By Sarina Trangle
Though it’s some 2,500 miles away, Puerto Rico has crept into U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez’s (D-Ridgewood) race.
Velazquez’s Republican opponent, Jose Luis Fernandez, said the incumbent thwarted the will of Puerto Rican people by using her influence to quell momentum for statehood after the island indicated it favored statehood on a 2012 referendum.
Fernandez, who like the incumbent is a Puerto Rico native, said her behavior did not bode well for the 120,000 Puerto Ricans in the district and the diaspora clamoring for immigration reform.
“She has been utilizing her influence in Congress to deny rights to U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico,” Fernandez said. “This is the same congresswomen who is promising to defend the rights of Hispanics and other immigrant groups… but if she is denying rights to her own people, what kind of hope can we have?”
Velazquez did not respond to requests for an interview or for comments on her opponent’s criticism.
However, in an op-ed piece for Roll Call, the newspaper covering Capitol Hill, Velazquez and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) said statehood supporters crafted the referendum. After 54 percent of Puerto Rican voters indicated they did not want to remain a U.S. commonwealth, they were given three options — statehood, independence and sovereign free association — for their preferred status. About 61 percent opted for statehood.
Velazquez’s op-ed criticized the referendum for not allowing voters to select Puerto Rico’s current commonwealth set-up as a preferred option and suggested the 27 percent of blank ballots were cast in protest to statehood.
Besides Fernandez, Velazquez faces Conservative Allan Romaguera in the 7th Congressional District, which stretches from Sunset Park in Brooklyn through the southeastern tip of Manhattan and over to Maspeth, Ridgewood and Woodhaven.
Velazquez, who is also on the Working Families’ ticket, was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1992. Since then she has become the ranking member of the House Small Business Committee and senior member of the Financial Services Committee.
She has focused on working with the U.S. Small Business Administration to get entrepreneurs the financing they need while prioritizing protecting the environment and improving access to affordable housing and a quality education, according to her website.
City Board of Elections records show Velazquez resides in Red Hook. about three blocks away from the district she represents. As lines were being debated in 2012, her spokesman was quoted saying, “When they are final, the congresswoman fully expects to be living in the district she intends to represent.”
Fernandez’s paperwork lists an out-of-district address, but he said he has since moved into it, near Manhattan and Metropolitan avenues.
Fernandez, a trained pianist, businessman and radio host, said he would secure federal funding to create an arts district by refurbishing buildings into live-work spaces and enhancing arts education. He said he would work on providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people without criminal records and on securing more national security funding for the district.
Romaguella previously said he was running at the Brooklyn Conservative Party’s behest primarily to help secure jobs on Election Day.