From bodega to the Bar, Miguelina Camilo eyes Biaggi’s state Senate seat

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After losing the Democratic primaries for state Senate District 33, Miguelina Camilo will work as an attorney for Speaker Carl Heastie’s offiice.
Photo courtesy Campaign for Miguelina Camilo

Miguelina Camilo was a de facto lawyer in her father’s bodega by the age of 12, and today, the president of the Bronx Women’s Bar Association is running for state Senate.

On Feb. 25, Camilo, 36, announced her candidacy for New York State Senate District 36. The seat became vacant when state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi a Pelham Progressive, joined the crowded primary for the open congressional seat in state’s third district, which combines parts of the Bronx, Queens, Long Island and Westchester.

Camilo, a pragmatic Democrat of Riverdale, was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to Washington Heights at age 2.

“I have seen too many young people sit in front of me feeling overlooked and hopeless when they come in contact with our courts and criminal justice system, and I have seen too many young women practicing law who can’t shake the feeling that their career would be easier if they were only a man,” she said in a statement. “I want to address these issues head on and have the hard conversations which are necessary to address these inequalities.”

Her father, Miguel, worked long hours as an owner of a few bodegas and at 12-years-old, Camilo was working every weekend with him. It was there where she not only learned about business, but how to treat people. In a largely Spanish-speaking community, Camilo was one of the few who spoke English and often, customers would ask her for help with documents, letters or other matters.

“I was pretty much acting as an advocate at 12-years-old,” she told the Bronx Times. “The customers started saying I’m their attorney. I learned one of the most important lessons was to be empathetic and relate to people.”

Even though her parents didn’t finish high school, they always stressed how important education was. While they encouraged their daughter to aspire to be a doctor or lawyer, at a young age Camilo already felt like an attorney.

She went to NYU for pre-law and graduated from NY Law School in 2011, becoming the first member of her family to graduate college.

Camilo worked as a family attorney for six years and from 2016 to 2021 had her own law firm. Camilo then became commissioner of the city Board of Elections and its associate counsel. Her work and mentorship of women in the legal profession led her to become president of the Bronx Women’s Bar Association as well as the 100 Hispanic Women – Bronx Chapter.

During all these years as a practicing attorney, politics never crossed her mind, she said. Then, when Biaggi announced her intentions to vacate her seat, Camilo saw the opportunity and grabbed the bull by the horns.

According to Camilo, some of the issues in the 36th District are the dumping of shelters in Community Board 11, creating more mentorship and job opportunities for youth and providing more mental health resources, affordable housing and jobs.

She said the past two years of COVID-19 showed how so many people are struggling to make ends meet.

With the June primary a few months away, Camilo is eager to hit the ground running. To come from a hard-working family where no one had graduated high school and to now be running for elected office is truly the American dream, she said.

“I think this is something bigger than myself,” Camilo said. “I feel ready. I feel I am the best candidate for the role.”

Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

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