The message from some top Democrats was precisely that: Comprehensive Immigration Reform will be a top issue for Democrats in Congress this year and they expect to get it done. More than that, it was presented as a wedge issue that could tear apart the Republican Party.
I LOVE seeing Democrats get ready to rumble.
My family were lucky to get invited to the Community Swearing in Ceremony for Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez. She is one of our favorite members of Congress and one with whom I have had several excellent conversations with at parties and political events. Nydia has been in Congress 20 years now and the last time she had a community swearing in ceremony was when she was first elected. (Note the community swearing in is purely ceremonial and intended to celebrate with your local friends, allies, and constituents).
20 years ago the judge who swore her in before a crowd of assembled Brooklynites was a then little known local judge named Sonia Sotomayor. This year, to celebrate her 20th year in Congress, Nydia chose to be sworn in by the Hon. Judge Deborah A. Batts, who was introduced as the first black, openly LGBT judge in the country (if I heard correctly).
Gives you a sense of what it means to know Nydia Velasquez.
Lots more, local and national, below.
Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez is simultaneously known as the best dressed member of Congress (or so was claimed last night) AND "La Luchadora," which means "the fighter."
Soon after Barack Obama was elected, Nydia called up Senator Chuck Schumer and started with a phrase Schumer claims often begins her conversations with him, "Chuck, I have a great idea." This great idea was to recommend to Schumer that Obama nominate Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Schumer had a one-on-one meeting with Obama soon after to set priorities and the first item on his list was suggesting Sotomayor for Supreme. Obama replied, "That's a GREAT idea."
And the rest is history.
THAT is Nydia. (NOTE: does this mean one day we can have Judge Batts as the first black lesbian Supreme Court justice? If we keep re-electing Nydia, Schumer and Democratic Presidents it just might happen.)
I know Nydia from the Brooklyn Democratic Reform movement. A generally hard pressed lot who spend about equal time fighting Republicans and fighting local corruption within the Democratic Party. Nydia was one of the strong Democrats who stood up to now disgraced Party Boss Vito Lopez. This rivalry was brought up a few times, mostly subtly, at last night's event. Compared to the well-known corruption of Vito Lopez, who was repeatedly investigated by pretty much all levels of government up to the FBI and who eventually was brought down by a sexual harassment scandal, Nydia Velasquez has been ranked 4th in the House for not letting political campaign contributions influence votes (I missed which organization did the ranking...a danger of having your 8 year old next to you at a political event).
But Nydia brings together a wide range of local Democrats in Brooklyn and beyond. Those who know local politics know that it is rare to find former state senator Marty Connor at the same political event as the guy who defeated him, state senator Daniel Squadron. But they were both there. Three out of the four prime mayoral candidates were there last night: NYC Comptroller John Liu, former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, and Councilmember Christine Quinn. Two notable absences were the only mayoral candidate actually from Brooklyn (Bill de Blasio) and the current head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party (and Vito Lopez's handpicked but so far more transparent successor) Frank Seddio.
There were too many speakers and too many great quotes to cover everyone. But it was WONDERFUL to be a large room where everyone was PROUD of the traditional American values of tolerance and diversity. PROUD of the fact that in NYC you hear a dozen languages a day, see people of every religion and every ethnicity. PROUD of the advances made by women, minorities, LGBT, etc.
And, to paraphrase the words of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cruz (who gave the invocation in both English and Spanish), decrying the anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-women "values" of the Republicans.
Nydia was described as one of the most Progressive members of Congress repeatedly. But it was my Assemblywoman Joan Millman who proudly used the word LIBERAL to describe Nydia. Yeah, hopefully liberalism is back with attitude.
Many liberal talking points were hit upon last night by many of the speakers. A sampling can be taken from the mayoral candidates.
Councilmember Christine Quinn emphasized the leadership Nydia has taken within the Latino community for LGBT rights. Though I think it was Councilmember Rosie Mendez (I think!) who emphasized what role Nydia took. It was Nydia who led the movement of Latinas publicly advocating for marriage equality that helped blunt this as a wedge issue the Republicans can wield. In part it was Nydia who made marriage equality acceptable among the Latino community.
Comptroller John Liu emphasized two issues: immigration and small businesses. These are two issues both John and Nydia are very strong on. Liu was the first last night (I believe) to bring up Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He also was the first (I believe) to refer to Nydia as "La Luchadora" and said that in this context we all should expect that THIS YEAR Nydia will get comprehensive immigration reform passed in Congress. Seems the Democrats are prepared to release La Luchadora on this issue. It was pointed out that this is not necessarily an issue that would be as dear to Nydia's heart as it is to John's (John is an immigrant from Taiwan). Nydia was born an American citizen in Puerto Rico and, as someone put, could just as easily push aside immigration issues. Instead she has taken it as her cause for this year. On small businesses both the Comptroller on the local level (if he is elected mayor) and the Congresswoman Federally advocate shifting a large part of the money that we put into big corporations (like all those "too big to fail" failures) and instead putting it into revitalizing small businesses (who are the REAL job creators).
Former Comptroller Bill Thompson emphasized a note that almost everyone else there touched on: inspiration. Nydia has been the inspiration to so many women in general and so many Latinas in particular. But Thompson (as well as my Congresswoman Yvette Clarke) emphasized her ability to inspire EVERYONE, man or woman, Latina or black or whatever. Someone else (I want to say Rosie Mendez but it could have been dozens of others) said that many women leaders are standing on Nydia's shoulders and Nydia does not just break glass ceilings, she reaches down and lifts others onto her own shoulders above those glass ceilings. I believe even Sonia Sotomayor is seen as standing on Nydia's shoulders.
Once John Liu brought up immigration reform, it became an emphasized refrain. And that refrain, repeated often including by La Luchadora herself, was "We WILL Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform THIS YEAR." And Nydia emphasized that, as with marriage equality, this is no longer a wedge issue the Republicans can use effectively. In fact, she believes this is now a wedge issue the Democrats can use to divide the Republicans. She believes they will have to join in the reform (kicking and screaming of course) because if they don't they will condemn themselves to minority status in Congress for years to come.
I am unconvinced it will be done this year, but I see last night as the moment in which the tide is turning and EVENTUALLY this will be a major wedge issue the Democrats can and will use...and as usual, it is La Luchadora who is in the lead.
Nydia was born to a family of sugar cane cutters in Puerto Rico. Her father was an organizer for the workers working for their rights much as Cesar Chavez worked for the migrant workers in California. Nydia was the first member of her family to receive a college degree. She then got her Master's degree from New York University, beginning her relationship with New York. She taught at Hunter College and became the first Latina member of the NY City Council. She was elected to Congress in 1984. And hopefully will be there for many years to come.
Or as I said to her when I gave her a congratulatory hug, "many happy returns."