Categorized | Dominican, Manhattan, Politics

Guillermo Linares: On the Comeback Trail


Guillermo Linares votes in the primary in Marble Hill. Photo by Jane Greaves/GlobalCityNYC 

In reclaiming the New York Assembly seat he vacated two years ago, Guillermo Linares is hoping to also reclaim the trust of Dominicans in his upper Manhattan district.

Winning 44.7 percent of the vote in Sept. 9 Democratic primary, Linares, a former City Councilman and State Assemblyman, defeated four other Dominican candidates. He still has to face Republican Ronnie Cabrera in the Nov. 4 general election, but in a heavily Democratic district, Linares most likely will win the State Assembly seat he held from 2011 to 2012. He made an unsuccessful bid for the State Senate in 2012.

Linares spent a two-year break focusing on the family, enjoying “being a grandfather.” But he also “did make many rounds, held house parties, 15 meetings with neighbors in different communities in Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill just listening to the concerns,” he said. He wants “to bring Albany to the people of the community,” he said, humbly adding, “I am a little wiser.”

Linares has to regain trust of his constituents after Gabriela Rosa, who represented the district, resigned in June after she was convicted of immigration and bankruptcy frauds. But in trying to engage with his fellow Dominicans, who make up most of his district, Linares has an uphill battle. The Dominican community is not politically active, and people who came here with the first waves of Dominican immigration are distrustful of politicians.

Luis Mendoza, 50, whose fruit stand is on 181st Street and Broadway, did not vote in this election, though he legally can. With his son translating, he said: “People try to compare it with the Dominican Republic, thinking that the systems are similar. And politicians there are not trustworthy. That’s why people don’t believe in them here.”
Some young Dominicans born in the U.S. are weary of politicians as well. At Tighe Triangle Park in Inwood, Joey Jaquez didn’t vote, saying: “I don’t believe in politics. They are all crooks.”

But Alexis Cotto, 44, also of Inwood, voted for Linares, because “he’s done a good job. He helped with affordable housing. He was always around here. He helped a lot, he did good. He cleaned the neighborhood.”

Zenaida Mendez, 59, a Dominican social justice advocate and the president of the National Organization for Women, is skeptical of prospects of the real change in Albany. Mendez thinks that newly elected Latino politicians will have little leverage in Albany as freshmen, adding, “Linares has done nothing for the community.”

Linares hopes to restore the confidence of his constituents by working together with all three levels of the government, federal, state and city, serving “all ethnicities” in the district, not just Dominicans. Some of his goals are helping residents and small businesses with affordable rents and establishing youth programs. During his long professional and political career, he said, he brought “tangible results.” He “built nine brand new schools” and “fought to keep the schools open after 3 p.m.” for after-school activities. In 1985, he “registered half of the parents in the city of New York in this one district” in school boards empowering parents.

In 1991, Linares became the first Dominican politician elected to office in New York. He served in the City Council from 1992 to 2001, working closely with local police precincts and the community.

“This was no man’s land, this was very dangerous,” he said. “We’ve made this community safer,” by bringing crime down and building many institutions for the community that provided health and social services, programs for youth and families.

In his previous term in the State Assembly, he sponsored two pieces of legislation that are close to his heart. One became a law that created green cabs, a second category of licensed taxis to serve uptown. To that end, he helped to organize thousands of livery drivers for a rally downtown, and also worked his connections in the mayor’s office and influential committees in the Assembly. It was a personal victory for Linares, as he put himself through college by driving a cab at night in the Bronx.

He also authored the Dream Act for New York State, which aims to make undocumented immigrant students eligible for financial aid. It’s one of many states’ variations of the proposed federal Dream Act that would give conditional residency to qualified undocumented students. It will be a priority in the upcoming term for Linares, a former New York City Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, a tribute to his background as an immigrant and an educator.

“Bottom line is that I bring my experience of having challenges and bringing results and my relationships,” he said. “You could be a freshman, but if you bring the experience that I have and the relationships that I have, where I can call the governor and talk to him, I can call the mayor, I can call to any state agency.”

“If you bring any leverage on behalf of your constituents,” he said, “it does make a difference.”


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