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Nydia Velázquez: 1953—: U.S. Congressional Representative

Served On New York City Council

Velázquez first entered the political arena in 1983 as a special assistant to Brooklyn U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns after her temporary position at Hunter College ended. She worked on immigration legislation and gained enough contacts that when a New York city council seat became available after its holder was convicted on attempted extortion charges, she was appointed to fill it. Velázquez lost the seat in the 1986 council election and worked in Puerto Rico as a divisional director in the commonwealth's Department of Labor and Human Resources from 1986 to 1989. Then she returned to New York once again to take a high-level liaison position representing the Puerto Rican government on the mainland United States. One of her first tasks was to direct aid dollars to Puerto Rican communities devastated by Hurricane Hugo. The job also stoked her political ambitions. Spearheading a voter-registration campaign financed by the commonwealth's government, Velázquez was able to place her name and face before New York's Hispanic voters.

In 1992 Velázquez was one of several candidates who angled for New York's new 12th District seat, created in the 1990 congressional redistricting to promote the election of a Hispanic candidate. The district encompassed parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Lower Manhattan and was dubbed the "Bullwinkle" district in reference to its bizarre shape. Facing charges that she was too entwined with Puerto Rico to represent New Yorkers effectively, Velázquez's faced incumbent congressman Stephen Solarz, who for his part insisted that a non-Hispanic was qualified to represent a predominantly Hispanic district. Velázquez defeated Solarz and another Latina candidate to win the fall primary election, tantamount to election in the largely poor and heavily Democratic district. Her victory was celebrated enthusiastically in her Puerto Rican hometown.

The fall campaign was marred by the anonymous release of medical records showing that Velázquez had attempted to take an overdose of sleeping pills in 1991, depressed over her mother's illness and a broth-er's drug abuse problems. "It was a painful time," she told Time. "But I've learned I can't be a robot trying to solve everybody's problems without paying attention to my own needs." Velázquez faced the issue head-on; it did her no damage and may even have helped her with district voters, who gave her 77 percent of the vote in the November 1992 election.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Theodosius I to David Watmough Biography - David Watmough comments:Nydia Velázquez: 1953—: U.S. Congressional Representative Biography - Earned Master's Degree, Served On New York City Council, Re-elected Despite Reduced Latino Percentage