Meet Puerto Rican Activist & Hopeful NYC Councilmember Elisa Crespo

Photo by Friends of Elisa Crespo/Christian Amato. Courtesy of Crespo

Now that Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) is the first gay Afro-Latinx in the U.S. Congress, the former New York City council member’s seat is up for grabs—and Elisa Crespo is vying for the spot. Should the 30-year-old frontrunner garner enough votes in the March 23 Special Election, her victory would also be historic. If she wins, Crespo will be the first out transgender woman of color on the council.

“I live in one of the poorest, hungriest, unhealthy boroughs in New York City,” Crespo says referring to the Bronx. “We need a new generation of bold progressive leaders to bring real systemic change to New York and to make sure the city is working for everyone.” Crespo’s district covers Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Van Nest, West Farms, Bedford Park and more.

The Puerto Rican candidate, who presently serves as the Education Liaison for the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., is a lifelong activist with a fervor to represent and fight for the people of the 15th council district, a region with an unemployment rate of 24.7% and where a third of the residents have less than a high school education.

Photo by Friends of Elisa Crespo/Christian Amato. Courtesy of Crespo
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A core part of Crespo’s agenda is a President Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal-inspired plan to have local governments assist individuals who are having trouble landing work by offering them employment in public works projects. Her vision is to establish a paid, part-time, work-based apprenticeship program that teaches workers new skills and helps to transition them into full-time employment.

“This is what I mean when I say jobs and justice. I mean creating pathways into labor jobs and trade jobs. This is how you move people from generational poverty to generational wealth,” she tells Remezcla.

Crespo, who has a political science degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and previously interned with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), comes with the professional and lived experience needed to help her get the job done for Bronxites. As a product of the public institutions she is seeking to reform, Crespo knows what it’s like to be raised by a single mom reliant on public assistance, live in public housing and attend public schools. She has firsthand insight into the inequities that exist for working-class and impoverished families in New York and also knows how these struggles are compounded for trans and queer communities of color.

Crespo comes with the professional and lived experience needed to help her get the job done for Bronxites.

A 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 29% of trans people in the country live under the poverty line, which is more than twice the national average; that number jumps for Black, Latine and Indigenous trans individuals. As a result, some are forced into the street economy as a form of survival—circumstances Crespo knows personally. When the New York Post ran a smear piece on the candidate in November 2020 that referred to her as an “ex-prostitute” due to a 2012 arrest for sex work (which she has been open about), the politician responded to critics by reminding them of how her life is evidence of the urgent need for constructive resources in poverty-stricken communities.

Photo by Friends of Elisa Crespo/Christian Amato. Courtesy of Crespo
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“If we are looking for someone who is really battle-tested, a fighter who has had to overcome obstacles in life—I bring that along with a revolutionary fight that stems all the way back to the 1969 Stonewall Riots where trans women fought back against police violence,” Crespo says.

Despite the transphobic and sexist attacks against her, Crespo has garnered notable support, including endorsements from former Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York State Senator Julia Salazar and New York City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, among many other elected officials and organizations. She credits her backing to her platform, which centers on jobs, housing for all, quality education, criminal justice reform, affordable health care and environmental justice.

This is a real fighter’s story.

As for her graceful perseverance in spite of the blasts, she attributes that to the mental and emotional muscles shaped by her personal biography.

“When I sit here and think about my candidacy, that I’m the only trans woman of color and I have gotten this far in my campaign, folks shouldn’t take that lightly,” Crespo says. “It’s important for us to always remind people that trans [women] of color have a life expectancy of 35 years old, so the likelihood of someone like me having these conversations, starting where I did and going where I’m going, is rare. It’s not insignificant. This is a real fighter’s story.”