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 – December 31, 2000
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 December 31, 2000, he represented New York State’s 68th Assembly district which includes East Harlem and Spanish Harlem. He was also an editorial writer at El Diario La Prensa.[3]

Early life[edit]

Denis was born in New York City to Puerto Rican and Cuban parents.[5][6] He graduated from Harvard College in 1977 with a B.S. in Government and from Yale Law School with a 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,[3] where he published over 300 editorials and received the "Best Editorial Writing" award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.[9]

Denis also wrote editorials for the New York Times,[10] Harvard Political Review,[11] Daily News,[12] New York Newsday,[13] Orlando Sentinel[14] and The New York Sun.[15] He was also a cultural and political commentator on WNYC,[16][17] WADO, and other radio outlets.[18]

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][19][20]

Denis majored in Government at Harvard,[3] and was involved in New York State government for fourteen years.

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]

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][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.[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][26]

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." [26] However, 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 mother. 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.[27]

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.[28]

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 Feature Film Award at the 2009 Orlando Hispanic Film Festival.[29][30]

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

Starring Malik Yoba (New York Undercover, Soul Food, Cool Runnings); Chi Chi Salazar (Scarface (1983 film), Carlito's Way); Ricardo Barber (The Feast of the Goat); Vote For Me! was a comedy about a 75-year-old Puerto Rican super 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." [3][28] 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." [3][28]

The Daily News called the story of Leo "a media sensation." [31]

The Boston Globe found it "ebullient...politically charged...mixes quirkiness and cultural poignancy." [32]

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 Dia, Siempre, Hoy, and other news outlets.[33][34][35][36][36][37][38][39][40]

War Against All Puerto Ricans[edit]

Denis is the author of War Against All Puerto Ricans, which was published on April 7, 2015. The book is based on recently declassified FBI files, congressional testimony, oral histories, personal interviews and eyewitness accounts. It covers the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s, a series of coordinated armed protests for the independence of Puerto Rico led by the president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Don Pedro Albizu Campos.[41][42]

External video
C-SPAN interview with Nelson Denis about War Against All Puerto Ricans

The book also documents how the U.S. Army arrested 3,000 Puerto Ricans, deployed thousands of troops and bombarded two towns in order to stop the uprising - the only time in history that the U.S. government intentionally bombed its own citizens.[41][42]

External video
Denis appears on Democracy Now! to discuss War Against All Puerto Ricans
External video
Part 2 of Democracy Now! interview

Amongst the reviews for the book, the New York Times wrote: "Scathing insights into Washington’s response to Albizu Campos’s nationalist party and its violent revolution in 1950 that still has broad implications...his perspective of largely overlooked history could not be more timely." [43] The New York Daily News wrote: “The book gives a meticulous and riveting account of the decades-long clash between the Puerto Rican independence movement...prepare to be outraged...a timely, eye-opening must-read.” [44] Latino Rebels wrote “War Against All Puerto Ricans earns ‘instant classic’ status…anyone who wants to understand U.S. imperial history from the time of Manifest Destiny needs to read this book.” [45]

Kirkus Reviews described the book as "a scathing examination of American colonial policy in Puerto Rico...a pointed, relentless chronicle of a despicable part of past American foreign policy." [46] In La Respuesta, the reviewer praised “the book’s historical value...a must-read for anyone interested in learning more about Puerto Rico.” [47] Gozamos reported that “Nelson Denis doesn’t just give us history. He gives us history on fire…a thoroughly researched indictment of over a century of U.S. policy toward one small island…a full-throated eulogy of brave heroes, men and women of conviction, who devoted every drop of their blood to a people and a principle.”[48]

External video
Denis appears on New York 1 to discuss War Against All Puerto Ricans

War Against All Puerto Ricans was featured on national and local television, including Democracy Now![49][50] and New York 1[51] Denis also appeared in radio broadcasts around the US, including the Brian Lehrer Show in New York,[52] WBEZ Worldview in Chicago,[53] WNPR Connecticut,[54] WBAI/The Jordan Journal,[55] and WGBH/The Takeaway.[56] Extensive author interviews were also conducted in Truthout,[57] Mother Jones,[58] and the largest newspaper in Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Dia.[59] The New York Daily News noted that the Independence Party of Puerto Rico, also known as PIP, scheduled an eight-town tour for the book on the island of Puerto Rico.[60] The Daily News also reported that the book "has become the subject of political water-cooler talk, national TV and newspaper coverage - including a three-part series of articles in El Nuevo Dia - and a letter from Puerto Rico's governor, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, to the book's domestic distributor recognizing its significance." [61]

