"I embrace the various cultures by engaging and recognizing in their own greatness..." -- Nathalia Fernandez
In a bid to make New York public office holders more accountable to their people, Parkchester Times media crew recently had an exclusive interview with Hon. Nathalia Fernandez, a Democrat Bronxite, who currently represents the New York State Assembly's 80th District. Below is the comprehensive presentation of what ensued during the interview.
Would you mind taking us through your political journey, especially in New York?
My career in politics began when I volunteered for Mark Gjonaj, who was then running for the 80th Assembly District seat. After he won, he offered me a position in his staff, which I took. Soon, I worked my way up to becoming his Chief of Staff. I stayed with Assemblyman Gjonaj for 5 years. Afterwards, I was offered a position with the Governor’s office as their Bronx Regional Representative, where I stayed for about a year. In 2018, when the Assembly seat for the 80th AD became vacant, I ran with overwhelming community support and won – continuing in my position to this day.
While you were working as a cabinet member of the New York government, you were known for championing peace advocacy, for example the International peace museum initiative. How far about those causes you initiated then?
When I was the Bronx Regional representative for Governor Cuomo, the idea of a Peace museum was presented to me by community leaders. My assistance was asked of in terms of getting it off the ground. I aided in helping the community leaders develop an action plan. I suggested that a board of directors be assembled, that they recruit a curator to help collect and organize the historical information, and together they needed to develop a solid presentation to then seek and secure a fiscal conduit to begin fundraising. All this is needed to be done before presenting a request to the local, state or federal government for funding. Soon after my suggestions were given, I left my role at the Governor’s office to run for 80th Assembly seat. As a sitting Assembly member of the Bronx, I still support the idea and hope to see it’s development in my time serving, but more planning needs to be done.
It’s an open secret that Bronx is the poorest and the least healthy borough in New York. What have you done so far to reduce or rather completely eliminate this stigma particularly in your district?
I have focused on bringing resources back into the Bronx. With the help of community advocates and other elected officials, we are working towards bringing the borough back to it’s feet.
Are there people infected with coronavirus in your district? If yes, what efforts have you been making to support victims of COVID-19 and their families in your district?
Yes, my district – and the Bronx as a whole – has seen as high number of COVID19 patients. I’ve teamed up with local organizations such as World Central Kitchen, Beatstro, Great Performances and IVY Inc to provide constituents with meals and food gift cards. My office in continuing to work with constituents on any of their concerns, whether it’s food insecurities or help with unemployment insurance. I have been a strong voice for my community to the Governor and Mayor’s office when it comes to the needs of the borough.
Your district in Bronx is obviously filled with numerous small business owners who have been seriously affected by COVID-19 lockdown. What are you doing in your capacity as an Assemblywoman to rescue Bronxites?
Small businesses have suffered especially hard over the past month and a half, with many closing down or seeing very limited clientele. New York State is sadly in a position in which we could not immediate provide financial relief for small businesses. Any and all information that has become available, I have made sure to share it publicly. They could apply for loans to offset the financial impact. Unfortunately, the federal funding has already run out and many small/ micro businesses have not been helped by it. I have been in communication with our federal representatives to push for more relief for our small businesses. Also to push for more relief funding in general for New York State.
What have you done so far in your capacity to support the essential workforce in your district and Bronx at large during this pandemic lockdown?
I have done as much as possible for the essential work force. We have provided PPEs and meals to Jacobi Hospital staff, hand sanitizers to a nursing home in my district, and we are consistently checking in with our business corridors and healthcare centers to see if they are in need of assis
tance. What provisions do you have for workers in your district who do not qualify for federal aid?
I am currently working on a bill that would benefit ALL New Yorkers. A10245 will enact temporary suspension of payment for the duration of a state disaster emergency for property taxes, residential rent, small business rent, mortgage payments (for one, two, and three family homes that have had their rental income affected by this), and power, water and sewage utilities for individuals who have been financially hurt by a state disaster emergency – such as the COVID19 pandemic. This is an important bill I am confident will help may New Yorkers who may not qualify for other aid.
Violence is also a common phenomenon in Bronx borough. How far have you gone in curbing gun and domestic violence in your district as a representative of your district in government?
I have worked with and funded Stand Up to Violence to combat gun violence in the Bronx. Part of the work in eliminating gun violence is tackling it at a local level, through grassroots activism.
I have supported strong gun control legislation so that we can get these weapons off the streets and keep our homes safe. Some of these bills includes the Safe Homes and Families Act. Under the act, an officer responding to a report of domestic violence would be allowed to temporarily take custody of a firearm or long gun that is in the possession of an alleged perpetrator, discovered in plain sight or found as the result of a lawful search. An officer who takes custody of a weapon would also be authorized to take temporary custody of any license to carry or possess such a weapon issued to the indi vidual. I strongly believe that victims of domestic violence need to be protected.
Undoubtedly, your district is known for its cultural and religious diversity. What support do you provide to sustain the diversity?
I am so proud of the diversity in my district. I embrace the various cultures by engaging and recognizing in their own greatness. I attend cultural celebrations, learn and partake in historical practices, and support local businesses. I try my best to inform the various communities of how the city and state can be helpful to their concerns, and furthermore how we are here to protect them.
Specifically, how are you preparing to support the diverse Muslim community in your district in Ramadan during this pandemic?
In the past, I have been involved in putting together Iftars for my Muslim community. However, with social distancing protocols in place, I hope to continue providing meals to Muslim families so they can break fast while maintaining safe and healthy measures. Remote learning has become the order of the day in the United States, not only in Bronx.
What are you and your colleagues doing to support students to ensure smooth virtual academic operation in the Bronx? And what other ways are you engaging the youth populace in your district?
Continuing our student’s education is imperative. I have provided $125,000 from my Capital Funding allocation to provide laptops to underprivileged students in Bronx Community College so that they can continue learning. We are also keeping touch with our local public schools and the NYC Department of Education if any need comes up.
These days you’ve been campaigning for re-election as an Assemblywoman? What exactly are your accomplishments so far since you assumed this position? And why do you feel your re-election is important for you and your people in Bronx?
I am proud of many of my accomplishments since beginning my time in office. I have allocated $500,000 to establish the Parnes Clinic in the Bronx to establish a low-cost mental health clinic, $20,000 to Stand Up to Violence to combat gun violence, $75,000 to our local libraries, $30,000 to our local community groups, $125,000 to PS83 for new security cameras, and $75,000 to local high schools. I have held numerous informative and celebratory events throughout the district, from the Annual Allerton International Food Festival to our town halls informing my constituents on the work being done in Albany. I have also introduced a plethora of bills tackling social and economic inequity. It is my job to bring equality and address inequality whenever I can. I continue to be a strong advocate for education reform, affordable healthcare, and criminal justice reform.
I want to continue doing the good work that I have done so far, and I hope that my constituents feel the same.
What final message do you have for the people of your district and Bronxites in general?
I am extremely grateful to have earned the trust of my district as their representative. I have a deep love for the Bronx and all those who call it home. We are experiencing different and trying times but one thing has not changed, and that is my dedication to your safety, quality of life, and basic human rights.