By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
My knowledge of salsa is pretty good I like it hot.
Salsa music, on the other hand, is not my strength. As a matter of
fact, if its not Tito Puentes, Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony or Ricky Martin, Latino
music is not known to me the latter two are by osmosis, compliments of Allison, my
daughter. And of course, theres Ricky Ricardo.
Now, Im sure Im the loser for not having had the
opportunity to enjoy and become familiar with the music that is presently impacting
todays culture. Throughout it all, theres been one name that Ive heard
of as a politician or civic activist, but I did not bother to listen to his music until I
got home the night I interviewed him.
Bronx born, Willie Colon has, according to his website, "fused his
music talent, his passion for humanity, and his community and political activism into an
extraordinary, multifaceted career."
Willie Colon is a non-pretentious, successful salsa musician and
producer. Willie Colon is a man driven by the desire to serve and improve the lot of the
people of his city.
When he was 11, his grandmother who raised him gave him a
trumpet she got from a pawnshop. By 13, Willie was working, by 16 recording, and by 20 a
successful star. With 11 Grammy nominations, 12 gold records and six platinums,
whats a recording star like Willie doing in a game like politics?
"To make a change," he said. "Im not doing it for
the money," he added with a smile.
Hes run for Congress and Borough President.
Hes an advocate for the outer boroughs: "they deserve more
resources," insists Willie.
For the commuter: "lower the train fare to $1 and put rubber
wheels on longer trains. Build a transit system on our waterways to complement the MTA,
like they have in Hamburg, Germany."
Hes a visionary. "Reclaim the waterfront. Convert the old
industrial areas into affordable housing. New York is not using land efficiently."
How can he do it?
"For 35 years, Ive been negotiating contracts for CBS and
RCA. I handle millions of dollars."
Willie is a quick learner. Hes been programming in UNIX for 10
years; he built his music and campaign websites himself.
Whys he going to win?
Because the people want, "somebody in government you can trust
when they turn the lights out." Willie didnt pick up his horn, but his words
He rattles on with ideas:
"Minimum wage should be $12."
"School outreach to parents," is a major part of the
We have, "one size fits all education. The Board of Ed. should be
dismantled and replaced by 32 independent boards."
"We should build a Bronx sports complex."
And how do we fund this all, I inquired?
"Well find the money," said Willie.
Willie is a wonderful salesperson.
"The political organizations are divisive," he asserts.
"Im probably the most moderate of all the Public Advocate
And finally he closed with sincerity and a smile: "They should
elect someone who has come from the 67 percent of the people not represented
its only fair."
Willie Colon is a salsa musician.
Willie Colon is a New Yorker who cares.
Willie Colon was raised in extreme poverty and now that he is
successful he wants to reach out and unify and rebuild our city.
Willie Colon is one of the great American stories almost a
Willie Colon is trying to win a six-way race while spending about
one-tenth of what some of his opponents are spending.
Willie Colon is a serious, committed, capable candidate for Public
But, Willie Colon may need another "almost-miracle" to do it.
He was the last one in the race and the last one I interviewed. It was
somewhat of an afterthought.
I met the four Democratic candidates for Mayor relatively early on.
Then the Public Advocate and Comptroller candidates followed by the Queens Beep and
Republican Mayoral candidates.
I tried to schedule all the Dems prior to my trip to Florida, but when
I called Willie Colons home he didnt have a campaign office three weeks
ago I got an answering machine that was filled to the top and couldnt take
any more messages.
Even though I had difficulty accepting a salsa singer as a serious
candidate, I wanted to be fair and also wanted to "complete the set" as a
collector might say.
So I left it to Trib editor Tamara Hartman to schedule Willie
for my return. He was interview number six for Public Advocate.
I spent between an hour and a half and two hours at our office with
each of the candidates pictured to the left: Willie Colon, Norman Siegel, Betsy Gotbaum,
Scott Stringer, Kathryn Freed and Steve DiBrienza. The worst of them can do the job well
This field is illustrative of the talent our City has to offer and the
positive impact that comes from progressive public campaign finance and term limits.
Although we have our preferences in this quality field, the City can rest easy that a
vigilant government watchdog will fill the position regardless of who is elected.
Of equally impressive caliber are the candidates for Comptroller and
City Council. As a matter of fact, the mayoral field, although not charismatic, consists
of skilled and knowledgeable candidates.
And those that sang choruses of gloom and doom just didnt get it.
Those that tried to revert to politics-as-usual and reinvent the status quo by overturning
the term limit referendum cared not for the City, but for themselves.
The City will be in good hands come next year.
The sky is not falling as matter of fact, the sun is shining
brightly in New York.
Some of us have our words.
We are well-armed and capable of making our point.
& Michael Schenkler.
Photo By Dee Richard
Some of us are fortunate and have vehicles to share those words
Im one of the lucky ones.
Part of my everyday business responsibilities include writing this
column. I get to meet the leaders of this City and State and Country. I get to share my
perspectives about them, about government and about politics.
I get to share my insights, opinions, thoughts and even my family with
you our faithful readers.
Sometimes I try to make a point. Sometimes I hammer that point home.
I write what I write to entertain and amuse.
I write what I write because I care about Queens, about people and
Hopefully the reader can distinguish why Im writing.
I also write to try to make government and politics interesting and
relevant to the reader. It is your participation that is needed to improve the process.
Primary Day which in Queens and the City is more significant in
local elections than is Election Day is September 11. Both major parties have
contests for Mayor. That alone should bring you to the polls.
For Democrats there are Primaries for Public Advocate and Comptroller
and in our borough, spirited contests for City Council in every single District
many with multiple choice quality candidates. The Tribune recommendations are on
There is also a hotly contested Democratic Primary for Queens Borough
President. In that one, former Board of Education President Carol Gresser offers Queens an
independent, courageous and committed approach to government. She will be a diligent and
creative advocate in agreesively and fairly delivering services to the people of Queens.
I urge you to vote for her.
More importantly, I urge you to vote.