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Puerto Rico Profile: Fernando Ferrer

August 31, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Trailing his three major competitors in polling and fundraising for the September 11th primary election to represent the Democratic Party in New York City’s Mayoral election, Bronx Borough President, Fernando Ferrer, stood this week on the steps of City Hall beside his long-standing political foe, current Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The event was not to fulfill his dream of being sworn in as the city’s first chief executive of Puerto Rican decent, but rather to fete the city’s favorite baseball team – not the Yanks or Mets - but "The Baby Bombers," the Bronx’s own Little League team. More formally know as the "Rolando Paulino All-Stars," the tykes, all of Puerto Rican and Dominican origin, lost Saturday’s final game to determine the U.S. champion. Still, they are the present darlings of the Big Apple and every politician is scrambling to be photographed with them. He later sponsored a parade through the Bronx with the Little Leaguers, donning a "Little Bomber" t-shirt and marched down the Bronx Grand Concourse to an approving crowd.

As the week began, Ferrer received the endorsement of the controversial African American leader, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and campaigned with him in the predominately black neighborhoods of Harlem, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Sharpton recently gained national notoriety and prestige among some sectors of New York’s large Puerto Rican community by protesting the U.S. Navy’s use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing range and combat training ground. Candidate Ferrer visited him in prison during his subsequent incarceration.

Sharpton was a Mayoral candidate in the last election and enjoys the political support of many New Yorkers but he is a polarizing force and it remains to be seen how much help he will be to the Ferrer campaign. But the candidate brushed aside this factor saying, "I’m proud to have his help … and I’m proud to be walking with him to redeem the promise we all made, to make this city one city." Ferrer has also gained the endorsements of at least two other African American leaders, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields and U.S. Congressman from New York, Charles B. Rangel.

Fernando Ferrer, known as "Freddy" to his constituents and supporters, ran for mayor four years ago but abruptly pulled out of the race against the incumbent mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. During that campaign he ran as a moderate Democrat, expressing concerns about abortion and advocating the death penalty in some cases. For the present run, he has moved considerably to the left and speaks out for repeal of the death penalty and as an unequivocal "pro-choice candidate". Also, he has made an appeal to the city’s ethnic enclaves by proclaiming himself to be the candidate of "The Other New York," specifically the large African American and Latino populations.

Mr. Ferrer’s Primary Election run is against three major rivals: Mark Green, the city’s public advocate; Alan G. Hevesi, the city comptroller; and Peter F. Vallone, the speaker of the City Council. If he fails to win a plurality of votes, the Ferrer campaign strategy is to hold the Primary winner to less than 40% of the vote and to come in second place. That would force a run-off election and, it is presumed, move the large ethnic voting blocks overwhelmingly to his support.

Ferrer’s aspirations for mayor are high, but realistic. He wants to institute real changes and turn New York into a safe place where everyone from Wall Street to the Bronx has equal opportunities. His pledge is to "give voice and hope to those who have been shut out, shut down, marginalized and demonized for the last eight years—to restore opportunity." According to Ferrer, the time has come to focus on what he calls, "the New York where most New Yorkers live."

Raised by Puerto Rican immigrants, Fernando Ferrer, 51, reminisces about his childhood growing up in the Bronx. "You see, it was here—on these very streets that I saw the problems, felt the pain, and experienced the hope and opportunity that compelled me to do something. But I also witnessed too many big dreams deferred; hopes dashed; aspirations punished." Ferrer prides himself on being an average citizen who has achieved remarkable success despite socioeconomic constraints in his childhood. Ferrer earned his Bachelor’s Degree from the Bronx campus of New York University and has since received Honorary Degrees from Manhattan, Mercy, and Audrey Cohen Colleges. He is married to Aramina Vega and has one daughter, Carlina Gill. Ferrer is also a proud grandfather of two, Brendan Gill, Jr. and Jalen Fernando Gill. Keeping with his family heritage, Ferrer currently lives in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Components of Ferrer’s platform consist of strengthening education, building affordable housing, and eliminating the fear and racial profiling of the police force. Ferrer takes the issue personally. In his announcement speech he stated, "Every candidate today speaks about education. So what makes me different? The answer is: my own life." Ferrer plans to mandate teachers’ training and, in turn, increase their salaries by thirty percent. He envisions a school system with extensive after-school programs in place. "I will make you this promise today: When I am mayor, we’re going to provide after-school centers in every middle school, in every neighborhood, for our children."

Further, Ferrer is focusing on affordable housing in every New York community and he points to his success in this area as Bronx Borough President for the past fourteen years. There Ferrer implemented the largest rebuilding effort in the country. He took what was once considered a decaying community and revived it with housing and small businesses to create jobs. Ferrer also fought to keep Yankee Stadium in its original home-- the Bronx. His successes over the years earned the Bronx Borough the National Civic League’s All-American City Award in 1997.

Ferrer has also held other political and community positions over the past three decades. Prior to his years as Bronx Borough President, Ferrer served as a City Council Member representing the 13th Councilman District from 1982 to 1987. From 1979 to 1982, he served as Director of Housing for The Bronx Borough President’s Office and as Coordinator of the Bronx Arson Task Force.

On September 11th – or September 25th, if a run-off is required -- New York Democrats will decide if "Freddy" Ferrer will carry their banner to "Gracie Mansion," the official home of New York City’s mayors.

Another Puerto Rican candidate is on the Republican side of the race. Veteran New York politician and former U.S. Congressman Herman Badillo is given little chance to upset front-runner Michael Bloomberg but should Badillo and Ferrer both prevail in the primaries, it would be the first time that two Puerto Ricans would face each other in a race for mayor of a large U.S. city since the November 2000 elections in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

If elected mayor, Fernando Ferrer says that he will follow his campaign slogan, "together, and only together, we can build a great future for all of New York."

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