Of all of the candidates currently vying for the seat currently occupied by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Dianne Morales is widely considered the most radical choice on the ticket. A Bedford-Stuyvesant original, single mother of two, and former public school teacher, she is among the top eight Democratic mayoral candidates in this year’s race and would become the first-ever Afro-Latina mayor of New York City. Morales’ professional background also includes nonprofit work and education, working as CEO and Executive Director of Phipps Neighborhood. The pandemic and the corruption it exposed in New York City have increased cries for evolved change, and Morales’ platforms look to propel her through to the Democratic primary on June 22.
Morales spoke with EBONY about the vision of her candidacy, incorporating grassroots activism within her administration, and what it would feel like if elected New York City’s history-making mayor.
Tell us a little about your background and why you’re running for mayor of New York City.
Dianne Morales: I am a Bed-Stuy (Brooklyn) native, the youngest of three daughters, born to Puerto Rican parents. I am an Afro-Latina. I am also a single mom to two young adults, and I grew up in the neighborhood. One of the most distinguishing things about me and my candidacy versus others in this race is [that] when I talk to New Yorkers, they often reflect on the fact that they’ve never felt like they’ve had so much in common with someone in office as they have with me.
I’ve spent my entire life actually working to help New Yorkers from communities like mine gain access to educational opportunities and economic pathways. I’m running for mayor because there is something within the combination of those experiences that centers the voices and the experiences of those communities and moving forward in policy that can create transformative and unprecedented change.
The times require that. We have seen things over the last year in particular that make changes like these all the more urgent and important for us to make those shifts in who we prioritize in policy making.
How do you see goals like Mayor Aja Brown’s The Compton Pledge and community-informed leadership coming to fruition under your proposed leadership?
Dianne Morales: One of the things that I’m most proud of with my platform is that I’m looking to get at the structural and systemic issues that have resulted in the really deep inequities and injustices that have been further exacerbated this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that I’m looking at getting everyone of my platform policies interconnected and addressing issues that have been ignored for decades. For me, the emphasis on income relief and guaranteed income is not a silver bullet. It’s providing the basics to start the conversation that will elevate people in New York City to have access and more dignity while living here. Also, this will transform these other systems that essentially conspire to keep so many of our Black and brown, working class, immigrant neighbors in oppressive conditions.
Securing a basic level of economic security is critical while we also work to transform the housing market so everybody has access to housing. In transforming the economic model of how we operate in this city, so that we’re no longer focusing on big corporate businesses that exploit our labor and extract our wealth, we can provide people with the dignity needed to live with the basic abilities that should be afforded to all Americans.
You’ve mentioned a few of the priority goals set for your first 100 days, but what obstacles for those initiatives do you see ahead and what solutions are you planning to overcome them?
Dianne Morales: For me, the most important thing is to signal the idea that all New Yorkers matter and that all New Yorkers are important and should be taken care of. In my recent talks, I speak about moving the margins to the center. The folks that have been at the margins—that haven’t felt represented or elevated—need to be moved to the center. If they are thriving and living in dignity, everybody else benefits from that. Those are the same people that have kept the city operating throughout the course of the pandemic.
I really believe that politics, policy, legislative leaders and executive leaders should be working for all the people because that benefits all of us. The vision that I have for New York City is one where everybody is thriving and living in a city where we recognize our collective interdependence. All of the people that we’ve been calling essential workers—because they were essential to our survival during this pandemic—they deserve to live in dignity too. It’s hypocritical of us to bang pots and pans, and clap for them at 7 o’clock, and yet not show up for them when they’re housing insecure or struggling from an economic perspective. This change to policy would demonstrate our appreciation by providing the people the opportunity to live in dignity as well.
What was your initial reaction to the recent legalization of adult-use cannabis in the state of New York?
Dianne Morales: This is really just the tip of the iceberg and really the bare minimum steps in terms of the beginnings of reparations for the Black and brown community. It’s nice that cannabis is now legal for everybody because we know that for a long time people weren’t being criminalized the way the Black and brown communities were. I would like to see everybody’s records expunged. But even more importantly than that, I think from an equity perspective that we need to map out how folks will profit from this. As we start to commercialize it, this is an issue that needs to center and prioritize the needs of the communities that have been harmed the most. There needs to be a real emphasis on how investing looks, how resources and ownership among those that we have criminalized are developed, and on how training and mentoring can positively impact them.
It’s an exciting opportunity to think about what would happen if we actually create in terms of paying it back. Paying it back by paying it forward. In other states where [cannabis] has become legalized, it’s quite an expensive proposition to set up a business. We know who has been profiting from that already, so the irony is not lost upon me that the inequities continue in many ways—even in places where it’s been legalized. I’m in support of doing things differently here in New York.
What would it mean to you to become the first Afro-Latina mayor of New York City?
Dianne Morales: I said this to my team when we qualified for the public matching fund,‘We’ve already won.’ I jumped into this race over a year ago [and] people were quick to dismiss [us and] deny a race. In my perspective, they did everything they could to diminish my existence in this space. So the fact that not only have we made it this far but, in doing so, [we] have overcome barrier after barrier and obstacle after obstacle. That, in and of itself, is an act of resistance. And to me, an act of joy, because we’re existing in a space that was not meant for us, not welcoming to us, and did everything that it could to expel us.
My candidacy and campaign are bigger than me. It’s about us. I’m humbled and inspired by the movement that has come together to make it possible for us to get this far. That has only reinforced the idea that [this] is not about me. People see themselves reflected in the message of this campaign. They see themselves, they hear themselves. That’s what this is all about—and it’s a powerful thing to witness. It’s awesome and I feel really lucky to be a part of it.
Dianne Morales is the first Afro-Boricua candidate for New York City mayor. Visit Dianne.nyc for more information about her campaign.
Kevin L. Clark is an editor and screenwriter who covers the intersection of music, pop culture and social justice. Follow him @KevitoClark.