INWOOD — Albany might have brought its session to an end last month, but for State Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, work in the community is just getting started.
De La Rosa, who beat out incumbent Guillermo Linares last September to represent the 72nd District overseeing Northern Manhattan and The Bronx, is a born-and-bred Inwood resident who touted her track record of work with State Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell from the Upper West Side as well as her role as Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez’s chief of staff.
But the 30-year-old elected official said her first session representing her community in Albany taught her that there is still so much left for her to learn.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said De La Rosa, who joined five standing committees that deal with issues pertaining to her district. That includes the correction committee, which looks at issues with the jail system in NYC, the housing committee, the mental health committee, the banks committee, and corporations, authorities and commissions — which is currently tackling hearings on how the MTA and Amtrak plan to mitigate the effects of the "summer of hell" for commuters.
“It’s hard, because when you’re legislating on the state level and I pass a law, it doesn’t just affect the 72nd District, it affects the entire state of New York. You have to think of the dynamics of your colleagues. Everything has connections. It’s about connecting the work you’re doing in Albany to make sure it has real repercussions here.”
De La Rosa said despite this challenge, she was able to draft 15 bills and co-sponsor a dozen others introduced by the Assembly.
“I wish we would’ve passed a lot of the major bills that we wanted to pass, especially in our chamber. We were able to pass the reproductive rights act to grant women the ability to have coverage for contraception and we did the vacancy decontrol bills,” De La Rosa said. “But we live to fight another day. The good thing about being a new person is that you’re still optimistic.”
And that optimism, De La Rosa said, is what she gets from being from the neighborhood and knowing she’s creating a positive change in the communities of Northern Manhattan and The Bronx.
“I grew up here. I grew up in this community. I always say that. I just love the fact that I’m from here,” De La Rosa said. “I get to work and live, and have an impact in the place where I’m raising my child. If something good happens, we can celebrate it together, and if something needs help, I can have a say in fixing it.”
Carmen De La Rosa recently sat down with DNAinfo New York to talk about her first session in Albany, the many bills passed and co-sponsored and what she hopes to continue doing accomplish in the future. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Tell us about three of the bills you sponsored, whether they passed Albany and where are they now?
“We had an autism bill that passed Assembly, but didn’t pass the Senate ... But I think it was just a matter of running out of time, which often happens with a lot of legislation in the state. The emphasis for the bill is that, in 2016 the state created the autism advisory council for New York State, and it was tasked to identify strategies to come up with ways to bring resources to community who have autism, to identify different resources for parents to take advantage of them. But one thing is clear. In the minority communities — that have large instances of autism — it’s grossly undiagnosed. It’s for many reasons that it’s undiagnosed. But also, once it is diagnosed sometimes parents in these communities don’t have access to the resources to deal with that disorder. And for a child, that is 3 years old and beginning their academic career, to have early intervention means a difference between living a dependent lifestyle with the parent or being an independent, functional person. My bill, what it does, is that it mandates this advisory council to look at minority communities to see how these resources could flow down to us.
What we have learned from medical professionals is that in the Latino communities when parents see their child has sort of a developmental disability or is not keeping up to pace with another child, instead of going for the help, they try to justify why the kid is not acting the same way that maybe the classmates are, or it becomes something taboo… ‘if I start labeling my child from now, that’s going to follow him through life.’ That really limits the ability to get intervention services that are provided through the city and there are a lot of good organizations that are going intervention.
The second bill establishes an adolescent suicide prevention advisory council, so it’s to deal with suicide within our communities and with our young people, especially though with an emphasis on the minority communities, because the resources are always different and the needs are always different. As a Latina, I know that in our community are lot of things are seen as taboo… we also have to deal with the family dynamics when we talk about suicide, when a suicide is committed and also suicide prevention.
The third bill is a housing bill. I’m actually in the housing committee, so the chair of the housing committee brought this bill to my attention and we put it in to allow for the creation of more affordable housing in the state. So it’s a technical bill, that allows for the bond of affordable housing to continue.
What drove you to run for office?
I was perfectly happy being in the background doing the work, but I think leadership means that you come out of your comfort zone and you actually lead when the opportunity to lead is there. And I think that I was able to bring that perspective — as a mom, as a woman, as someone who grew up here, as a Latina — I have so much experience in government. I’ve been in government for 10 years, so to be able to now shape my own agenda, I think was the right move for me. So I don’t regret it.
Working for so many elected officials and working on so many campaigns, you learn to find your voice and you learn what are the things that really want to fight for, and you learn how government works. And when you learn how something works, you learn the rules, it’s not as daunting to actually think you can make a difference for your community.
What can the community expect to see or learn more of from your office?
We’re obviously in the majority and it’s good to be in the majority chambers. I think it has allowed me for the opportunity to focus on things that will have consequences back home, which is always my desire, because it’s good to have bills and to be able to pass legislation. But I’m always thinking of how I can better improve the lives that are here, while I’m in Albany. I think that’s one of the major reasons why we’re there.
So I think in the next coming years, I’m going to continue to focus more on mental health legislation, dealing with the stigmas around mental health and health with everything that we’re talking about in the federal level with Obamacare or Trumpcare, and how do we incorporate mental health in those discussion. So yeah, I’m enjoying my time in Albany!