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Only a Third of Community Board Members in East Harlem Are Latino

By Jeff Mays | February 27, 2013 11:53am | Updated on February 27, 2013 12:18pm

HARLEM — Community leaders are calling for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to increase the number of Latino representatives on Community Board 11 in East Harlem.

The group, comprised of current and former community board members, has started multiple petitions because they believe only 15 members of CB 11 self-identify as Latino. There are currently 46 members on the board, according to the district manager, which would place the percentage of Latinos at 32.6 percent.

But according to the U.S. Census, East Harlem South is 52.7 percent Hispanic and East Harlem North is 47.5 percent Hispanic. And with undocumented immigrants, that number may be higher, according to the group.

"In order to represent people you have to have people on the board that understand the needs of the community," said Yma Rodriguez, an elementary school teacher, activist and CB 11 member serving her third two-year term. "Usually the way it works is government uses the census to reflect the adequate representation on any governing body.

Simply put," she added, "it hasn't been that way."

As borough president, Stringer appoints Manhattan's community board members to two-year terms after they are nominated by the area's council representatives. The only requirement is that the appointee live, work or have some "significant interest in the community," according to the city.

"Borough President Stringer looks forward to working with the petitioners to attract the best and the brightest to Community Board 11 through our process of merit-based selection," Stringer spokeswoman Audrey Gelman said in a statement.

"Over the past seven years, the Borough President has appointed 630 new members to Community Boards, and the number of African-American, Latino and Asian-American board members has increased by 40 percent," she added.

Stringer's office places the number of Latinos on CB 11 at 17, with four people who don't identify any ethnicity. The first Mexican-American young professional was also recently appointed to the board.

Marina Ortiz, a former CB 11 member and founder of East Harlem Preservation, says Latino representation is especially important on the board because of the long-term issues that the board is dealing with now such as a rezoning and new redevelopment proposals.

The recent redistricting process — during which East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and others objected to the District 8 lines that originally cut out portions of East Harlem — is another reason for strong Latino representation on CB 11.

"Scott Stringer has always pointed to his work around community board reform, but this is the kind of reform we need to see in East Harlem," Ortiz said. "We've spoken to people who have applied for several years and have not been accepted. There are qualified Latinos who apply every year."

Mark-Viverito said she is in agreement with the group and plans to examine her own recommendations to the board.

"I'm a true believer that any level of government needs to be reflective of the community," said Mark-Viverito. "It's something that has to be addressed."

The group did not have a specific number they said would meet their demands for better representation. Still, they said the percentage on the the board should be closer to the overall percentage of Latinos in East Harlem.

"We are not counting jelly beans here but the gap between the numbers is outrageous," Ortiz said.

Further, the group would like to see the number of Latinos in board leadership roles increased.

CB 11 Chair Matthew Washington said he thought Stringer was doing a good job of appointing people who want to "advance our community."

"It brings comfort when there are people who look like us and have the same background as us, but ultimately we want to make sure we have the right people on the community board," Washington said.

He also said he chooses committee chairs based on skill alone.

"I look at individuals who have a capacity to chair a committee and skills that drive it," he said.

The group said they are hoping for a meeting with Stringer around the issue.

"We are doing a good job. Everyone on that board works hard and well," Rodriguez said. "But we want [Stringer] to appoint more Latinos. It may not happen all at once but we need to move more toward that."