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A transgender woman could make history if she wins the New York City Council seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D) following his election to Congress last year.
Earlier this month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the special election for Torres’ old seat, representing the Bronx-based 15th District, for Tuesday, Mar. 23. But candidates for the seat began announcing their intentions as early as last fall, when Torres, the Democratic nominee in the most Democratic-leaning congressional district in the nation, appeared poised to win his election.
One of those running is Elisa Crespo, who serves as the Education Liaison for the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. She is a longtime progressive activist and community advocate who first became known for organizing against tuition hikes at City University of New York while she was a student. She has also been involved in pro-union and pro-LGBTQ activism.
Crespo, who is the first LGBTQ woman of color to seek office in the Bronx, would also be the first out transgender lawmaker on the Council if elected. She recently told LGBTQ Nation in an interview that she would prioritize the needs of low-income New Yorkers, those reliant on social services, and communities of color if elected.
“It’s time for us to elect people with political courage,” Crespo said, “and who will center our most vulnerable and our low-income communities of color and reverse the policies that have hurt people who have the least access to capital.”
She is particularly concerned about increasing employment opportunities for her would-be constituents, as some neighborhoods in the 15th District have unemployment rates as high as 25%, particularly in light of the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To combat those high rates, she suggests that the city create a “public option” for employment, where it would provide city jobs to anyone not successful in obtaining private employment. She has said she would pay for the program by reallocating nearly $11 billion that has been earmarked to build four new jails in the city. She also supports a progressive income tax with increased taxes on higher-income earners.
Crespo has been endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization whose mission is to help elect out LGBTQ people to political office, based on the belief that increased representation will better help people address issues impacting the LGBTQ community.
Although she is running as a Democrat, Crespo identifies as a progressive, saying she was inspired by Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign and his focus on economic justice issues. She is also a member of the Bronx chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which would place her on the left flank of the City Council if elected.
It’s that commitment to economic justice, informed by her own life experiences, that prompted one of her former campaign rivals, Julian Sepúlveda, to endorse Crespo after he decided to suspend his own campaign, as reported by the Norwood News.
“Supporting Elisa was an easy decision,” Sepúlveda said in a video posted to his now-deleted Twitter account. “She is a Bronxite and a Latina, who was raised by a working-class mother. Her lived experience is rooted in the complex struggles that many in our community live day-to-day.”
She has also been endorsed by State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Marti Allen-Cummings, a nonbinary candidate running for Manhattan’s 7th City Council district.
Already, Crespo has been attacked for having been arrested in 2012 for engaging in survival sex work, with the right-wing New York Post referring to her in a headline as an “ex-prostitute.” The story sparked a backlash on social media against the newspaper, with many calling it a “smear piece” that played upon negative stereotypes of transgender people. But she remains undeterred.
“I’m not sulking, she told the LGBTQ magazine Them. “I have been through far worse things in life than a slimy news article. If anything, it gave me more fuel, and I’m more fired up to work harder for the people in my district.”
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