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Upper Manhattan Women Look to Make History in the Hunt for Albany

By Carla Zanoni | September 13, 2010 6:41pm | Updated on September 14, 2010 7:16am

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER MANHATTAN — When Julissa Gomez launched her campaign to become the first woman to represent Upper Manhattan in the state Assembly, she quickly realized the road to Albany would be bumpy.

For one thing, she had to endure jokes about her looks. For another, a search for a female candidate to run for the 72nd District seat held by outgoing Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat ended with the incumbent endorsing a man.

Gomez is one of four women hoping to represent Washington Heights and Inwood in state government — and looking to make history. Never before has a woman represented northern Manhattan in Albany, and to have so many female candidates in the mix is unprecedented.

In addition to Gomez, 35, there's Gabriela Rosa, 44, also in the pool of Democrats up for the Assembly primary on Tuesday. In the 31st District state Senate race, there's Miosotis Muñoz, 41, and Anna Lewis. With weak Republican opposition expected in the general election, whoever wins the primary in both races is nearly assured victory in November.

But the path to history hasn't been smooth.

Some community members regularly joked that Gomez’s physique was a reason to vote for her. And in August, a Rosa supporter, Dr. Eduardo Mejia Torres, a Dominican-American journalist, praised Rosa's beauty as a factor voters should consider.

"A woman who is beautiful and has no talent, that beautiful person is only an element of prostitution,” he said in Spanish during a Spanish language television program. “In the case of this woman [Rosa], apart from being exquisitely beautiful, she's also very talented."

Gomez and Rosa both jumped into the race after Espaillat said he wanted a female candidate to replace him as he was running for state Senate. Espaillat at first picked Gomez, then turned around and snubbed her and, by extension, Rosa, when he endorsed City Councilman Guillermo Linares, a longtime foe.

"I don’t think that he ever wanted to see a woman in office," Rosa told DNAinfo.

Espaillat's campaign declined to comment.

For Gomez, losing Espaillat's endorsement was doubly troubling. Not only did he abandon her, but the fact that she was initially chosen as his female replacement led to the perception that she was in his pocket. Gomez's campaign has distanced itself from Espaillat.

"Ms. Gomez wasn’t handpicked by any club boss and isn’t riding anyone’s coattails," a spokesperson for the campaign said in a statement. "She is accountable only to the community."

The four candidates, though, all say it's time for a woman’s touch in Albany, citing the imbalance of female representation upstate, and Rosa, Gomez and Muñoz, who are all Dominican-American, said women play a special role in the largely Latino households of Upper Manhattan.

"Women’s views are different than men’s views, we have a different way of managing and communicating and negotiating, because we are always doing that with our families at home," said Rosa, who was born in the Dominican Republic, became a U.S. citizen in 2005, and has worked for Assemblyman Denny Farrell and City Councilman Miguel Martinez.

"As a woman and mother I understand this district’s needs firsthand," said Muñoz, who has worked for Rep. Charles Rangel and former Manhattan Borough Presidents Ruth Messinger and C. Virginia Fields. "We need to make sure that those issues that affect women are those issues we can respond to more effectively."

Gomez, a lawyer and Community Board 12 member, was born in Washington Heights.

Lewis is an Upper West Side prosecutor who now litigates for the New York State Health Department.

A flier sent by Lewis' campaign this weekend reminded voters that only one woman currently represents Manhattan in the state Senate.

“With all that has gone wrong with Albany,” it reads, “isn’t it about time our government is open to a more balanced variety of opinions?”