By Marivir R. Montebon
Twenty- seven-year-old Ed Santos is rolling his sleeves up for the upcoming local elections in New York City in September. He is the first Filipino American to run for New York City council, representing the 8th district’s Harlem area, under the Democratic Party.
The electoral fight is a tough one, as he is pitted against the incumbent Melissa Mark-Viverito who has both resources and experience. But there is no let up to this young fellow, born and raised in Detroit by feisty mother Emilie Santos who defied being deported by asking help from all the political leaders in Michigan.
(Interestingly, mother Emilie has her own story to tell. Senators Levin and then Senator Vice President Jo Biden sponsored a local bill for her, saving her from deportation and granting her a Green Card, a permanent resident status, thus keeping her family intact).
Such bravery must have been imbibed by Ed too, as he proudly introduces himself as the son of a nanny and the first Filipino to run for public office in the city that never sleeps in his campaign trail.
Ed graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in Statistics and finished his Master’s in Teaching from Pace University in New York City. Ed taught Math at East Harlem schools in 2007.
He says coming from immigrant working parents, immigration issue to him is not only political but personal as well. Ed’s mother has been working in Michigan and in New York for many years while his father, Ed Senior, a waiter, lives with his two siblings in Detroit.
Being a teacher himself, Ed focuses on education as his platform of leadership. Excerpts from the interview:
1. What is your policy platform for NYC council?
As a former public school teacher, I believe I am uniquely qualified to address the barriers to educating our children in NYC. I was raised in a working class, immigrant family and my parents knew the way for their children to succeed was through a quality education. I am able to run for office and achieve because of the value my family placed on education. Education opened doors for my students – allowed them to go to the best colleges, but they were the exception in schools across the city.
I am running to ensure our children are getting the quality education they deserve so that they can seek out opportunities otherwise not available to them. But that also means, once they graduate from school and we prepare them for the world, that there are jobs waiting for them.
2. Harlem has its share of economic and social problems. How do you reconcile that with education reforms?
Economic development will breathe new life into my district which suffers from chronic joblessness and 17% unemployment. It will be my priority to make sure our kids are educated, but that they are also employed along with the other residents in my community. And though my district has one of the largest public housing communities – a community under attack by NYCHA’s In-fill development plan – more work will always make more homes affordable.
Put simply, the best way to promote affordable housing in District 8 is to promote economic development and jobs. No home is affordable for someone who is unemployed, and no education, no matter how exemplary is useful without a purpose. Better schools will encourage business development, business development will bring jobs, and more work will make homes affordable again in District 8.
3. What distinction do you make? Why should people vote for you?
I believe my experience as a public school teacher sets me apart from the other candidates in the District 8 City Council race. I am the only candidate in District 8 with experience in the classroom and there are currently just two sitting members on the City Council who have experience working in New York City Public Schools with one of those members leaving office at the end of this term. Given this fact, I would bring a unique background and perspective to New York City Council.
The political environment surrounding mayoral control of NYC public schools is likely to lead to the City Council playing a larger role in shaping the present and future policies that address public education in New York. That is why I believe my first-hand experience as a New York City public school teacher will be valuable toward creating the kind of education system in our city that truly leaves no child behind.
4. What is the most glaring problem which the city that never sleeps faces today?
Underperforming schools. Underperforming schools hurt our families and fail to promote economic development. Children are trapped in failing schools across this city. Parents are caught in a catch 22 between sending their children to bad schools and worse schools. Teachers are rarely provided the professional development they need to support them in addressing the needs of their students, which often extend beyond the classroom.
There is no doubt, that teachers can make a huge difference in the life of children. It was a first grade teacher that taught me English. It was because of her and those like her that led me to become a teacher. But when you are faced with students that come to class hungry, sleep deprived because they live in shelters, or distracted by concerns for their safety on their way to and from school, teaching becomes a real up-hill battle. Professional development and support of teachers can help teachers as they address the daily lesson plans and core curriculum but also the wider concerns of the community in which they teach.
