The City of New York: The Death of Kevin de León

Nicholas Goldberg: Is Kevin de León toast? | The New York Times

Forget Kevin de León, a New Yorker who made a big splash as the first Latino mayor of a major American city. Forget Kevin de León, who is now in a heated debate over his position in the Democratic presidential campaign.

In New York, his name was a punch line. “Get the f– off his back, man,” people said, and other, louder, more aggressive folks took up the cry.

“De Leon for President!”

“Go de Leon!”

“De Leon is the one!”

“Go de Leonard!”

What do we remember about Mayor Kevin de León, who died Sunday at a New York hospital, and what does he represent to a larger American audience—not just a New York one, but an America one? What does he represent to the rest of us?

For starters, de León is a proud Latino. “I’m proud to be Latino in New York,” he said in 2000. His father came from the Philippines. His mother was a Cuban-American. “I had a vision that people like my parents, like my grandparents were still living,” he said.

Then there’s his background in a city where for decades the people of color had felt ignored. They saw their problems swept under the rug in the way that black residents of the city were. “When I was growing up, I felt that the city didn’t take me seriously,” he said in 2000. He said the police treated him as an outsider.

Then he was elected mayor—an African-American mayor, which, when you were mayor, was like having a light show. Then he took office, and his city turned around.

But he was on the ropes. The city was drowning in debt, so much so that the city had lost control of its sewer mains, which brought it to a deadlock with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was threatening to cut services. When Mayor Giuliani assumed office, he did what he could to calm the city, then he backed out and did his own thing. It was a rough time. In 2002, de León tried to raise taxes to try and help out, but the city�

Leave a Comment