Melissa Mark Viverito now in her second term on New York City Council represents district 8 (East Harlem, the Upper West Side, Mott Haven a part of the Bronx, Randalls Island, Wards Island and Central Park in its entirety). Born in Puerto Rico, Viverito moved to New York when she was 18 to attend Columbia University. She describes herself as an “activist” who was always involved in “grass roots efforts and organizing” and didn’t think of a career in politics till someone in the community approached her with the idea.
Viverito is actively involved in issues regarding housing, park safety, hazardous waste removal, police interaction with minorities and immigrant communities and has actively been involved in passing legislature that effects the rights of tenants directly giving them the right to sue landlords; Most recently Viverito was involved in supporting a law that demands building employees who are receiving any sort of financial assistance from the government receive a living-wage (Int 18). A few of her recent efforts include locating housing for homeless and low income residents by establishing an annual census for vacant buildings.
In addition Viverito is one of four city council members who uses “participatory budgeting”, a system that gives members of the community the voting power to chose where government money is applied in their neighborhood, differing from the old system where council members reviewed applications for funding from groups and organizations and then passed them on to the mayor’s office.
While her second term in office (first elected in 2005) suggests Viverito has many supporters there are some who vocally denounce her actions.
Justice in El Barrio is a group out of East Harlem focused on protesting the displacement of immigrants and marginalized communities by housing developments and other factors of gentrification; the group has targeted council woman Viverito directly “denouncing” her and labeling her a “sell out” for her support of plans they feel will uproot the community.
“She says she is for the community but continuously supports bills that displace the community,” a member of Jusice in El Barrio said of the council woman.
One plan Justice in El Barrio is referring to is the rezoning of east 125th street that would allow for denser development, critics of the plan say that new development will result in luxury condos uprooting local businesses and longtime residents of the area and that the plan doesn’t consider affordable housing . Another plan the organization calls attention to is the expansion of Columbia University which they feel will displace residents and offer little to the existing community.
“She feels strongly that people are in the street expressing their views” said Joe Teranto, Viverito’s deputy chief of staff and a current student at Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy.
After asking me if our words were going to be on record he said he’s enjoyed working for the council woman the 2 1/2 years he’s been working for her “I support the issues she stands for...I feel like she does a lot for her district and all of the greater New York.”