TIC Interview with Efrain González -
New York State Senator

Interview By RAY FELICIANO

Interview date: November 2, 2008 (printed December 2008)

Q: You are the Ranking Member of the Small Business Committee, which means that you are the leader of the minority party within that committee. How much clout does the Ranking Member of a committee have?

“Well the ranking committee member doesn’t have that much clout because the majority controls, so we’re always fighting to push the agenda or a part, but the majority controls, so you’re kind of like... there’s a Chairman and there’s a Vice. But the Chairman and the committee majority controls the process.”

Q: So, not much clout from the ranking side?

“Not in terms of legislation or budgetary items. We just try to point out to the public our platform, our issues, and to get the public support to make sure our colleagues on the other side of the aisle get the issue right.”

New York State Senator Efrain González

New York State Senator Efrain González.

Q: Before you were elected to be a New York State Senator, you were formerly a bus driver that had earned your GED. How did earning that GED helped open doors for you?

“Well, there are two things. One, the GED was that you needed a high-school diploma to go into any of the civil service positions like police, fire, any of those kind of jobs that you were looking for. And the other issue was a driver’s license. The driver’s license was the basis of also where you could earn money. What really is the part about the GED is I used to call it ‘PH.D – Poverty, Hunger, and Desperation.’ And being that I got married very young and had an early family, that the GED and that process helped me, and my driver’s license helped me earn a living and move forward in life. But we called it Poverty, Hunger, and Desperation. And since then I encourage everyone to go to college. Get your degrees, and do what you need to do. And then come back or give back, or get involved.”

Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned from your years as an elected union official?

“In the years as an elected union official you’re working on behalf of the issues of the membership depending on where it was. When it was bus drivers, you’re negotiating better wages and conditions. And people don’t seem to understand that when you’re a bus driver, and you put in a lot of years, you get kidney problems, you’re sitting down a lot, so there’s other health related issues. But you always go with the membership. You go and bring their grievances or day-to-day work. And the same goes when I became union involved in the armored car services with Brinks, and I was elected to represent their memberships. It was labor orientated, and there were a lot of grievances between management and the workers, and you get in the middle of that and you learn how to negotiate the best possible solution for the workers, and at the same time, trying to deal with management because they’re the boss. So, it’s a mediating kind of a job is basically what I learned during those processes in the transportation field.”

Q: You recently sponsored a bill (S.8387) that became law. It authorizes retired clerks of cities of one million or more to solemnize marriages. Why make laws that only apply to places as big as New York City, but not necessarily for the rest of the state?

“In smaller places they have less of the ongoing process. So, in order so you can deal with the cities of one million or more that can conduct marriages other than the churches. It’s more of a civil matter. In little towns and villages, they don’t have the abundance of having it done, so the process is very more simpler than in the bigger urban areas.”

Q: Looking back on your New York State Senate career, what would you point to as your greatest achievement?

“My greatest achievement was every day with the constituents and helping them achieve their insurmountable situations that they would have at the time. It goes more than just legislatively. It’s helping them in accessing apartment, jobs, problems within an agency. And to them that’s the most important and the most difficult thing to them in their lives. Being able to help them work through those processes has been very rewarding. But it’s just not one specific thing. It’s a continuing of helping and empowering people to their next level that they’re looking to achieve.”

Q: What was your greatest failure?

“My greatest failure would be not being able to get certain things going through the legislature or through the budget process because of being in the minority. So, we can never drive an agenda. We always have to try to get everyone and convince them to the better… towards the goals that you want. A lot of those goals weren’t met because we were not able to convince. Hopefully now, if we win as Democrats and get into the majority, they can move further and more equalize things throughout the state, where people are hurting all over the place. And then now our ideas to alleviate that will come forth. But I will be from the cheerleading side now (because Sen. González lost re-election during the primary).”

Q: You’re under investigation for purportedly misusing funds designated for member items. Because it’s currently in the courts, I know that you can’t speak about the specifics of that case. But do you believe that the public should be able to demand more transparency in how our government collects and disperses taxpayer dollars, particularly on things such as member items or pet projects?

“In the first place, I haven’t done any of those things that they have been saying, but that will be decided in court. However, transparency is there. All they have to do is list it. When you do things and you recommend something, it goes through a process that controllers of agencies, they do all that. And it should be listed once it’s been approved. All budgetary items, no matter what’s in the budget, and it gets allocated, there is a process. I think now with the technology that’s in place they can put it out there more, and it’s coming out more that they can see the transparency. I think it’s a great point. And it’s there. It’s just that it has to be listed. And everyone can click on and look at who is getting what, even on the full budget.”

Q: What role does party play in state politics?

“Well, in terms of the part parties play in terms of getting people elected into office they play an important role. You got to get elected, and then you have to convince the people of that district that through your party platform, it’s only a mechanism, but through that platform, are the issues. And then you look at and differentiate as far as the people are concerned, so when they pull the lever they are voting for the platform and those individual candidates.”

Q: I guess what I was trying to get to with that questions was within the legislature how much does party interfere with politicians truly representing their people, and doing the best job for their people, as opposed to maneuvering to do the best for the party?

“I believe that politics is the art of compromise. It takes two, a bipartisan effort to make anything happen. So, the parties stick to their lines, but the individual legislators…if one party had too much of a majority, they’re not going to listen to the other position. But it’s really the art of compromise that they have to accomplish to get anything done. Not only here in the state, but in the country.”

Q: You had expressed an interest in more Hispanics becoming informed constituents. Can you explain why you think that is important?

“Hispanics want the same thing that everyone else wants. A good education, decent housing, all the things that everybody else wants, but they’ve got to get involved. So, I think that it’s very important that they get involved, but also that they get the opportunities to participate. Not only in the politics, but in the economics, in education, in all aspects. But it’s only by getting involved in your home town, in your neighborhood, and participating in the process. Not staying out. And any way that we can reach everyone and make it inclusive in the process is very important, and educating them to get involved in that process has been an ongoing issue for me, not only for me here locally, but nationally, and internationally.”

Q: What’s unique about representing the Bronx?

“Well, I think that in the Bronx at this stage, my district is a very poor district. And it’s now starting… there’s a boom going on. Such as construction, more homes, it’s even going into the phase of overdevelopment, and I think that has to do with being a borough that’s to the mainland of the United States. But that Manhattan and the other boroughs are becoming too expensive, so it has generated a lot of activity inside the Bronx. And now we’re dealing with that overdevelopment, and we need to deal with the process of gentrification economically. And being poor, and staying poor, or being lifted up to the next step, and that’s the next challenge as we go into the future.”

Q: What would you like to be remembered for?

“Helping people. It’s being open, accessible, and helping people all my life, and empowering people to the next level. It’s been a process where you have empowered a lot people all over the state and in the country. It’s always important to someone. Maybe not to someone else, but it’s being able to help them along, and open doors for them, and making sure that they get to achieve their goals. That’s part of the reward for being a part of public service. And just keep helping people, and that’s what I’ll continue to do. Not in terms of being in an elective office, but I always say you don’t have to be elected to be effective. You just need to be involved.”

Audio clip

Audio clip from The Informed Constituent November 2, 2008 interview with New York State Senator Efrain González.

  • Voice 1 - Ray Feliciano
  • Voice 2 - Senator Efrain González