Guillermo Linares, State Assemblyman, Looks Toward Washington

Guillermo Linares, a Democratic candidate running to represent New York’s 13th Congressional District, knows how to run a campaign when there are two Dominicans vying for the same seat.

In 1991, Mr. Linares won the election for a seat on the New York City Council by defeating Adriano Espaillat and became the first Dominican-born official elected to a major political office in the United States.

“I opened the doors for Espaillat,” Mr. Linares said. “I opened the doors for many Dominicans, many Latinos in office.”

  • Name: Guillermo Linares
  • Age: 65
  • Home Neighborhood: Marble Hill
  • Party Affiliation: Democrat
  • Current Office/Job: New York State 72nd District Assemblyman

While he shied away from criticizing Mr. Espaillat, he said that choice was good and that it’s “the beauty of democracy.”

Daniel Schmidt, director of the Marble Hill Senior Center, remembers when Mr. Linares was running for City Council in 1991. Mr. Schmidt said that before taking office, Mr. Linares introduced himself to public service providers in the City Council’s 10th District. This showed how willing Mr. Linares was to make himself available to residents, Mr. Schmidt said. And, he said, Mr. Linares’s involvement in city politics distinguishes him from Mr. Espaillat.

“Espaillat is a part of the entrenched city politics,” Mr. Schmidt, 59, said. “You won’t hear many people comparing him to Linares. Linares has a more open and inclusive environment.”

With changes in the district lines to include more diverse voters, Mr. Linares knows he needs more than just votes from Latino voters to win against Mr. Espaillat again — this time, in the election for the 13th Congressional District.

“Whoever is going to be elected is going to be elected by diverse voters,” said Mr. Linares, who serves as the New York State 72nd District assemblyman.

In his district, Mr. Linares represents the predominantly Latino neighborhoods of Washington Heights, Inwood and Marble Hill — the neighborhood the 65-year-old calls home. Mr. Linares said he hoped his political record since 1991 would show his dedication to representing the diverse communities that make up the district.

That record includes working in the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs from 2004 to 2009, serving on the local school board for three terms and pushing for more public schools in Washington Heights during the rise of the immigrant community in the 1980s. Former President Bill Clinton appointed him in 1999 as chairman of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans.

On a recent Thursday early afternoon, Mr. Linares strolled down Broadway, in an area that many locals call Juan Rodriguez Way, passing bustling small businesses. He inhaled the smell of the fresh fruits and vegetables on sale in wooden crates. Residents interrupted Mr. Linares’s walk, expressing their thanks with beaming grins.

As Mr. Linares waited for the walk sign at Broadway and 179th Street, a bashful smile crossed his face when he heard a chorus of “Gracias, por todo,” — “Thank you for everything” — from a group of women cheering him from across the intersection.

Some voters know about Mr. Linares’s contributions to the Washington Heights community. Others, such as Derrick Haynes, are unsure about what he can offer to the neighborhoods in the congressional district. Mr. Linares is not as visible as one of his Democratic Party competitors, Keith Wright, said Mr. Haynes, a 53-year-old who lives in Harlem.

“A lot of people are becoming more abreast about when the politicians are coming up,” he said. “We’re looking to see when they’re coming up when there’s not an election.”

In a district where political power has traditionally been held by African-Americans, Latinos are increasingly becoming the larger demographic, especially in Central Harlem. Between 2000 and 2010, the Latino and black populations dramatically shifted. The number of African-Americans in Manhattan Community District 10, which is located in Central Harlem, has decreased by 12 percent, while the number of Latinos has increased 42.6 percent, according to the Manhattan Community Board 10 profile.

While the neighborhoods of Inwood and Marble Hill are strongly for Mr. Linares, they are also in favor of State Senator Espaillat.

“They are both good men, Dominican,” said 49-year-old Rafael Cruz of Inwood. “They are hard workers.”

Mr. Linares said the Latino and black voting blocs are important, but white voters can be just as critical to a victory.

“You need Latinos. You need blacks,” he said. “You need whites. They can be as diverse as they come.”

As he continued his walk, he reached into his inside coat pocket and extended his business cards to residents when they pointed and complained about the trash that was left on the streets outside their apartments. He embraced residents when they expressed fears about displacement from the communities their racial groups have traditionally lived in for generations. It’s a full-time job, Mr. Linares said, to represent a district with this diverse makeup.

“You don’t get elected because you are Latino. You don’t get elected because you are black,” Mr. Linares said. “You get elected because you have earned the respect of the community.”

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Linares’s longevity and community connections will translate into the kind of respect that can help him win the 13th District’s congressional seat.