Dropping pounds, gaining votes

Luis Sepulveda is a democratic candidate for state assembly. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Luis Sepulveda is a democratic candidate for state assembly. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Luis Sepulveda squinted. He had purple bags under his eyes and his once perfectly tailored suit jacket hung awkwardly off his shoulders, a reminder of the 18,000 doors he said he knocked on during his six months of campaigning.

He looked exhausted as he entered the auditorium of P.S. 106 in Parkchester for the Bangladeshi Eid Festival. However, as soon as someone came up to greet him, the fatigue lifted from his eyes and his face erupted into a wide smile revealing a slight overbite and laugh lines.

“I’ve dropped from 184 pounds to 150 pounds,” Sepulveda said with a laugh. “I’ve lost 34 pounds just from pounding the pavement. Running for office is the best diet I’ve ever been on.”

Sepulveda is running for state assembly in the 76th District in the Bronx, launching a spirited challenge to the nine-term incumbent Peter Rivera. Sepulveda, 46,  has been running his campaign by himself, with volunteer staffers from his law offices in Parkchester.

He hopes to take the election in a landslide today ousting Rivera, who has been in office for 18 years,  and what he calls “a tenure of ignoring the people.” He has been courting the growing Bangladeshi population in the district and advertising himself as an “everyman”—hard working and trustworthy.

Luis Sepulveda watches a Bangladeshi event in Parkchester last on Sept. 12. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Luis Sepulveda watches a Bangladeshi event in Parkchester on Sept. 12. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Sepulveda first became interested in running when he read an article in The New York Times that said Rivera was working against legislation that would provide cheaper prescriptions to the elderly—legislation that his older family members and friends in the district relied on.

Aside from their differing views on care for the elderly, Sepulveda and Rivera have a lot in common politically. Rivera has voted in favor of gay marriage and says he would do it again, while Sepulveda also supports the cause, citing that he understands the issue because he has a gay brother.

Sepulveda has said he plans to clean up the area around Bronx Park South to bring tourists into the local businesses and work to restore service to the 14 bus, which ran from Country Club to Parkchester. He wants to create a community safety task force and more educational programs for kids to get them excited about learning.

Sepulveda learned hard work and a voracious desire to help the community at a young age.

He was raised in Brooklyn’s Morgan Avenue Housing Project in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican immigrants. His father was a merchant and his mother worked in a factory. After saving up money, the family moved to Williamsburg and then to Queens where Sepulveda graduated from high school in 1982.

He attended Hofstra University in Long Island where he studied physics, chemistry and biology with the goal of attending medical school but decided upon graduation that law was a better fit, more “dynamic.”

Sepulveda attributes his interest in law to his maternal grandfather, Rafael Perez, who taught himself to read and write in English and Spanish by reading and translating court cases.

“My earliest memory of him was him reading me Plessy v. Ferguson and being so excited about it,” Sepulveda said. “It upheld ‘separate but equal’ but my grandfather was just excited to be sharing history with me.”

Sepulveda graduated from Hofstra University Law School in 1991 and took a job at a mid-size law firm on Long Island, but he quickly got bored with the nonstop revolving door of cases. He wanted to connect with people.

Luis Sepulveda (right) with Bangladeshi community leader Zakir Khan (left) and another Bangladeshi leader. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

Luis Sepulveda (right) with Bangladeshi community leader Zakir Khan (left) and another Bangladeshi leader. Photo: Caitlin Tremblay

So, in 1994 he moved to Parkchester in the Bronx, set up his own legal practice and began to offer pro bono legal services while working for state senators.

“The money was good but in the end I decided the $50,000 pay cut was worth it to help people and really reach out,” Supulveda said of his decision to begin working as an attorney to State Sen. Pedro Gonzalez and then State Sen. Ruben Diaz.

This connection with Diaz has lead Rivera to call him “Mini Diaz” and claim that his campaign has not been about his accomplishments but a “kill Peter Rivera” campaign instead.

Rivera claims that Sepulveda hasn’t voted in five years, a claim that Sepulveda said is not true.

The fact is, however, that many of Sepulveda’s campaign flyers and posters, many of which he hands out and hangs up himself, do attack Rivera outright but Sepulveda rationalizes this, claiming that they attack his policies in terms of bettering the community and not Rivera as a person. However, Rivera sees it as a crutch but still isn’t worried about the outcome of the race.

“I don’t think he can run on a policy of change, I think his only option is to be negative, negative, negative,” Rivera said. “I can understand that as a politician but I can also understand that there’s more to life than my seat…but I expect to win.”

Back at the Eid Festival Sepulveda seemed in his element. He talked to people about their day, about the holiday, about their concerns. He may not be the strongest  public speaker, but Sepulveda excels at one on one conversations.

He bonded with his constituents over raising a child in the Bronx and the struggle to overcome poverty. His son is now 18 and a third-semester student at Manhattan College—something that makes Sepulveda an extremely proud father. He’s an ardent supporter of education especially since becoming an undergraduate law professor at Mercy College. He likes charter schools, which are sparse in the borough.

His supporters say his track record inspires them.

“Luis would stay in class until midnight-if we needed him to,” said Elizabeth Morel, a former student turned campaign volunteer. “Personally, he made me a better student, a stronger person and a more confident woman. Luis genuinely cares for his community. He’s going to be our next assemblyman.”

Leave a Reply