Nelson Antonio Denis

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Nelson Antonio Denis
Nelson Denis.jpg
Member of the New York State Assembly from the 68th district
In office
January 1, 1997 – January 1, 2001
Personal details
Alma mater Harvard College
Yale Law School

Nelson Antonio Denis was a New York State Assembly representative for the 68th district from January 1, 1997 to January 1, 2001. He represented East Harlem, otherwise known as El Barrio and Spanish Harlem, within the Assembly.

Denis was also the editorial director of El Diario La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City, and the oldest Spanish-language daily in the United States.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Born and raised in New York City, Denis graduated from Harvard College and Yale Law School. He was an attorney with the New York firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine.[3][4]

Journalism and writing[edit]

External audio
You can hear Nelson Denis on WNYC Radio here.

For several years, Denis was the editorial director of El Diario La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City.[1][5] While writing for El Diario, Denis published over 300 editorials and received the "Best Editorial Writing" award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.[6]

In addition, Denis published feature articles, book and film reviews, and editorials in the Harvard Political Review,[7] Daily News,[8][9][10] New York Newsday,[11] and The New York Sun.[12]

Denis is a cultural and political commentator on WNYC,[13][14] Radio WADO, and other radio outlets.[15]

His screenplays have won awards from the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA).[1] His fiction has been anthologized [16][17] and re-published in the New York press.[18]


Assemblyman Nelson Denis

Before and during his years as a State Assemblyman, Denis conducted a neighborhood legal clinic which provided advocacy, advice, and free legal services to the residents of East Harlem.[3][4][19][20]

In 1995, as deputy director of Yucahu Inc., an East Harlem community group, Denis opposed the merger of Chemical Bank and Chase Manhattan due to inadequate service to the community.[21][22]

With over 800 vacant and abandoned buildings in his district, Denis advocated for economic development funds and construction financing, to rebuild the decaying infrastructure of East Harlem.[4]

Public Life[edit]

Denis majored in government at Harvard,[1] and was involved in New York State government for fourteen years. He was a member of the East Harlem Community Board (C.B. 11), the Area Policy Board, and the director of strategic planning for the Harlem Community Development Corporation.[3][23][24]

In 1996 he won a seat in the New York State Assembly, where he served as a Democrat from 1997 to 2001, and developed a reputation as a reformer.[25] He was also a New York State Democratic District Leader from 1995 to 2001.[4]

His campaigns were apparently labor-intensive. The press noted that his mother, Sarah Denis, worked 12-hour days on the campaign trail and that Denis was "an indefatigable campaigner, often seen throughout the neighborhood campaigning on the back of a blue bus." [3][26]

Community Reinvestment Act[edit]

Assemblyman Denis leads a housing rally

In the 1990s, Denis' East Harlem district contained over 800 vacant and abandoned buildings. For this reason infrastructure investment, both public and private, were a top priority.[4]

Through his use of Community Reinvestment Act legislation, public hearings, CRA testimony throughout New York State, and advocacy on the Assembly Banking Committee, Denis persuaded banks to double their lending to home owners and small business persons in East Harlem, the Bronx, and other distressed areas throughout New York State.[27]

Denis cemented these gains by invoking the 1975 Federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), and conducting a census tract study of CRA compliance in the 68th Assembly District of East Harlem, and other underserved communities.[27] In recognition of this work, Denis was repeatedly endorsed by The New York Times.[28][29][30]

Latin Kings controversy[edit]

Nelson Denis and his mother, Sarah

In 1994, Denis entered into a controversial relationship with the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. While jogging along the FDR Drive, he ran into a group of 500 Latin Kings, and recruited them into his campaign for the State Assembly.[23] Denis and the Latin Kings cleaned up several parks in East Harlem, and attended community board meetings together.[23][26]

Denis also pledged that, if he won, he would help the Latin Kings to create a community non-profit corporation, a leadership training course, and a construction apprenticeship program to rehabilitate roughly 800 abandoned buildings in East Harlem.[26] Denis maintained that "the Kings are the product of 20 years of neglect. . . . These are the youth that Reagan forgot," but others did not agree. His opponent, the incumbent Assemblyman Angelo Del Toro, said "they're gangsters and a threat."[26]

Another early skeptic was Denis's own mother, Sarah Denis. She laid down rules that included no beepers or babies in the office, but she gradually learned to work with them.[26]

Despite this controversy, the New York Times endorsed Denis for the State Assembly that year.[29]

Film Vote For Me![edit]

Prior to serving in the New York State Assembly, Denis directed TV commercials and several short films, and wrote eight screenplays.[31] He also wrote and directed the feature film Vote For Me! which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It also won the Best Picture Award at the 2009 Staten Island Film Festival, and a Best Feature Film Award at the 2009 Orlando Hispanic Film Festival.[32][33]

Vote For Me! (Nelson Denis movie - poster).jpg

Starring Malik Yoba, Chi Chi Salazar, and Ricardo Barber, Vote For Me! is a comedy about a 75-year old Puerto Rican superintendent who runs for U.S. Congress. The film was based on Denis's own experiences in East Harlem. Many East Harlem residents, musicians, and even local politicians appeared in the film, which "blurred the line between reality and fiction to capture the spectacle of New York City politics." [1][31]

Vote For Me! screened in over a dozen film festivals in New York and Puerto Rico, and was well received by the press.

