The future looks bright for Lailoni Narvaez. Just this year she was given the nod by local New York City politicians to pursue a City Council seat representing her neighborhood of East Harlem and part of The Bronx in 2016.
By her estimation, that's exactly when she'll be ready for the challenge of running for political office--her children, now almost 5 and 2, will be older and she'll have the finances to support her dream.
As the external relations specialist in New York State Senate Minority Leader John Samson's office, Narvaez, 24, has a fair share of political experience from helping local candidates harness social media to bolster their campaign efforts.
One day she thought, "Maybe it's time to work for myself and build my own momentum," Narvaez told Patch.
Narvaez has been active in local government since 2006 when, after earning her teaching fellowship, she watched 70,000 teachers get laid off. "I realized the power of politics on the teacher's union, the schools, our community. It got me enraged and then I engaged," she said.
In spite of her experience and commitment, questions linger for Narvaez, who wonders about managing a work-life balance while politicking, the issues facing Latina candidates, and exactly how to navigate what she calls "the politics of politics."
On Saturday, some of her questions were answered when she attended the first "Hispanic Electoral College: A Primer for the Political Enthusiast" event at the Ossining Portuguese Club. The six-hour program was organized by the Hispanic Democrats of Westchester (HDW) and drew more than 30 people to share their personal experiences and expertise, and learn the steps for becoming politically active both as a candidate and supporter with a focus on the Hispanic community.
Robin Bikkal, president of Hispanic Democrats of Westchester, described the event as technical in its purpose. "We want people to understand the legalities, what you need to be ready for when you win, when you lose. ... What to do to get people interested."
A 10-person panel made up of current and former politicians, as well as media specialists and election law experts imparted their experiences to the handful of so-called political enthusiasts. State Sen. David Carlucci (D-38th), City of Peekskill Councilperson Dan Rigger, former County Legislator Bill Burton, and Jerry H. Goldfeder, the former Special Counsel to NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, were among the attendees. Narvaez spoke on the panel about social media.
"It's often that we use the word politican as a dirty word and we need to change that to get good people to run for office," said Sen. Carlucci. "We need more ideas to come forward, more debates to be had. ... This is about making sure that people are committed and they focus and get the experience it takes to run for office."
Between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population in Westchester increased by 43.6 percent, or by nearly 63,000 people, according to the US Census Bureau, making political engagement a mandate for the HDW.
"If there was not a Hispanic City Council person, I would not be City Clerk today," Jose Alvarado told Patch. Alvarado serves as Yonkers City Clerk and was a County Legislator for 10 years. He is also the first vice president of the HDW.
With population growth comes a new focus on the needs of the Hispanic community. Ossining Mayor Bill Hanauer, who is up for re-election in November, cited affordable housing, making sure the population has sufficient water and clothing, and in the case of day laborers, that their rights be protected and they get paid, as some of the issues facing the Hispanic community. Ossining was chosen for the first Hispanic Electoral College meeting in part because 41.4 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to the US Census.
Benito Martinez, a HDW member, told Patch: "We want to make sure the Hispanic population participate and get involved and know the political process in our village so a voice can be heard."
So how to get from need to reality for people like political hopeful Narvaez? Follow petition rules, said Burton. Choose five main points and stay on message, said Rigger. Make lots of friends. Don't count yourself out because you're Hispanic or a woman, the panel echoed.
Miguel Hernandez, the event coordinator and member of the HDW, said, "Be fair and open to differences of opinion. ... You have to understand where others are coming from ... Find out how you meld your opinion into something that is workable."
Hernandez was the first Hispanic to be elected to public office in Ossining in 1999. He served as Village Trustee and Mayor, winning all of his elections and primaries.
Other advice included joining government at the grass-roots level, getting involved in town boards and volunteering several years before you decide to run for office--all lessons Ariana Aguilar of Yonkers is taking to heart.
As a fund-raising consultant who has worked for the not-for-profits Brotherhood/Sister Sol in New York City and My Sister's Place in Westchester, Aguilar also lends her time to Yonkers City Council Majority Leader Wilson Terrero, for whom she makes and helps distribute flyers, among other tasks.
Aguilar, 30, has always been interested in politics but became active after watching the Yonkers education system dramatically change between the time she was in school and now, when her brother, who is 9 years younger, is going through the system. "I practiced the flute, had art programs, wonderful gym classes. It was not solely based on learning from books," she said Aguilar.
The Hispanic Electoral College event taught Aguilar a simple truth: "A lot of times its very easy for us to focus on the bigger issues like abortion and gay rights, especially during a presidential election year ... but a lot of time they fail to impact locally. We need to focus on potholes."
And Narvaez learned a lesson too. "I did learn alot about being strong in your political field."
Although the turnout was lower than hoped for, the HDW are hopeful that word of the mission will spread and future events that may take place in Yonkers, Port Chester and New Rochelle will draw even more political hopefuls.
"It's a very good beginning," said Alvarado.