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 is an attorney,[1] writer,[2] film director,[3] and former New York State Assemblyman.[4] From January 1, 1997 to January 1, 2001, he represented New York State’s 68th district which includes East Harlem and Spanish Harlem. He was also an editorial writer at El Diario La Prensa.[5]

Early life[edit]

Denis was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents.[6] He graduated from Harvard College in 1977 with a B.S. in Government and from Yale Law School with an J.D. in 1980. He was an attorney with the New York firm of Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine.[7][8]

Journalism and writing[edit]

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

For several years Denis was an editorial writer of El Diario La Prensa, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City,[5] where he published over 300 editorials and received the "Best Editorial Writing" award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.[9]

Denis also held an editorial position at the Harvard Political Review[10] and op-ed positions at Daily News,[11] New York Newsday,[12] and The New York Sun.[13] He was also a cultural and political commentator on WNYC,[14][15] WADO, and other radio outlets.[16]

Advocacy and public life[edit]

Assemblyman Nelson Denis

Before and during his years as an assemblyman, Denis conducted a neighborhood legal clinic that provided advocacy, advice, and free legal services to the residents of East Harlem.[7][8][17][18]

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.[19][20]

Denis majored in Government at Harvard,[5] 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.[7][21][22]

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.[23] He was also a New York State Democratic District Leader from 1995 to 2001.[8]

The press noted that his mother, Sarah Denis, worked 12-hour days on the campaign trail and that Denis was himself an untiring campaigner who was "often seen throughout the neighborhood campaigning on the back of a blue bus."[7][24]

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 FDR Drive, he ran into a group of 500 Latin Kings, and recruited them into his campaign for the State Assembly.[21] Denis and the Latin Kings cleaned up several parks in East Harlem, and attended community board meetings together.[21][24]

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.[24] 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."[24]

Another early skeptic was Denis's mother. She laid down rules that included no beepers or babies in the office, but she gradually learned to work with them.[24]

Despite this controversy, the New York Times endorsed Denis for the State Assembly that year.[25]

Film Vote For Me![edit]

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

Prior to serving in the New York State Assembly, Denis directed TV commercials and several short films, and wrote eight screenplays.[26] He also wrote and directed the feature film Vote For Me! which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. The movie is a comedy about a 75-year old Puerto Rican superintendent who runs for U.S. Congress, and it is based on Denis's own experiences in East Harlem. Many East Harlem residents, musicians, as well as local politicians appear in the film, which "blurred the line between reality and fiction to capture the spectacle of New York City politics."[5][26]

In Vote for Me!, Denis demonstrated his ability to produce films that were "ebullient...politically charged...[and which mixed] quirkiness and cultural poignancy"[27] films that were "a media sensation",[28] but at the same time "reminiscent of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing"[5][26]

Reviewed by several media outlets including The New York Times,[5][26] The Boston Globe,[27] and the The Daily News,[28] and covered by Fox, NPR, Univision, Telemundo, and WNYC, among others,[29][30][31] Vote for Me! earned Denis 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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ¿Que Pasa?: Ex-politician takes a role at directing. Robert Dominguez. Daily News. New York. 3 April 2003. p. 1.
  2. ^ Alumni Spotlight: The Candidate. Taft Bulletin. The Taft School. Summer 2004. p.5
  3. ^ Super Man. The Brian Lehrer Show. 16 September 2003. WNYC.
  4. ^ For Defeated Incumbents, Shock and an Interest in Want Ads. Jonathan P. Hicks. 30 December 2000.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Mireya Navarro. Smile, You're on Candidate Camera; With an Insider's Eye, a Film Comedy Skewers Harlem Politics. The New York Times. 6 May 2003.
  7. ^ a b c d Rising Stars Battle in East Harlem – New York Times. (1996-08-19). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  8. ^ a b c Hicks, Jonathan, (2000-8-15) Power of Incumbency Vies With a Household Name, The New York Times
  9. ^ Manhattan Times News; May 17, 2011. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  10. ^ Harvard Political Review, Spring 1977, The Curious Constitution of Puerto Rico
  11. ^ Denis, Nelson, (9/23/99), History still roils Puerto Rico, New York Daily News
  12. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2007-1-22) Reforming Albany takes more than talk, New York Newsday
  13. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2006-12-21) Albany's Political Club, New York Sun
  14. ^ Brian Lehrer Show; WNYC Radio. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  15. ^ WNYC; The Brian Lehrer Show Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  16. ^ Nelson Denis on The Perez Notes Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  17. ^ Hicks, Jonathan P. (2005-08-16) With Incumbent Out of Race, an Unpredictable District – New York Times. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  18. ^ Political Notes; Once More, Powell Ponders Harlem Race – New York Times. (1998-04-20). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  19. ^ Lavan, Rosemary Metzler, (1995-11-17) Chase/Chem Face Music at Hearing, New York Daily News
  20. ^ Harrigan, Susan (1995-11-17) Minority Lending at Issue in Chemical-Chase Merger, New York Newsday
  21. ^ a b c SPIN Media LLC (March 1995). SPIN. SPIN Media LLC. pp. 65–. ISSN 0886-3032. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 
  22. ^ State Senate District 28 – East Harlem. Gotham Gazette (2004-04-22). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  23. ^ The Village Voice; The Prodigal Son Returns, 08-22-2000. Retrieved October 10, 2013.
  24. ^ 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 4 February 2012.
  25. ^ New York City Primary Choices – New York Times. (1994-09-13). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  26. ^ a b c d 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
  27. ^ a b Tang, Jean. (2003-10-21) / News / Boston Globe / Living / Arts / Political themes abound in Latino film fest. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  28. ^ a b Daily News 3 April 2003
  29. ^ Dominguez, Robert, (March 2002), Nelson Denis: Politics as Reel Life],
  30. ^ Comedia politica desde El Barrio. El Nuevo Dia
  31. ^ Waddell, Robert, (2003-04-22), Vote For Me!, Siempre, 22 April – 5 May 2003
  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.

External links[edit]

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