The following is a Q&A with New York State Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez, candidate for the state’s 34th Senate District, which encompasses the east Bronx neighborhoods of City Island, Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay, Middletown, Country Club, Castle Hill, Parkchester, Clason Point and portions of Morris Park, as well as the southern Westchester communities of Pelham, Pelham Manor and portions of New Rochelle.
Name: Nathalia Fernandez
Occupation: State assemblymember
Residence: Morris Park
Party affiliation: Democrat
One thing the average voter doesn’t know about you: “I know how to tap dance.”
Q. What is the biggest single issue facing the district?
A. Climate change poses the single biggest threat to our community. With each summer storm we see destruction, flooding and blocked off transportation routes. That shouldn’t be the norm, and that’s why building resilience against climate change is one of my top priorities as a leader of this district. We need to implement short- and long-term solutions like sustainable energy sources and modernized, climate-resilient infrastructure to work against the immediate impacts and set up future generations for success.
Q. The Bronx continues to be the leader in unemployment with the highest rate of joblessness of any county in New York state, based on the latest Labor Department data. What can be done to encourage job creation in the borough?
A. Before the pandemic, The Bronx was experiencing positive trends in key socioeconomic indicators like employment, wage growth and population. Unfortunately, the pandemic halted small business growth all across New York, and The Bronx was deprioritized in pandemic recovery. It’s going to take a strong leader to advocate for better resources and for business growth in this district. During my time in the Assembly, I’ve advocated on the behalf of our small businesses. As the co-chair of the state Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus’ Subcommittee on Minority and Women-Owned Enterprise & Economic Development, I was able to uplift and advocate for businesses that reflect the diversity of our state. As state senator, I will continue to support them and address high property taxes and fees, and direct public safety to business hubs so they can operate without fear of burglary and defacement.
Q. The state Legislature has been reluctant to address its bail reform laws that were enacted in 2020, despite repeated calls from law enforcement, business owners and even some Democrats, most notably Eric Adams. With the perception that New York City has become “soft on crime,” what do you think should be done so that residents feel safe?
A. The bail reform laws enacted in 2020 were critical civil rights legislation that were needed to reform our prison system. We should not criminalize poverty. Our communities deserve to feel safe. I’m open to modifications where certain areas of the law are not working – we should always be evaluating the impacts and effectiveness of our policies once they are implemented. I have been proud to support violence intervention programs to stop the crime before it happens. I’ve passed the Andrew Kearse Act into law, which mandates that anyone in police custody must be given medical attention if needed. As state senator, I will advocate for increased police infrastructure and more patrolling in our community where they’re desperately needed.
Q. How would you structure health care in the state; do you support universal health care?
A. I support the New York Health Act which would create a single-payer system with the goal of providing universal health care for all New Yorkers that do not currently have access. I also believe it’s important that we also give New Yorkers the freedom to choose whether to participate in public or private insurance, which is something I will continue to advocate for in the state Senate.
Q. The pandemic exposed what has been a looming mental health crisis. What steps would you take to address mental health in this state from a legislative standpoint and does it require additional funding?
A. I’ve fought for everyone in the district to have access to mental health care by increasing funding in the Bronx for mental health clinics and advocating for suicide prevention resources. In my campaign for state Senate, I have the support of the National Association of Social Workers PACE, who offer critical support to the people of the district. I’m proud of my track record of supporting social workers and fighting for mental health access in Albany, and it’s something I intend to build on as state senator.
Q. What differentiates you from your opponents and how would you better serve your constituents, if elected?
A. For the past 10 years, I have been dedicated to serving my community. I have proven that I am present and responsive to the needs of my constituents, and that I get things done. I’ve been on the streets of my community speaking to constituents and in the halls of Albany fighting to bring back resources. No one else running for this seat can say that. During these times we can’t afford to have our state senator learn on the job, this district deserves someone who has the experience and tenacity to make real change happen.
-compiled by Bronx Times staff