When Marjorie Velázquez lost her bid for City Council in 2017, she was confident it wasn’t the end of her yet-to-be political career.
Four years later, Velazquez is now hoping to become the first woman of color and Latina to represent the 13th Council District after winning — in what many view as the de facto election — the June 22 Democratic primary handily defeating her four opponents by collecting 56.5% of the total votes cast, according to results from the New York City Board of Elections.
Velazquez will now face off against Republican Aleksander Mici in the general election in November.
“This campaign started in 2016 because as a daughter of the Bronx to parents who came from Puerto Rico to give their family a better opportunity, I wanted to bring the much-needed resources back to my community and the Bronx,” Velazquez said. “This will be the first of many monumental achievements I hope to succeed at with the help of the people of the Bronx, and I thank all of my many supporters who helped me accomplish this historic achievement.”
Velazquez, 39, grew up in Parkchester and was one of five kids. She comes from a large family and spent many summers visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Puerto Rico. She came from farmers who cut sugarcane, which she often saw when she visited the island. “Knowing my history has always been important to my family,” she said.
As a child of the Bronx, a big part of her life was church. Every Saturday her family went to a congregation in the South Bronx and fed the homeless. Velazquez went to St. Catharine’s high school, on Williamsbridge Road, attended NYU Stern and obtained a degree in accounting and finance. Velazquez was young, working for Direct TV and had moved to Throggs Neck. Life was great, she said.
Then in 2012 everything changed.
“I think for the most part no one understood the gravity of the situation because I was able to hide it,” she explained. “When you are injured that bad there’s also that mental health component that you just want to be normal. I was in constant pain for so long.”
In fact, after seeing many doctors, she finally discovered that her thumb was detached from her wrist. Making matters worse, these accidents occurred shortly after she married her husband Jeff. It was the most challenging time of her life.
“We had our plan and our lives changed,” she said.
But while in recovery, U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a fellow Democrat who was running for City Council at the time, asked Velasquez if she would be the treasurer of his campaign. She gladly accepted the role.
“It was inspiring to know that someone like him could see something in my darkest moment,” she recalled. “It was my first shot at seeing what a campaign looks like.”
Then in 2015, she worked on the campaign to elect District Attorney Darcel Clark. All of this, in addition to her values instilled by her family, influenced her to run for City Council in 2017 — she lost in a primary to Mark Gjonaj by a few hundred votes.
According to Velazquez, losing four years ago did not deter her from running again. In fact, it made her want the seat even more.
“We came so close,” she said. “It was a whole system against us.”
In 2018, when Democrats state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, of District 34, and U.S Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were elected Velasquez knew the landscape of NYC politics was changing.
She campaigned hard during COVID-19, but also recognized that the pandemic exposed the inequities in her district. Too many families face food insecurities, work two to three jobs to make ends meet, face a lack of transportation options and many schools face a digital divide, she said. Velazquez added that there needs to be more select bus and ferry service and all train stops must be ADA accessible.
“Our district is transit starved,” she said.
During the pandemic she encountered distraught parents whose children did not receive laptops or took several weeks to receive them. What angered Velazquez was the revelation that Bronx children got Ipads, while some in Manhattan were given Macbook Pros.
Another glaring issue for Velazquez is affordable housing or lack of it as it has become increasingly difficult for Bronxites to afford to live in District 13 in such places as Throggs Neck and Pelham Bay. On top of that, the Average Median Income incorporates homes in Westchester County, which makes that number higher.
“Are we providing opportunities for families to have their first home in the district?” she asked. “The answer is usually ‘no.’”
As she looks ahead to serving the community, if elected, Velazquez has not gotten to celebrate her primary victory yet. In June, her husband was in the hospital and her best friend passed away. “I think it’s fair to say I was numb the last week of the election,” she said. “[My best friend] was my biggest fan. In her honor it was possible.”
But, come Jan. 1, 2022, Velazquez hopes she has the opportunity to hit the ground running and make an impact for her constituents.
“I’m excited to ensure that they are stakeholders in every decision that is made for our neighborhoods; that’s how I hope to represent my district,” Velazquez said. “From fighting for COVID-19 relief for our small businesses, tenants, homeowners and children, to free access to quality healthcare and transportation access, everyone will have a seat at my table.”
Reach Jason Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bxtimes and Facebook @bxtimes.