Without the polls in her favor but with the pride of being the only candidate of Afro-Latino origin in the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City, Dianne Morales talks about her proposals and the most urgent needs for communities of color in the city.
Morales, who is a former public school teacher and non-profit worker, told Latino Rebels that she is the only one who will ensure that underserved communities are heard. She even says she has not yet decided how she will rank on her ballot in the June 22 primary.
Latino Rebels: How has it been for you as an Afro-Latina woman to be in this journey of running for office?
Dianne Morales: Well, it has been a journey, that is a good way of putting it. You know, I’m not a traditional candidate. I’m not a career politician, I don’t have a national media platform, I don’t have a rich network of friends. So It has been an upward journey from the very beginning. And then, you know, I have struggled with a lot of erasers, a lot of, you know, racial tropes and stereotypes. But I think that the message of the campaign and the vision of the campaign and the sort of people-powered movement behind the campaign has really helped to elevate my candidacy, despite all of that to the point where, you know, the chattering class and the media, as I refer to them, could no longer ignore. But you know, it is a statement.
LR: Do you think New Yorkers are ready for an Afro-Latina woman to be mayor?
DM: I think that there’s something about the message of this campaign that has resonated with New Yorkers. Whether or not we’re actually ready for a woman or a Latina, I think remains to be seen. I don’t think that we have always demonstrated ourselves to be as progressive as we’d like to think that we are. But I do think that women lead differently, and it would be an opportunity, a rare opportunity for us to demand the kind of change and transformation in our city that we need. And so I’m hopeful that we can do that with my candidacy.
LR: So you’re being close to Latinos and Black communities. So what do you think our communities need the most in order to recover from the pandemic?
DM: Justice. We know we saw during the pandemic, that it was our communities that kept the city running, It was our communities that made it possible for the people with privilege to work safely and comfortably from home. It was our communities that suffered the most and experienced the greatest loss in the pandemic. So moving forward, we need to prioritize health care, so that we can make sure that our communities have access to what they need, that includes education around the vaccine and outreach around the vaccine and access. We need to create jobs.
Our communities are not looking for charity, they just want to be able to get jobs that make it possible for them to provide for and take care of their families. So we need to provide jobs, we need to address and protect our undocumented immigrants because they also contribute to our economy. And we need to make sure that our schools are quality schools for our children, all of them, and that we remove barriers to access and these are all the things that are a critical part of my platform.
LR: One of the most shocking things about the pandemic was the food insecurity in our communities which is also a problem before COVID-19. What is your plan on this?
DM: That’s right because the pandemic exacerbated the things that already existed and the reality of it is that we need to move towards what I call food sovereignty. Most New Yorkers, actually low-income Black and Brown New Yorkers do not live within five minutes of a fresh fruit or vegetable. That is the reality.
So we need to move towards self-sustaining agriculture, we need to prioritize Black and Brown farmers in the region. We need to actually put the power in our communities so that they can begin to generate their own resources and their own food. But in the meantime, obviously, that’s not going to happen overnight. We need to expand on what happened with mutual aid in the course of the pandemic—neighbors helping neighbors. And we saw that even though the city tried to provide food boxes, that in many cases, the contents of those boxes were not desirable or healthy. It was not culturally appropriate. So we really need to take a lesson from some of the mutual aid groups in terms of what they did and expand and support those models.
LR: You also have a strong position about the inequity in schools.
DM: I’m the only former teacher educator. I’m also a graduate of the public schools, as are my children. So I’ve seen the inequities, right, front and center. And so one of the things I’ve called toward is that we were also the most segregated school system in the country. So I have called for in the first 100 days of my administration, I will sign an executive order to immediately begin to desegregate our schools. What that looks like removing all of the barriers to access all of the tests, all of the screenings, all of the mess that parents have to go through, that are really challenging for our communities who don’t always have access to technology, where the information isn’t always linguistically appropriate.
All of these sorts of things serve as barriers, where you can’t leave work in the middle of the day to go to a school visit. So we need to do that. We also need to look at redrawing our district lines or district boundaries. We should work towards a system where every school is the highest quality and any parent or any child will be happy to attend. That also includes developing a culturally responsive curriculum. So our children can see themselves reflected in the curriculum and see the art, the strengths, and the assets of our culture and our background
LR: One of the keys to this election has been security and gun violence. What kind of reform do you propose in this regard?
DM: So I don’t think police reform is not the answer. We’ve been trying to reform the police department for decades, and it hasn’t worked. We need to transform. And that to me means divesting some, you know, the police department right now is one of the most bloated, bloated budgets in the world. And we still see that that’s not helping to keep us safe. So we should actually be taking some of that money and investing in the services that will keep us safe. We need outreach workers on the subways, we need mental health providers, we need social workers. We need doctors and nurses. Those are the kinds of people and staff and responses that are appropriate to the challenges that so many New Yorkers are facing right now. We need to stop thinking about police as the be-all and end-all. Because we’ve seen that it’s not working, it’s failing. And so it’s time for us to try something different.
LR: You are proposing defunding the police?
DM: Divesting and reinvesting. The police budget right now is close to $11-$12 billion. Some people will tell you what, six, because that’s just the operation that doesn’t include all of the other lines that the police department actually uses. It’s close to 11 or 12 billion. And I’m suggesting that we take three billion away and use that money and invested in the types of services that I’ve been talking about.
LR: Other than you, which other candidates do you think will be a good mayor?
DM: Everybody wants to know the answer to that question. I really think there’s no one else in this race close to me in terms of the platform. No one else in this race is really advocating for or elevating working-class Black and Brown New Yorkers the way that I am. I don’t see anybody else. You know, that comes even close. And I’m not sure I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to be ranking on my ballot.
LR: There are a lot of immigrants in this city who can not vote and are mostly the people you are advocating for. What is the message for the ones who can participate in this election?
DM: This is a really critical election. This is perhaps one of the most important elections of our lifetime. We have seen the multiple pandemics over the course of the last 15 months and how they disproportionately impact our Black and Brown communities, the Latino community, the immigrant community, documented or undocumented. It is time for us to stand together in solidarity and demand the kind of change and protection and security that our communities deserve. You know, I also am a big supporter of the idea that even undocumented immigrants should have the right to vote in local elections. They contribute to our economy, they contribute to our society, they contribute to our culture, they should have the right to have a voice in who is the leader of our city. And if we come together now in this election and lift up our voices, we can make those changes to take care of and protect all of our communities.
Juanita Ramos Ardila is a Colombian journalist who has written for El Tiempo and ColPrensa. An M.A. Journalism candidate at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, Juanita is also Latino Rebels’ 2021 Summer Correspondent. Twitter: @JuanitaRamosA.