Swearing in the Congresswoman Who Gave us Sonia Sotomayor
Last weekend my family attended the second ever community swearing in ceremony for one of our favorite Congressional reps: Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. Her FIRST community swearing in ceremony took place 20 years ago, when she was first elected to Congress, and at that FIRST ceremony she was sworn in before the local Brooklyn community by a then little known local judge named Sonia Sotomayor. (Note the community swearing in is purely ceremonial and intended to celebrate with your local friends, allies, and constituents).
Nydia is the reason why Sotomayor is now a Supreme Court Justice.
Here is Nydia testifying for Sonia Sotomayor for Supreme Court:
And here is video of Nydia at the 2012 Democratic Convention:
My family got invited to the Community Swearing in Ceremony for Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez. Not sure why we got invited since she is not our Congresswoman and our own Congresswoman (Yvette Clarke) has not invited us to anything. But Nydia is one of our favorite members of Congress and one with whom I have had many excellent conversations with at parties and political events.
Whenever Nydia and I see eachother we give eachother a big hug because we both know we have fought through, in our own ways (her far more than me!), a lot of tough times trying to get both better and more Democrats elected and trying to get our government more effective and progressive on ALL levels. I appreciate her hugs because I know it means we are on the same page, and I hope she realizes I appreciate her efforts as well.
20 years ago the judge who swore her in before a crowd of assembled Brooklynites was 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 federal judge in the country (if I heard correctly).
Gives you a sense of what it means to know Nydia Velasquez. From the Hon. Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Hon. Judge Deborah Batts, the career of Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez spans 20 years of major progress, with Nydia ALWAYS being at the forefront of that progress.
Nydia Velazquez was born a sugar cane cutter in Puerto Rico. To this day she has to explain to Republican Congressional Reps that that means she was BORN a US Citizen. Republicans tend to assume she comes from an immigrant family but they were AMERICANS from Puerto Rico, born and bred. No less American citizens than any of the whitest of white Republican racists. But she came from about the most working class of backgrounds you can imagine, cutting sugar cane for a living.
Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez is simultaneously known as the best dressed member of Congress (or so was claimed at her swearing in by several people who know her) AND as "La Luchadora," which means "the fighter." And she is proud as can be to be "La Luchadora" for the Democrats in Congress.
At her swearing in ceremony, NY Senator Chuck Schumer reminded us (I had heard the story before but had forgotten) of the massive impact Nydia Velazquez has had on America.
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." Nydia has MANY great ideas, many of which become reality.
This particular great idea was to recommend to Senator Chuck Schumer that Obama nominate Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. Soon after Nydia's call Chuck Schumer had a one-on-one meeting with Obama to set priorities for Congress and the first item he had placed on his list was suggesting Sotomayor for Supreme. Obama replied, "That's a GREAT idea." Nydia Velazquez had gotten a fellow Puerto Rican born woman, a personal friend, nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States with a single phone call.
And the rest is history.
THAT is Nydia. Yes, Nydia is THAT convincing when she wants to get something done. (NOTE: does this mean one day we can have the Honorable 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 actually know Nydia from the Brooklyn Democratic Reform movement. This is a generally hard-pressed lot who spend about equal time fighting Republicans and fighting local corruption within the Brooklyn Democratic Party. Nydia was one of the strong Democrats who stood up to the now disgraced Party Boss Vito Lopez. That is how I first met her. This rivalry between Nydia and Vito was brought up a few times, mostly subtly, at her Swearing in event, mostly because the folks involved with her swearing in were mostly folks who have fallen afoul of the now disgraced Party Boss Vito Lopez like former District Leader Lincoln Restler and Councilmember Diana Reyna.
Compared to the well-known corruption of Vito Lopez, who has been REPEATEDLY investigated by pretty much all levels of government right 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). So Nydia ranks may well be the 4th most honest Congressional Rep in America. Yeah...she really is that good!
But Nydia brings together a wide range of local Democrats in Brooklyn and beyond. Those who know local Brooklyn 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 (NOTE: I endorsed Connor over Squadron but am also friends with Squadron). But they were both there for Congresswoman Nydia. And locally Gatemouth and I don't run so much in the same crowd, but we were both there.
Three out of the four prime mayoral candidates were there last night: NYC Comptroller John Liu (a friend of mine), former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson (who I actively campaigned for last time around), and Councilmember Christine Quinn (who I consider HUGELY corrupt). Two really notable absences were the only mayoral candidate actually from Brooklyn (Bill de Blasio who is at least as corrupt as Christine Quinn) and the current head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party (and Vito Lopez's handpicked but so far more transparent successor) Frank Seddio. These absences were very much noted by insiders at the event.
Nydia is a force of nature. So (Bill de Blasio and Frank Seddio aside) many people showed to pay their respects to the Congresswoman who is responsible for our most recent Supreme Court justice. 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 that NYC represents. 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. Republicans seem Hell Bent on alienating most of America these days.
Nydia was described as one of the most Progressive members of Congress over and over again. But it was my Assemblywoman Joan Millman who proudly used the word LIBERAL to describe Nydia. Yeah, hopefully liberalism is back with attitude. And Nydia is a LEADER of the LIBERAL Democrats. Have to say that among my other favorite Dems in Congress are both Loretta and Linda Sanchez, so I really hope BOTH of them (one from the Blue Dog and one from the Progressive caucus) look to Nydia for inspiration.
Many liberal talking points were hit upon by many of the speakers at Nydia's community swearing in ceremony. A sampling can be taken from the mayoral candidates who attended the Congresswoman's event.
Councilmember Christine Quinn emphasized the amazing leadership Nydia has taken within the Latino/a community for LGBT rights. Though I think it was Councilmember Rosie Mendez (I think!) who emphasized the depth of the role Nydia took on this issue. It actually was Nydia who led the movement of Latinas publicly advocating for marriage equality that helped blunt this as a wedge issue the Republicans could wield. Nydia went a LONG WAY to make marriage equality acceptable within 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 (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 in particular will get comprehensive immigration reform passed in Congress.
If I read this correctly, it seems that the Democratic Leadership is 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 who moved to America at age 5). 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, aiming to make the DEFINITIVE difference for Immigration Reform THIS YEAR.
On small businesses both Comptroller John Liu on the local level (if he is elected mayor) and Congresswoman Velazquez Federally advocate shifting a large part of the money that we currently 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 at Nydia's event touched on: inspiration. Nydia has been the inspiration to so many women in general and so many Latinas in particular. But Bill Thompson (as well as my Congresswoman Yvette Clarke) emphasized Nydia's ability to inspire EVERYONE, man or woman, Latina or black or whatever ( I hope his mayoral campaign is inspired to be more inspiring this time around!). Someone else (I want to say Rosie Mendez but it could have been dozens of other speakers!) 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. Even Sonia Sotomayor was portrayed as standing on Nydia's shoulders.
Once Comptroller 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 the Repubs will have to join in immigration reform (kicking and screaming of course) because if they don't they will condemn themselves to minority status in Congress for many years to come. We are winning these issues thanks to the long-standing efforts of the likes of Nydia.
Personally, I am unconvinced it will be done this year, but I do see at this moment a MAJOR turning point, 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 after the ceremony, "many happy returns."