By Marivir R. Montebon
Metropark, New Jersey — “I am just a labor leader stepping forward. It is difficult, but I am stepping forward,” Milly Silva said with refreshing note of confidence.
At 42, she runs half the ticket of the Bouno-Silva of the Democratic Party against the incumbent New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno of the Republican Party.
It is an all-women ticket in New Jersey, a rare political moment as it is only the third time to happen in America’s electoral history.
Milly is the executive vice president of 1199 SEIU and her work is mostly on organizing low-income communities in the Bronx where she was born, and in New Jersey’s nursing home and health care facilities.
She speaks strongly for women, labor rights and for immigration, having been born to and raised single-handedly by her mom who hails from Puerto Rico. This easily identifies her with Filipinos living in the state, which is the biggest population (110,650 as of 2010 census) of Filipino-Americans in the east coast.
Milly now lives with her husband and three children in Montclair.
Excerpts of the interview:
1. What made you decide to be Barbara Buono’s running mate?
Barbara asked me to run with her. And I admire her to challenge Gov. Christie, so here I am. I bring real life experience in organizing low income families, safe neighborhood, benefits for nursing care givers and poor workers. Based on experience, I bring together industry and workers together on the table.
2. You come from the minority race and a woman. Is it difficult to get into the electoral arena?
It is very difficult. I am the first Latina to ever run for a high public office. But I am stepping up, as a labor leader, I am just stepping up. I am a woman and I believe that we have to represent women. In the nursing homes where I do my organizing work, I see them as my mother and sisters. I believe more women leaders must step up.
3. What programs do you have in particular for women?
We are pushing for equal pay for equal work. Right now, the Latina women are paid fifty-one cents to the dollar. And for the entire country, women are paid 77 cents to the dollar. We are also going to fully fund health services. Right now, the planned parenthood budget has been slashed.
4. What is the future of immigration law in New Jersey?
We support a comprehensive immigration reform law. In the state, we will have tuition fee support for the Dreamers, because they are in fact, our future leaders. We will invest in their education. The Governor’s office will be a place for them to speak out.
5. What is the Buono-Silva economic program?
You know, 95 percent of businesses in New Jersey are categorized as small. We will improve the business climate here by providing tax credits to support small businesses. Gov. Christie has, on the other hand, provided a $2.1 billion in tax exemptions to big businesses. I understand that most immigrant-owned business, like Filipino businesses, need that support.
6. Running against Gov. Christie is quite a challenge, as he leads about 20 points in the recent polls. Will you still be involved in the issues for New Jersey whether or not you make it in the elections as Lt. Governor?
If he wins, I will continue to work on the side of the society where I am most comfortable. Whatever happens, this will not be my last.