One crucial point has been lost in the hoopla of the Republicans' likely recapturing of the title of 'Ringmasters of the Circus’ by a 32-30 majority. It is that for the first time in New York state history, there will be six Latino senators serving within the 62-member legislative body.
The number six by itself is actually insignificant. However, if these six Democrats – four Puerto Ricans and two Dominicans – unite on any one issue, they could collectively become a royal pain for the embarrassed and scrambling Democrats. Just imagine a Pedro Espada, Jr. and Hiram Monserrate-type of strategy amongst Senators Rubén Díaz, Martin Malavé Dilan, José Marco Serrano, José Peralta, Gustavo Rivera and Adriano Espaillat.
Of course, the chances of these half-dozen elected officials coming together as a united block is as likely as Charlie Rangel becoming the Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee again. But, who would have ever imagined that Eliot Spitzer would resign as governor because of a sex scandal?
So, for the sake of sizing these six up, here is a quick look at who they are:
Díaz, from the Bronx's 32nd SD was elected in 2002 and is, by far, the most controversial in the group. A leading opponent of same gender marriage, Díaz is an open enemy of the LGBT community. He has no political boss, though he is at times concerned with how his actions impact his son Rubencito, who is the Borough President of The Bronx. Díaz serves as Chair of the Senate Puerto Rican/Latino Caucus, which he helped found.
Martin Malavé Dilan hails from Brooklyn’s 17th SD. He was also elected in 2002, but is much more subdued than Díaz, though the Brooklyn pol has been known to throw tantrums behind closed doors. Dilan is beholden to Vito Lopez and the Brooklyn County organization.
Serrano, who describes himself as a lifetime South Bronx resident, represents the 28th SD. This district also includes East Harlem, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island. He was elected in 2004. The young politician is a not very impressive legislator but he's an easy guy to get along with. His career is in the hands of his father, José E. Serrano, who expects his boy to inherit his 16th U.S. Congressional District seat, which happens to be the poorest district in the nation.
Peralta, from the 13th SD in Queens, was elected during a special election in March 2010. He soundly beat the infamous Hiram Monserrate. Peralta, who describes himself as Dominican-American, a product of Joe Crowley’s Democratic machine.
Rivera is the newcomer reformer from The Bronx. He will represent the 33rd SD, which was once held by the notorious Pedro Espada, Jr. In spite of the impressive victory he had over the polemic and maligned Espada, Rivera is expected to be the lap dog for organized labor. Surprisingly, Rivera voted for John Sampson in the Democratic Conference in which the embattled Majority Leader was given a vote of confidence in spite of the cloud of ethics misconduct surrounding him.
Espaillat, the seasoned Assemblyman from Manhattan, will represent the 31st SD. He won a tough five-way primary in September and then was elected in the November. Espaillat is somewhat independent and as the one who comes closest to being as feisty as Díaz, he will probably be among the most outspoken of the group. One can almost wager that there will be tension between him and Díaz. Look for Espaillat to have the upper hand since – in addition to Rivera – he is fully bilingual and also more articulate in both languages than the other four.
The Republicans may have the control once again, but could the six Latinos join together to make themselves relevant even while their party is in the minority? Or will they?