5. In what capacity would you be able to help solve this problem?
I believe publishing the budgets of schools will allow parents to see the priority each school places on education in the classroom relative to other school expenditures. Spending the same dollar, some schools might spend it wiser than others positively impacting the educational experience of the students. Parents have a right to know which of those schools their child attends. Principals also can learn from the experience of others schools and examine how other schools spend their budgets. Imagine if school administrators were allowed the opportunity to learn from one another.
Also, implementing universal pre-k to NYC four year olds will help get our kids on the right track early. We know pre-school has a durable, long lasting positive impact on the well-being and opportunities available to students who attend pre-school. It gets children into the habit of learning at a young age and immerses them into the educational environment we expect them to attend for the next 20 years of their life. ‘Learn early and learn often’ is a theme we should set for our children now. And that theme should hold true for higher education as well.
For every dollar spent by the city of New York, one penny is devoted to higher education. That is one pathetic penny. While other cities are leading to make higher education achievable and affordable, New York City is being left behind. New York City should be a leader on these very issues and make a greater commitment to higher education.
Also, I believe we need to promote and support afterschool programs and stop the frequent attempts to cut back on these vital programs for kids. After school programs not only provide opportunities for a more rounded education beyond the classroom, they encourage achievement in the classroom by requiring strict standards for students to attend. I had a student, who was nearly failing all of his classes. But when he joined the basketball team, because he had to maintain a certain grade average, he caught up to the rest of the students. He came to school early to study and prepare, and eventually he went on to college, all because of the basketball team. His story is just one of many that time and again prove to us teachers and parents the benefit of afterschool programs. But politicians at City Hall who have no experience teaching in classrooms would have no knowledge of this, which is why too many are half-hearted advocates of many of the issues I have described as profoundly impacting the well being of our kids. Education affects all of us. The sooner we learn that, the sooner we can begin to confront these barriers to learning and success in our schools and communities.
6. What is your take on the immigration bill being discussed in Congress right now?
Growing up with immigrant parents, my family has been touched by the issue of immigration enforcement in the United States. When my mom’s visa expired and she faced deportation we worried about what that would mean for our family. It wasn’t until she decided to appeal to Senator Carl Levin that her fortunes changed. Senator Levin sponsored a bill introduced by Senator Joe Biden in the Congress that was signed by President Reagan granting my mother American citizenship.
The issue of immigration reform and the importance of keeping families together is not just a political issue for me: it’s personal.
As Congress debates immigration reform, they should take seriously the benefits that immigrants provide the economy and the role immigrants play within the fabric of communities across the country. Recent reports about the contents of the new immigration reform proposal make me feel both encouraged and concerned. I’m encouraged by the fact that more congressional Republicans seem to finally want to address immigration in a comprehensive way beyond simply closing the border. A pathway to citizenship is absolutely critical, and I’m glad that some reasonable Republicans have joined with Democrats to endorse this measure.
7. Do you have practical ways to strengthen the immigration system of the US, especially on the city level?
I support the bi-partisan effort to address our failing immigration system. However, I am concerned about what the requirements might be for the pathway to citizenship. I’m concerned that too many people are being left out, because anyone here after December 2011 will not be eligible for citizenship and will still be vulnerable to deportation. I’m also concerned about the excessive fines and back taxes that current undocumented immigrants will be required to pay. I hope as the initial draft proposal is seen and heard, it will be amended to better reflect the needs of communities like the ones in District 8.
I believe the City Council can do a number of things to help undocumented immigrants. One idea I support would be to create a “Big Apple ID Card” that will serve as an identification option for all NYC residents. The card could be used as a library card and for banking services. Additionally, I support efforts to protect more New Yorkers from unjust deportations and support efforts to place limitations on local law enforcement in complying with immigration detainer requests. These are common sense ideas that I will fight for as the next council member for District 8.