7 January 2002
Political Profile of Rep. Jose Serrano
Rep. Josť E. Serrano of New York, Ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary, and related agencies of the exclusive and powerful House Appropriations Committee, represents New York’s 16th Congressional District in the South Bronx. This district he represents is one of the most economically devastated areas in the United States. This mostly Hispanic area in South Bronx had, by the 1970s, become a symbol for the nation's urban ills. This district stretches of refuse-strewn lots and burned-out buildings that provide backdrops for politicians of both parties. Many of the politicians have prescribed varying solutions to revive the inner cities. However, residents have complained bitterly that these photo meetings have resulted in no improvements for the low-income communities of the South Bronx. There was light however of an economic turnaround that began to take root, in 1995, in the parts of the area that forms the 16th. Several neighborhoods of single-family homes and low-rise apartments have been built on vacated lots by financially supported economic development organizations, and then occupied by the working-class, minority families. These areas, as more settle, middle-class Hispanic communities in the eastern part of the 16th, provide hope for improvement.
The South Bronx was overtaken by Hispanics following the end of World War II. Since 1970 it has elected Democrats of Puerto Rican origin to the House. In 1970 Herman Badillo became the first Puerto Rican to serve in Congress. In 1978, he was succeeded by Robert Garcia, and then in 1990, Serrano stepped in and has easily held the seat since. Once the province was largely of working-class white ethnics, Jews and blacks, but the 16th's territory is now 60 percent Hispanic. About a third of the residents are non-Hispanic blacks; fewer than 5 percent are non-Hispanic whites, which is one of the lowest proportions in any district.
Great Democratic strength here has been consistent with other mainly minority districts. Another consistent pattern is low voter turnout. This is the result of recent immigration status, political alienation and poverty. A range of inner-city problems affects the residents of the 16th. It has the lowest median family income of the 435 House districts. More than 40 percent of all residents live in poverty, and less than half of the people 25 or older have high school diplomas. Once a major factory area, the South Bronx still has a handful of industrial employers, as well as two large wholesale food centers, the Hunts Point and the Bronx terminal markets, not to mention Yankee Stadium which is near by also. The 16th district comes to a northern point in Bronx Park, site of the Bronx Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Congressman Serrano moved from Puerto Rico to South Bronx with his family, when he was seven years old. There he attended public schools and later graduated from Lehman College of the City University of New York. Then he served in the 172nd Support Battalion of the U.S. Army Medical Corps at Fort Wainright, Alaska during the Vietnam War. During his 27 years of public service, Serrano has pursued a consistent legislative philosophy. He believes the primary roles of government are to provide a climate in which all people should be treated equally and compete based entirely on their ability in an economy. Before his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Serrano had a distinguished sixteen-year career in the New York State Assembly, including six years as chairman of the Education Committee. He was first elected to the State Assembly in1974. When he was the Education Committee Chairman, in 1983, Serrano also wrote legislation that doubled state funding for bilingual education programs in 125 languages and provided $50 million in funding for New York City to combat the school dropout crisis. Then in 1985 he ran for Bronx borough president, heading the Democratic organization, and nearly one. Two years later when Congressman Garcia was forced out because of his scandal with minority contractor Wedtech, the door was opened to Serrano’s election to the House. Mr. Serrano is a career politician to this day.
During Serrano’s first term he served on the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, and on the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, and then on the Subcommittees on the Legislative Branch, the District of Columbia, and Agriculture. When the Democratic Party got serious about "looking more like America" in the 103rd Congress, Serrano received a seat on the Appropriations Committee. In 1994, when Americans put more Republicans in the House, Serrano lost his seat as the committee's party ratios changed in favor of the GOP. But the new minority Democratic leadership gave Serrano a soft landing. They provided him with a prestigious leadership assignment and a seat on the Judiciary Committee. In the 104th Congress, Serrano served as vice chairman, along with Pete Peterson of Florida, of the Steering Committee, the leadership panel that makes committee assignments. Then on March 18, 1996 Josť E. Serrano was re-appointed to the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Following House rules, Serrano resigned from the House Judiciary Committee to accept the new committee seat.
During the first session of the 105th Congress, Serrano became Ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Legislative Branch and third ranking Democratic member on its Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. On the first day of the 105th Congress, Serrano introduced 16 pieces of legislation on education, nutrition, crime prevention, and other issues. He is currently At-Large Whip for the Democratic Leadership. He is also now ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, the Judiciary and related agencies, Transportation and related agencies. He belongs to selected caucus and special organization memberships like Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Urban Caucus. All these assignments, in one way or another, relate to the character of his state and district that he represents. Serrano fights strongly against republican proposed budget measures. Serrano’s fighting to help poor working families, children, the ill, the elderly, and immigrants reflect why he is on the assignments that he is.
Based on information gathered I think Serrano is liberal. Not only because Serrano is a Democrat and most democrats tend to be liberal, but also because Serrano has one of the most liberal voting records in the House. In six years Serrano has voted 579 times. Out of these 579 votes only 40 of these votes supported Conservative coalition. Therefore more than 85% of his votes were liberal. In New York politics, Serrano has taken many stubborn liberal positions. An example of his strong liberal position was when He fought vehemently the amendment to channel bilingual education money to programs that teach English. Working to better the future for minorities not only in his own district has been very satisfying for Serrano.
Now for Serrano’s electoral history, he first won the special election against Simeon Golar (R) by a count of 26, 928 to 2,079. Then in the primary election in 1990 he ran and won against Ismael Betancourt Jr. (D) by a count of 17,983 to 2,468. Then came the general election in 1990 where he ran against Joseph Chiavaro (R), Mary Rivera (NA), Anna Johnson (C) and won be getting 93.0% of the votes. Then in the1992 primaries he went unopposed, and then beat Michael Walters (R, C) in the general election by a count of 85,222 to 7,975. In 1994 he was unopposed in the primaries and won against Michael Walters (C) in the general election by a count of 58,572 to 2,257. From then on Serrano has been unopposed in the primaries. In the general election of 1996 he defeated Rodney Torres (R) by a count of 86,971 to 2,878. In the general election of 1998 Serrano defeated Thomas Bayley (R) and Owen Camp (C) by collecting more than 93% of the votes. Then in 2000 Serrano easily defeated Aaron Justice 100,891 to 3,943 in the general election. Jose Serrano’s fundraising has increased steadily each year. In 1990 he raised $111,390 and then in 2000 he was able to raise $202,394.
In conclusion Jose E. Serrano is one of many successful politicians. He has completely dominated in his elections, not to mention all that he has brought to his district. Serrano has held the seat without difficulty and faces little threat from redistricting. Given the fact that his district gave just 6% of their votes to Bush, and that he has been unopposed and successful in the last decade I predict he will win his next election without any trouble.
Barone, Michael. The Almanac of American Politics 2002. New York: National Journal Inc., 2001
Ehrenhalt, Alan, ed. Politics in America: Members of Congress in Washington and At Home. New York: Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1983
Feliberty, Migdalia. Telephone Interview. 4 January 2002
Congressman Josť E. Serrano's Web Page. http://www.house.gov/serrano/welcome.html
Project Vote-Smart: The Most Trusted Source for Political Information. http://www.vote-smart.org/index.phtml
United States House of Represenatives: Committee on Appropriations http://www.house.gov/appropriations/sub.htm last updated- 12/19/01