Q & A Politics

New York City Council Candidate Discusses Running for Office While Pregnant

Erin Matson

"Don't be scared. Just go for it," said new mother Raquel Batista, who is running to represent the Bronx in the New York City Council. "There is nothing to lose. There is nothing to lose in running for office and starting your family."

Raquel Batista is running to represent the Bronx in the New York City Council. For much of her campaign, she has been pregnant, which some people considered jarring on the campaign trail. Echoing that sentiment, an older man recently asked her while she was handing out campaign literature at a train station how she was going to hold a public position and look after a newborn at the same time. 

“I told him, ‘I’m standing right here,'” Batista said with a soft laugh.

On August 14, Batista gave birth to a girl named Carmen.

Not many women run for public office during pregnancy—at least women who are openly or visibly pregnant. But rather than downplay the issue, Batista has spoken to the press about campaigning while pregnant and has taken a public stance on the recent closure of a labor and delivery unit at a hospital in her community. She recently spoke with Rewire about her experience running for public office while pregnant, and then as a new mom. An edited version of that discussion follows.

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RewireYou recently tweeted, “While some thought I should have not campaigned while ‪#pregnant I did not see it that way. ‪#womeninpolitics don’t & won’t stop. ‪#bronx.” Why did you disagree?

Raquel Batista: When I started to tell people about my pregnancy, a lot of questions started to come up: “How are you going to knock on the doors in the summer?” Everyone was like, “How are you going to do it?” I was like, “I’m just going to do the best I can.” All campaigns rely on more than just the candidate. The people around me have been very supportive of my race. It’s possible.

Rewire: It is interesting that you connected the issue of pregnancy discrimination to the inclusion of women in politics in general. So often you see pregnancy issues referred to as women’s issues, but only for women who are pregnant. What message do you hope a proudly pregnant candidate and now a proud single mother candidate, sends to other women thinking about running for office, regardless of their desire to have children?

RB: There’s this whole Lean In movement to keep going. Even when I was in a moment when I wasn’t thinking of having a child, but I was thinking about my career, sometimes I was thinking I shouldn’t do that because I want to have a family. Sometimes we may well self-sabotage ourselves and not really give ourselves the opportunity. My experience [running for public office] has shown me there were a lot of challenges besides my actually being pregnant—everything from getting onto the ballot, and getting matching funds in New York City—every step along the way there was always a moment where I thought I shouldn’t do this. People around me were like, “Wow, you shouldn’t do this.” We always made it through to the other side. I think that’s what I’ve learned in this whole experience. Really it’s taking the risk, putting myself out there, and also being OK with letting the chips fall where they may. Just doing it.

Rewire: What message do you hope running a campaign during pregnancy sends to the general public, including men?

RB: The message is clear that it can be done, and it can be done successfully, especially when a woman is supported by her family and friends. It’s not impossible to be at the table and to have a family. There are ways. Of course it’s a challenge like everything else, but it’s definitely possible.

When we’re thinking of issues around pregnancy, families, work, work/life, how can we create a balance for people to be able to have their family life and be able to provide for their families?

Today [a pregnant candidate for city council in Minnesota] wrote to me. She has been getting a lot of negative backlash as well. I wrote her back, encouraging her to keep going with her campaign, because she’ll definitely add to the debate. There is a group of women out there that have taken on the feat of running for political office while being pregnant.

Rewire: Recently, a labor and delivery ward at the North Central Bronx Medical Center was closed with three days’ advance notice, and you chose to speak out about it. Why is this an issue for the entire community and not just the women who had been planning to deliver there?

RB: Just being in New York City period, there are a lot of hospitals that are closing. It doesn’t mean the need isn’t there. Women need access to basic quality health services. This goes to a larger issue of where are the priorities when it comes to providing health-care services in New York City. In the Bronx, there aren’t many hospitals to begin with. To lose such a major service, it will diminish services to women and families and children. We need to see how we can keep the services open.

Rewire: You have a background as the executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. How do you see immigration and racial justice issues intersecting with the representation of pregnant women and new mothers in public life?

RB: What I’ve seen in terms of my experiences living in the Bronx, being a woman of color, having been in immigration services, is that there really is a critical need to do a lot more education around birth, around diet, what are the rights of the mother if she is going into a hospital to give birth. The Bronx is one of the poorest communities in New York state and has the highest rate of single mothers as well. The Bronx is like ground zero of all these issues.

Rewire: Some of the issues you are campaigning on include prioritizing full-time pre-kindergarten in the city’s budget, food justice, and affordable apartment buildings. How, if anything, do you think being a new single mother gives you insight into these issues?

RB: I’ve been a new mother for only like 20 days, so I’m definitely learning every minute and every moment, but I’ve been doing community work for over 15 years, and I’m very sensitive to the issues of the constituents in my community. There is a lot of need for being able to provide resources for the family. A lot of women in the Bronx struggle with getting child care, wanting the best food for their kids. They are the ones making all the decisions in the lives of their children, so it’s even more important. I do want to work on the quality of pre-k for kids in the Bronx. The Bronx has some of the highest dropout rates in the city, and there have been school closures from elementary schools to high schools. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to ensure that kids get the quality education that they need to be successful in the future. Definitely, I will become more aware as my daughter grows up in the Bronx.

Rewire: One of your opponents congratulated you on the birth of your daughter and then said he hoped you had the “time-management skills” to raise a baby and run a campaign. How will you explain this statement to your daughter when she is older?

RB: I’ll tell her I managed my time quite well, thank you very much. It is a delicate balance, especially with a newborn, but it’s happening! It’s a matter of just doing it. Campaigns are campaigns, whether you have a child or not.

Rewire: Based on your experiences, do you have any advice for others who may be thinking about running for public office and starting a family?

RB: You have to be ready at all levels—I mean emotionally, spiritually, financially—to be able to take that plunge in both areas. If you’re planning on doing them at the same time, even more. Enlist the support of people closest to you, whether it’s your family or your friends. People can encourage you. You can encourage yourself, but it really matters to have that support system around you. Don’t be scared. Just go for it. There is nothing to lose. There is nothing to lose in running for office and starting your family.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

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