Categorized | Politics

Meet the Socialist Candidate from the Bronx

by Shefali Kulkarni

Photo By/Shefali Kulkarni

Villar hopes her candidacy will inspire ordinary New Yorkers. Photo by Shefali Kulkarni

After arriving late to the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s headquarters–a renovated hair salon on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem–Frances Villar, 26, threw her coat on an old barbershop chair in the back of the office, and began to vent about traffic. “I’m only human,” she said to campaign assistant Yari Osorio.

The Bronx single mother of two–a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter– had raced along the Cross Bronx Expressway to get to the party headquarters in time for a phone interview. After selling her Subaru to pay bills, she borrowed her father’s car to make the rounds between school, home and work. Villar had spent the morning at the doctor’s office; her daughter has pink eye. “I’m a mother first, what could I do?”

She missed the interview, but her day was still full. Her Blackberry reminded her that she had to finish a midterm for her education class at Lehman College, where she is studying biology and education, and prepare for a third party mayoral debate in Chelsea that evening.

Villar is the most visible third party candidate in the mayoral elections. Her campaign chest in only $19,000—a paltry amount compared to the $85 million of his own money that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent. But Villar stands out in other ways. She is the youngest candidate, th only woman and the only immigrant (she came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when she was just three).

“We thought, let’s pick the reasons why we want to run in this election, and then let’s pick someone. I was the complete opposite of everyone running in this election,” she said.

Villar’s platform is simple socialism: put the working-class first. Her campaign aims to end all evictions and foreclosures, fight against police brutality and make CUNY a free college for New Yorkers. But she faces an uphill battle debunking the myths of socialism. “Socialism is something to be proud of,” she said. “There is nothing more powerful than the working people.”

Villar stresses that she is an ordinary working-class woman and that is what she hopes voters want to see in a mayor. “It’s hard to do that when you have a billionaire and a former bank executive running for office,” she said, referring to Bloomberg and Bill Thompson, the Democratic contender.

At Monday night’s third party candidates debate, Villar stepped up to the podium and realized she possessed another distinctive quality. “I’m also the shortest candidate,” she told the 30 audience members as she lowered the microphone.

Villar has a mass of dark, thick, black hair and a broad smile she rarely shows when she talks about the current administration. Her campaign slogan — “Billionaires, your time is up” — is a call to bring politics back to the people.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg created an election reform platform titled “Easy to Vote, Easy to Run.” His goal was to “eliminate the barriers that prevent civic-minded New Yorkers…from participating in the democratic process and running for office,” according to the four-page memorandum on the city’s website.

Villar and her campaign said no amount of campaign reform will make it easier to run in the elections. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to run for mayor,” said Osario, who volunteers 12-hour days at the campaign headquarters. “Most of us aren’t even registered to vote, and it’s because of the system.” Bloomberg’s plan, she said, “isn’t about the people, it’s about the money.”

The anti-billionaire-Bloomberg sentiments were amplified at Monday night’s debate, which was held in the Hudson Guild Elliot Center on West 26th Street. Linda Stewart, an audience member, said that the third party candidates are looking more appealing the longer Bloomberg remains in office. “I recently read that the mayor is going to remove various commissioners from his staff that have been in his office for eight or more years,” she said, “so eight years is long enough for everyone else, but not him? It’s ridiculous.”

“We need a new kind of politics in this city,” Villar said at the debate. “Politics is no longer about the people. Where is the humanity in politics anymore? It’s insulting to have a billionaire tell us what we need when I have to decide between a MetroCard and feeding my kids.”

Her children, Jaina and Justin, will help her hand out flyers on Nov. 3. “Jaina’s been telling her friends ‘It’s like running for president,’ but she is four years old. I’m not going to take that away from her.” A photo of her children is set as the desktop background on her Blackberry phone. “Justin graduated in honors from kindergarten,” she said to her campaign team on Monday. “They gave him extra ribbons and buttons.”

Villar came to this country with her father, now a taxicab driver in the Bronx, after her parents divorced. Her mother still lives in the Dominican Republic. “I miss her very much, of course,” she said. “My family has been so supportive. My father and mother are very proud of me and have been helping me from the beginning.”

Villar joined the Party for Socialism and Liberation after participating in the protests against immigration reform in May, 2006. She was handed a party flyer and began researching the organization. “I remember thinking, this is beautiful—this is powerful,” she said. “This was politics as it should be. Politics was made to voice the needs of the people and this party was answering that call.”

At the time she says she was in an abusive relationship, with a child and and new baby. She was ready to reshape her life. “I wasn’t going to school,” she said. “I had two part-time jobs. I was dedicated to going back to school.” After she made it to Lehman College, she created a tenants association in her building on Valentine Avenue in the Bronx, and was able to get repairs and refurbish her apartment building, “without paying a dollar.”

She sees this as socialism in action: communities organizing to get their needs. “I hope to introduce socialism to the community,” she said. “I want to better develop a better society one community at a time.”

Competing against Bloomberg and Thompson– whose contributions are over $4 million–has made Villar realistic. “When we first started this, I didn’t think we had a chance in hell,” she said. But Villar is encouraged by her supporters. On Tuesday, the party plans to mobilize over 200 New Yorkers in all five boroughs to get their voters to the polls.

“My chances are slim in a capitalist country like this one,” she said. “I think my goal is really to gain movement for the party. We need to do something new in this city, so that later we can have another 26-year-old mayor.” Villar’s hopes are pinned on the people. She wants New Yorkers to collaborate to get their basic needs met. “Then,” she said, “we’ve won.”

One Response to “Meet the Socialist Candidate from the Bronx”

  1. This is Mark Rodriguez from The Political Parent Party. I met Frances at the Coalition for Public Education Forum and I do admire her ideas. As promised, I would like to meet with you after the elections because I do intend to run next year for the NYS Assembly of the 83rd District in The Bronx against Carl E. Heastie. Although I will be running as a Democrat, I am not a product of the political machine. I do believe in many socialist ideas that involves the interaction of the classes for the betterment of society. Therefore, I hope to be in contac with you soon to sit and chat. Thank you.


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