2:25 pm Jan. 20, 2012
State Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx told me he only had one regret about attending President Obama's big fund-raiser at the Apollo Theater last night.
"The only bad thing about coming here tonight is that I didn't get a chance to chuckle some more at the ridiculous stuff that the Republicans are pushing," Rivera told me, when I caught him on his way out of the theater.
While India.arie and Al Green warmed up the crowd at the Apollo, the Republicans were holding their 17th debate, a feisty affair in South Carolina, and Rivera said some of his friends were "hating" on him for missing the fun.
"They are trying to out-ridiculize the other one," Rivera said of the Republican field. "And I know that's not a word, but I'm still going to use it. They are ridiculous and they're trying to out-ridiculize themselves."
I asked Rivera if the debates were hurting the Republicans with Latino voters in the Bronx in the same way that his colleague, State Senator Bill Perkins, told me they were hurting with African-Americans in Harlem.
"I wish that there'd be 20 more debates," Rivera told me. "Between now and whenever these people make up their crazy minds, I wish there were 20 more debates. Because it's not just hurting them with Latinos, it's hurting them with African-Americans, it is hurting them with working-class people. It is working against them with every single commonsensical human being."
Last night, there were just four lecterns left on the stage, and Rivera said he missed the departed candidates.
"I'm sorry that Michele Bachmann is no longer with us," he said. "I was a 9-9-9 guy though. Herman Cain was my guy, dude! 9-9-9! Are you serious? I love that!"
For Rivera, there was only one thing that could make the debates better.
"I just wish they could do it in Spanish, so we could just hate on them on that level as well," he said.
Rivera felt the need to come down to Harlem to support the president, in part, because he worked on the 2008 campaign, as a constituency director in Florida, helping to organize the Puerto Rican community, which he plans to help with again this cycle.
"They're going to be very crucial. So I'm going to be doing some stuff up here in New York but I'm definitely going to be doing some stuff across the country," he said. Rivera said his chief of staff has had some preliminary conversations with the campaign, and that was part of the reason he attended last night.
Rivera conceded—as the president seemed to indicate in his own remarks—that Obama would be a tougher sell this time around. But Rivera, who compared it to his own race against incumbent Pedro Espada in 2010, said the Obama campaign would be won in the trenches, just like it was in 2008.
"You do it through work," he said. "You do it through organizing. We knew we had the best candidate. We knew we had the best vision of how to move forward. But we didn't win because of that. We won because we built on that with organizing. We knocked on doors. We raised money.
"And you are correct, it's going to be harder to do it now, particularly because at every chance they get, the Republican Party—both those folks in Congress and the Republican nominees, or potential nominees or whatever they want to call themselves—'the debaters,' let's say—they throw some more mud in the water. And they confuse the issue and they try convince us we are worse off with the vision that we've been able to put forward the last couple of years. That is not true."