The New York Times declared it "reminiscent of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, but with a lighter touch."[31][1]

The Boston Globe found it "ebullient, . . . [and] politically charged," writing that it ". . . mixes quirkiness and cultural poignancy."[34]

The Daily News called it "a media sensation." [35]

Vote For Me! also received national coverage from Fox News Channel, National Public Radio, Univision, Telemundo, WSKQ FM, MEGA FM, WADO-AM, WNYC, VIVA Magazine, El Diario La Prensa, El Nuevo Día, Siempre, Hoy, and other news outlets.[36][37][38][39][39][40][41][42][43]

Selected editorials[edit]

  • Lift the Cap on Charters; by Nelson Denis New York Daily News
  • Albany's Political Club; by Nelson Denis The New York Sun
  • Late blooming woes to plague on-time budget; by Nelson Denis New York Daily News
  • Reforming Albany takes more than talk, by Nelson Denis; New York Newsday (1/22/07)
  • Los legisladores aprobaron un McBudget, by Nelson Denis; El Diario La Prensa (5/12/05)
  • History still roils Puerto Rico, by Nelson Denis; New York Daily News (9/23/99)
  • La Crisis de Vivienda Publica, by Nelson Denis; El Diario La Prensa (12/14/95)
  • Justicia para Julia de Burgos, by Nelson Denis; El Diario La Prensa (10/8/95)
  • Silver screen tarnished for Latinos, by Nelson Denis; New York Daily News (5/26/95)
  • Beware Primrose Pathmark, by Nelson Denis; New York Daily News (4/24/95)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Navarro, Mireya, (2003-5-6), Smile, You're on Candidate Camera: With an Insider's Eye, a Film Skewers Harlem Politics, The New York Times
  2. ^ Manhattan Times News; May 17, 2011. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Rising Stars Battle in East Harlem – New York Times. (1996-08-19). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hicks, Jonathan, (2000-8-15) Power of Incumbency Vies With a Household Name, The New York Times
  5. ^ Manhattan Times News; May 17, 2011. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  6. ^ Manhattan Times News; May 17, 2011. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  7. ^ Harvard Political Review, Spring 1977, The Curious Constitution of Puerto Rico
  8. ^ Denis, Nelson (4 March 2010). "Lift the cap on charters". Daily News (New York). 
  9. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2005-4-12) Late blooming woes to plague on-time budget, New York Daily News
  10. ^ Denis, Nelson, (9/23/99), History still roils Puerto Rico, New York Daily News
  11. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2007-1-22) Reforming Albany takes more than talk, New York Newsday
  12. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2006-12-21) Albany's Political Club, New York Sun
  13. ^ Brian Lehrer Show; WNYC Radio. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  14. ^ WNYC; The Brian Lehrer Show Retrieved 07-05-2013.
  15. ^ Nelson Denis on The Perez Notes Retrieved 07-05-2013.
  16. ^ Arriba Baseball!; ed. By Robert Paul Moreira; VAO Publishing, July 1, 2013
  17. ^ La Bloga: Three Questions for Robert Paul Moreira; 07-15-2013 Retrieved July 15, 2013.
  18. ^ Manhattan Times News; May 17, 2011. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  19. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (2005-08-16) With Incumbent Out of Race, an Unpredictable District – New York Times. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  20. ^ Political Notes; Once More, Powell Ponders Harlem Race – New York Times. (1998-04-20). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  21. ^ Lavan, Rosemary Metzler, (1995-11-17) Chase/Chem Face Music at Hearing, New York Daily News
  22. ^ Harrigan, Susan (1995-11-17) Minority Lending at Issue in Chemical-Chase Merger, New York Newsday
  23. ^ a b c SPIN Media LLC (March 1995). SPIN. SPIN Media LLC. pp. 65–. ISSN 0886-3032. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  24. ^ State Senate District 28 – East Harlem. Gotham Gazette (2004-04-22). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  25. ^ The Village Voice; The Prodigal Son Returns, 08-22-2000. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  26. ^ a b c d e THE 1994 CAMPAIGN: EAST HARLEM; Legislative Candidate Turns to Gang for Help – New York Times. (1994-09-13). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  27. ^ a b New York State Assembly Publications, 68th Assembly District, Summer 2000, Bank Lending in East Harlem
  28. ^ Choices for the New York Primary – New York Times. (2000-09-12). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  29. ^ a b New York City Primary Choices – New York Times. (1994-09-13). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  30. ^ For Assembly: Manhattan, Queens – New York Times. (1992-09-10). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  31. ^ a b c Navarro, Mireya, (2003-5-6) Smile, You're on Candidate Camera: With an Insider's Eye, a Film Skewers Harlem Politics, The New York Times
  32. ^ That's a wrap for Staten Island's SINY Film Festival. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  33. ^ Orlando Hispanic Film Festival Announces 2009 Audience Award. PRLog. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  34. ^ Tang, Jean. (2003-10-21) / News / Boston Globe / Living / Arts / Political themes abound in Latino film fest. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  35. ^ Daily News 3 April 2003
  36. ^ Dominguez, Robert, (March 2002), Nelson Denis: Politics as Reel Life, VIVA New York/The Daily News
  37. ^ El Diario 17 April 2003
  38. ^ Comedia politica desde El Barrio. El Nuevo Dia
  39. ^ a b Waddell, Robert, (2003-04-22), Vote For Me!, Siempre, 22 April – 5 May 2003
  40. ^ Saade, Carmen Lira, (2003-04-25), Ex Politico de Nueva York Estrena Pelicula, La Jornada
  41. ^ Eric Bennett Dark Comedies Featured at Film Festival, The Spartan Daily (2004-03-10)
  42. ^ Film Festival : VOTE FOR ME!. Cinequest. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  43. ^ Vote for me (Voto Para Mí). Dec. 12

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Francisco Diaz (politician)
New York State Assembly, 68th District
Succeeded by
Adam Clayton Powell IV