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. ^ 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
  4. ^ For Defeated Incumbents, Shock and an Interest in Want Ads. Jonathan P. Hicks. 30 December 2000.
  5. ^ Arif Jamal, "Puerto Rico is a US Colony," Washington Book Review
  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. ^ Denis, Nelson, (8/6/15), Free Puerto Rico, America's Colony, New York Times
  11. ^ Harvard Political Review, Spring 1977, The Curious Constitution of Puerto Rico
  12. ^ Denis, Nelson, (9/23/99), History still roils Puerto Rico, New York Daily News
  13. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2007-1-22) Reforming Albany takes more than talk,
  14. ^ [ Denis, Nelson, (9/22/2015) Sharks Are Circling Puerto Rico's Assets, Orlando Sentinel
  15. ^ Denis, Nelson, (2006-12-21) Albany's Political Club, New York Sun
  16. ^ Brian Lehrer Show; WNYC Radio. Retrieved 09-25-2013.
  17. ^ WNYC; The Brian Lehrer Show Retrieved 5 July 2013.
  18. ^ Nelson Denis on The Perez Notes Retrieved 5 July 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 f THE 1994 CAMPAIGN: EAST HARLEM; Legislative Candidate Turns to Gang for Help – New York Times. (1994-09-13). Retrieved on 4 February 2012.
  27. ^ New York City Primary Choices – New York Times. (1994-09-13). Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  28. ^ 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
  29. ^ That's a wrap for Staten Island's SINY Film Festival. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  30. ^ Orlando Hispanic Film Festival Announces 2009 Audience Award. PRLog. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  31. ^ Daily News 3 April 2003
  32. ^ Tang, Jean. (2003-10-21) / News / Boston Globe / Living / Arts / Political themes abound in Latino film fest. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  33. ^ Dominguez, Robert, (March 2002), Nelson Denis: Politics as Reel Life, VIVA New York/The Daily News
  34. ^ El Diario 17 April 2003
  35. ^ Comedia politica desde El Barrio. El Nuevo Dia
  36. ^ a b Waddell, Robert, (2003-04-22), Vote For Me!, Siempre, 22 April – 5 May 2003
  37. ^ Saade, Carmen Lira, (2003-04-25), Ex Politico de Nueva York Estrena Pelicula, La Jornada
  38. ^ Eric Bennett Dark Comedies Featured at Film Festival, The Spartan Daily (2004-03-10)
  39. ^ Film Festival : VOTE FOR ME!. Cinequest. Retrieved on 2012-02-04.
  40. ^ Vote for me (Voto Para Mí). Dec. 12
  41. ^ a b Kirkus Reviews; War Against All Puerto Ricans; 1/22/15
  42. ^ a b NY Daily News, "Author Nelson Denis releases new book War Against All Puerto Ricans," 2/12/15
  43. ^ Sam Roberts, “The last Big Colony and the First Suburb,” New York Times, August 23, 2015
  44. ^ Ray Monell, "Author Nelson Denis releases new book War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony," New York Daily News, February 12, 2015
  45. ^ Julio Varela, War Against All Puerto Ricans Earns "Instant Classic" Status, Latino Rebels, April 8, 2015
  46. ^ Book Review: War Against All Puerto Ricans, Kirkus Reviews, January 22, 2015
  47. ^ Andre Lee Muñiz, "The War Against All Puerto Ricans Exposed," La Respuesta, April 7, 2015
  48. ^ Hector Luis Alamo, Book Review: War Against All Puerto Ricans, Gozamos, April 10, 2015
  49. ^ "War Against All Puerto Ricans: Inside the U.S. Crackdown on Pedro Albizu Campos & Nationalist Party," Democracy Now!, April 21, 2015
  50. ^ "PART 2: Nelson Denis on the U.S. Persecution of Puerto Rican Independence Leader Pedro Albizu Campos," Democracy Now!, April 21, 2015
  51. ^ Former Assemblyman discusses book -- War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony, “Inside City Hall,” NY1
  52. ^ When Puerto Rico Rebelled, WNYC, April 15, 2015
  53. ^ History of US Intervention in Puerto Rico, WBEZ, April 6, 2015
  54. ^ The Untold History Between the US and Puerto Rico, WNPR Connecticut, April 9, 2015
  55. ^ War Against All Puerto Ricans, The Jordan Journal, Feb. 27, 2015
  56. ^ The Secret War for Puerto Rico, WGBH/WNYC, April 13, 2015
  57. ^ How the United States Economically and Politically Strangled Puerto Rico, by Mark Karlin, Truthout, May 24, 2015
  58. ^ The Lost History of Puerto Rico’s Independence Movement, by AJ Vicens, Mother Jones, April 21, 2015
  59. ^ Historia de Puerto Rico Desde la Perspectiva de las Carpetas del FBI, by José Delgado, El Nuevo Dia, May 17, 2015
  60. ^ War Book is Escalating, by Ray Monell, New York Daily News, June 11, 2015
  61. ^ War Book is Escalating, by Ray Monell, New York Daily News, June 11, 2015

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Francisco Diaz Jr.
New York State Assembly
68th District

Succeeded by
Adam Clayton Powell IV