twelve-year period of repression that saw the killing of those who opposed the government and that for many served as an extension of Rafael Trujillo’s 31-year dictatorship.
Alcántara's advertisement targets a very specific demographic: Dominican mothers in their forties and fifties, whom Alcántara believes are the key to winning the September 13 Democratic primary elections. Prior to the closing moments of the ad, in which the lyrics close it, a woman says:
YO voto dominicano I vote Dominican
Y TU? How about you?
Because culture is the key to her campaign, Alcántara uses nostalgia to present herself as a genuine Dominican and to gain the trust of her constituents. Clearly, Alcántara is targeting women with her sympathetic SOS. In addition, the video opens with an image of Alcántara with three women perceived by some to be leaders of the Dominican community: Jacqueline Guilamo, Miguelina Echevarría, and Marisol Mateo.
It is a shame that Alcántara uses a feminist anthem to win votes. Of course, she is only using a proven strategy that politicians have used for years. Although dembow, reggaetón, hip hop, and merengue urbano, among others, are frowned down upon by those within elitist circles—including politicians—when running for office, they often include such genres to win over the population. As noted in ESENDOM’s “Eight Research Ideas about Dominicans That You Should Pursue (Part 3),” Dominican politics and music go hand-in-hand.
Alcántara is desperate and indeed she should be. Upon winning the Democratic primary election in 2016 for the 31st district seat of the New York State Senate—yet prior to officially beginning her tenure—according to activists and commentators, she betrayed her constituents and the Democratic Party by aligning herself with the now defunct Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The IDC comprised of rogue elected officials from the Democratic Party in the New York State Senate who separated from the other members of the Democratic Party. These turncoat members include leader Jeffrey D. Klein, Tony Avella, David Carlucci, Jesse Hamilton, Diane Savino, David J. Valesky, and fellow Dominican countryman José Peralta. It was the group’s alliance with the Republican Party that made it controversial, as the group remained on ballots under the Democratic Party, yet sided with the Republican Party on critical issues—immigration (The Dream Act), education reform, etc.—that hindered their own constituents, especially communities of color in the case of Alcántara, Hamilton, Klein, and Peralta.
According to Alcántara , she joined the IDC because they supported her candidacy in 2016 as opposed to the established members of New York’s Democratic Party. “They thought that it was important that people that come from my community, people who are immigrant and come from the labor movement, that we can also have a voice and seat at the table.” Alcántara's comments are contradictory in many ways. For one, the IDC is a pro-Trump group whose members belonged to a party that supports anti-immigrant policies.
Not everyone in the mostly Dominican Washington Heights community supports Alcántara either. One segment, parents, blame the senator for failing to provide schools with much-needed funding for resources.
During the 31st State Senate District debate, constituents had the opportunity to ask candidates questions. In response to several questions about the IDC, Alcántara noted:
I broke with the IDC [Independent Democratic Conference] to keep the charter cap. Plastic bags — banning plastic bags in the state of New York. I broke with the IDC in providing taxpayers' money to bail out nuclear power plants. I broke with the IDC when it came to accountability for law enforcement agents. I broke with the IDC on other environmental issues because I believe that it is important to protect our environment. If you look at my record, I have passed 12 bills that have been signed into law by the governor.
Unfortunately, as a member of the IDC and ally of the Republican Party, Alcántara and her colleagues have prevented key issues from passing, such as the Liberty Act, rent laws, and education reform, among others.
You Can Learn More about Someone Based on the Company they Keep
In addition to Alcántara's controversial allegiance to the IDC, her list of Facebook “friends” and people she follows on social media is also questionable. Among these “friends,” one will find respected activists, academics, and even celebrities such as actor Manny Pérez and entrepreneur Cira Ángeles. However, upon careful inspection, one will also find that she is “friends” with conservatives such as Félix Jerez. Jerez is both executive director of Agenda Dominicana and president of the Partido Liberal Reformista (PLR) or Liberal Reformist Party (in English).
Jerez is among a group of right-wing Dominican nationalists (also known in Spanish as Nazionalistas) who held a press conference recently and called for the boycott of the National Dominican Day Parade, as noted by ESENDOM. According to the group, which included members of the Instituto Duartiano de New York and Jerez’s organization, Agenda Dominicana, the boycott was called by the conservative group as retaliation for their claim that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and parade President María Khury invited a Haitian delegation to the Dominican Day Parade—a baseless claim with no evidence. During a video interview (at 00:56), Jerez exclaimed:
Es el momento ya de reaccionar. Como director ejecutivo de Agenda Dominicana entiendo de que basta ya de que se nos esté usando. Ellos están provocando una situación de sangre ese domingo allí y nosotros no somos responsables como comunidad. Que sean ellos los responsables.
