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Melissa Mark Viverito, who presided over the New York City Council, announced that she will seek in the 2020 elections the position left by the Puerto Rican José Serrano. (GFR Media)
Melissa Mark Viverito, who presided over the New York City Council, announced that she will seek in the 2020 elections the position left by the Puerto Rican José Serrano. (GFR Media)

Washington – The historic protests in Puerto Rico, that forced Ricardo Rosselló Nevares to step down, was the final motivation for Melissa Mark-Viverito to decide to run for the congressional seat José Serrano is leaving in December 2020.

"People are looking for big changes. Those protests brought the focus on the difficult and fragile moment that democracy is living with this President (Donald Trump)," Mark-Viverito said in an interview.

Mark-Viverito – former New York City Council Speaker- announced on August 7 she decided to run for Bronx´s 15th congressional district seat, that position Serrano has held since 1990. Serrano announced he is retiring in 2020 after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

In New York City council, Mark-Viverito represented part of that district. However, this former councilwoman and Latino Victory interim president does not live in the 15th district, what´s been noted by her opponents.

Born in Bayamón, Mark-Viverito is a resident of the old Puerto Rican neighborhood of Harlem. "I live just one stop away. My family is from the Bronx. I have a record of accomplishments for the Bronx. I will move there at some point," Mark-Viverito said.

However, Mark-Viverito said she will wait for the 2020 Census, which should bring changes to the geographic distribution of the 15th district, before changing her address.

New York Puerto Rican councilman Ritchie Torres, Puerto Rican councilman Rubén Díaz Sr., and State Representative Michael Blake as well as Bronx River Community Center Programs Director Tomas Ramos and Jonathan Ortíz are also among those who want to run for New York 15th congressional district seat.

Mark-Viverito, who was a union organizer and spokeswoman for the Todo Nueva York with Vieques movement, ruled out that the high number of pre-candidates would open the door to conservative Reverend Díaz, father of Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz. "Everyone has a different base," she said.

The voter turnout rate in New York's 15th district is very low. The last time Serrano had a primary challenger, in June 2016, only 10,461 people voted and Serrano got 89 percent of the votes. However, in the 2018 legislative elections, Serrano won 96 percent of the vote in an overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Unlike recent primaries for congressional candidates, next June's race will also include state and municipal candidates.  "The person who motivates people to go out and vote is going to succeed," said Mark-Viverito.

At a time when Puerto Rican Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other liberals have fueled the activism of progressive youth, Mark-Viverito is seen as the candidate who can capture the imagination of that sector. She has ruled outreceiving funds from political action committees (PACs) of corporations and people linked to real estate.

In her opinion, New York's 15th district voters- the poorest district in the nation - want to see alternatives on issues such as improving public housing programs, access to affordable housing, health services, an increase in the minimum wage, and a comprehensive reform of immigration laws. On health, Mark-Viverito said she supports the concept of "Medicare for All." She also said that in New York the minimum wage should be increased to at least $15 an hour.

As for Puerto Rico, Mark-Viverito thinks the priority has to be the island´s recovery and the disbursement of the nearly $49 billion promised to mitigate the disaster caused by Hurricane María. "I am going to be a voice, an ally for Puerto Rico as well. Of all the (pre)candidates, I am the one best positioned to help Puerto Rico," she said.

About the island's political status, she said that as a congresswoman she will work for Congress to legislate a binding process for Puerto Rico to exercise its right to self-determination. "That is the pressure we are putting on the presidential candidates. Congress should not be pushing one status position over another," Mark-Viverito added. She also said that the next process should not be controlled by any political party on the island and that it should promote that Puerto Rico clearly expresses "about what its future should be."