(It is time to react. As director of Agenda Dominicana I understand that enough is enough and they should stop using us. They are provoking a fight this upcoming Sunday and we are not responsible as a community. They should be responsible.)
Jerez’s scathing words are problematic in many ways. First, he threatened violence, and then he justifies the attack on any Haitian-descended person at the parade. Since its inception in 1982, parade organizers have welcomed people from other cultures who have paraded alongside Dominicans. The parade is a celebration of Dominican culture and joy, not a time for divisive politics about the island. Contradicting the viewpoint of Jerez and other Nazionalistas, the National Dominican Day Parade takes place the Sunday of La Restauración, the Dominican Republic’s second independence (this independence in 1865 is from Spain as opposed to the original independence from Haiti in 1844). Even more contradictory is that the man who most Dominicans—including Nazionalistas—consider the leader of this revolutionary movement, was proud of his African heritage, and the child of Black immigrants.
Being a member of the IDC suits Alcántara well, as she is both conservative and reactionary. This past Wednesday, she was interviewed in the Dominican radio program, El gobierno de la mañana. In the interview, Alcántara was asked about the participation of Haitian nationals in the Dominican Day Parade which took place on August 12. Alcántara responded:
Hubo mucha falta de información. En la parada fue un grupo de dominicanos que desfilaron que creen que la isla se debe unir. Estaban marchando con letreros que dicen 1864 pero esos fueron nada más como diez personas que marchraon así...ellos se infiltraron al grupo de la Marcha Verde
(There was a lack of information. At the parade, there was a group of Dominicans who believe in the fusion [of the island]. They marched with signs that said 1864, but they were only about ten people, and they infiltrated the group of Marcha Verde)
No actual delegation of Haitians attended the Dominican Day Parade as Alcántara noted. Contrary to what Alcántara says, the group she refers to, We Are All Dominican (WAAD), had previously participated in the parade and did not infiltrate the event. WAAD does not advocate for the unification of the island either, as Alcántara erroneously notes, hence, once more reverting to divisive ethnic politics. It is also important to note that WAAD did not infiltrate the Marcha Verde group because some WAAD members also participate in the grassroots movement known as Marcha Verde. WAAD advocates for the year 1865, not 1864, demonstrating Alcántara's lack of Dominican history knowledge. WAAD highlights the year 1865 as it is part of a campaign to bring awareness about the second Dominican independence in 1865. (Alcántara's response begins at the 9-minute mark in the video below.)
In essence, Alcántara's flawed views and pandering are not only questionable, but also discriminatory. Also, the company she keeps is suspect with people like Jerez and Jeffrey Klein in her inner circle. Her IDC comrade Jeffrey Klein was accused of sexual misconduct in early January and this alone could be enough for Alessandra Biaggi to oust the senator from office.
In the September 13 primary election, Alcántara will be challenged by former Councilman Robert Jackson, who lost to her in 2016. In recent weeks both candidates have faced off in the state senate primary debate (view PART 1 and PART 2).
As per Ballotpedia, in 2016 Alcántara received endorsements from Congressman Adriano Espaillat, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., among others. This time around, Alcántara is endorsed by Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Roxanne Persaud, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, 1199 SEIU, and community leaders Angela Fernández, Rosita Romero, and Yudelka Tapia. Robert Jackson, considered Alcántara's principal opponent, is endorsed by New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressman Jerry Nadler, former Mayor David Dinkins, and former Congressman Charles Rangel, among others.
Marisol Alcántara is not a feminist, even though she uses feminist rhetoric to win votes. It is great that Alcántara wishes to empower Dominican women, however, she should not ignore other sectors of her community.
What are the benefits of voting for a Dominican? To have a voice? It has already proven that elected officials of Dominican descent, like other politicians from different ethnic backgrounds, get sucked into the system and become less vocal about the needs of the community because power changes people.
It was important back in the seventies and eighties to elect African American politicians since electing them was a step forward in the fight for civil rights. This was also the case with Dominicans after the immigrant wave of the eighties and nineties. Unfortunately, electing someone based on their origin has never been enough to improve people’s lives.
Unless there is a way to make politicians accountable to their constituents, politicians will continue to engage in corruption and forget about their promises.