New York City Councilwoman and working mom Jennifer Gutiérrez looks to continue the fight for Latinas and mothers in her second term
Running for a second term, Gutiérrez spoke to Al DÍA about her upbringing, being a new parent, and how she plans to keep serving the city’s Latinas and mothers.
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New York City Councilwoman Jennifer Gutiérrez was one of the few women that helped make the Council a majority-female legislative body when she was first elected in 2021 and is one of few Latino council members in a city where Latinos make up more than 30% of the population.
She was also one of three new mothers to join the City Council that year and was pregnant throughout her campaign and gave birth shortly after the election.
During her first term, she showcased her desire to fight for Latinas and mothers with a number of legislations. And having just recently won the Democratic nomination for a second term earlier this month, she hopes to continue to be one of the leading voices fighting for universal child care in the council, maternal health care needs, and abortion access.
She is also one of few other mothers on Council including Council Member Julie Won and Bronx Council Member Pierina Sanchez are to bring attention to additional issues, such as postpartum depression, recovery from a Cesarean section operation, securing flexible work arrangements for parents, and ensuring workplaces provide lactation rooms, which they’re required to do.
Born and raised in Queens, New York, Gutierrez is the proud daughter of Colombian immigrant parents and grew up in a rent-stabilized 1-bedroom apartment. Growing up, she witnessed her mother’s daily struggles of finding affordable and adequate childcare, who worked as a domestic worker.
Her father became disabled when she was about 10 years old, in which she then took on a larger role in the family as a result. She’d fight on the phone on her father’s behalf to get his healthcare covered and help her family fill out the necessary forms.
Those experiences she said helped shape her legislative focus.
“For the majority of my life, she cleaned apartments, but there was a version of my upbringing where she was a caregiver. She watched the kids from the building. That was really some of the first experiences that I had with community care and childcare and how vital it was,” she said.
“They were all my neighbors, all immigrants, all very much working class. They were either single parents or dual working families. Watching my mom kind of have all of those informal work experiences also really helped to shape what I wanted to focus on as a council.” she added.
Gutiérrez won the primary election in June 2021 in a rank choice voting election and was elected to represent Council District 34 in November 2021. She is the first Colombian-American member of the New York City Council.
She was one of three new mothers to join the City Council that year. She was pregnant during the campaign and gave birth shortly after the election. The councilwoman compared her two experiences running.
“It was a different kind of a challenge in that now I had my day job as an existing council member. Being able to just coordinate that so that I was still present in my district as a council member, but then also, the reality of campaigning and a year and a half is not enough time to go back out to the community,” she said.
“And this is what you should be like, you're still very much introducing yourself to some people because it's only been 18 months.”
Representing the the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn and Ridgewood in Queens, Gutiérrez during her first term in office fought for legislation that’d help the city’s many Latinas and mothers including the Marshall Plan for Moms.
It’s legislation that would require health insurance companies to cover doulas and midwives in NYC.
“It was a call to have comprehensive planning through a task force, through multi agency support from the city to really determine what are the factors that keep caregivers, whether that be mom and dad, Grandpa, grandpa, from going back to work because they're caring for someone. The ultimate is being able to afford childcare.”
“We want to make sure that we are supporting new families and caregivers as they're adjusting,” Gutiérrez said. “And the city definitely should be invested in making sure that these folks can come back to work or come back into their communities in a way that feels fulfilling.”
She also fought for Universal childcare in New York, an initiative that would establish free, high-quality childcare for all — including the growing undocumented community — and supports healthcare providers by establishing a living wage for all childcare providers and creating paid training and workforce programs to equitably expand the provider pipeline.
“The bill started with something very personal about me, wanting to create more options and opportunities for parents,” she said. “We want to seek justice for this workforce, as well as provide care. My belief is that for so long, it hasn't been prioritized because it's an industry that impacts primarily women and women of color. People just don't care about that.”
The bill was inspired by her own struggles with securing child care after having her first child shortly following her election. During her first few weeks of maternity leave, she enlisted the help of her recently retired mother who’d moved back to Columbia to help with her newborn.
“I technically didn't actually have a childcare option. I was someone that was making more money than I had been making before. I spoke English. I navigated the Internet and felt like it was still very overwhelming. Luckily we found a place a couple of blocks from where I live now, but I was on a waiting list for a little bit,” she said.
Gutiérrez also authored and passed The Doula Pilot Program, a pilot program that provides doulas to New Yorkers as a means of combating Black and brown material and infant mortality.
The program, Gutiérrez said, was something she was not sure would have happened had the council not been majority women.
“Having these women on council I think informs not just the kind of legislation but the urgency. Some of these legislations were introduced in the last cohort in the last administration and that didn't move.” she said. “And if you don't have that sense of urgency, and that leadership they're not going to move.
“Being part of this new city council, that's majority women and people of color, I feel really empowered and really excited about all those experiences, " Gutiérrez said. “The more you talk about it, the more you hear about the sacrifices that parents are making.”
She described her personal experience of working with a midwife during her birth and says it's important that mothers all over are aware of the different options available to them.
“That was a really positive birth experience for me and I felt that it was important for me that other people and families know about the options and about how powerful you can feel but reality is, especially for Black women, women of color are disproportionately impacted by Black maternal mortality,” the Councilwoman said.
She is one of few other mothers on Council such as Council Member Julie Won and Bronx Council Member Pierina Sanchezare to bring attention to additional issues, such as postpartum depression, recovery from a Cesarean section operation, securing flexible work arrangements for parents, and ensuring workplaces provide lactation rooms, which they’re required to do.
Gutiérrez told Al DÍA that improving overall child care across the country will also help economically in the long run and keep the workforce strong.
“The reality is that if you want to get this economy going, you have to provide childcare, you have to provide that option for families, so that people aren't sacrificed and that people are putting a career on hold to be able to take care,” she said.
As one of a few Latino council members in New York City and the only Colombian-American to serve on City Council, Gutiérrez recognizes and embraces the responsibility that comes with it.
“I hope they see that I speak their language. Spanish was my first language. I try to come from a place of civility, from a place of really wanting to engage with people, at every community meeting. I want to bring and make the government more accessible to people,” she said.
“I can only hope that people feel that they see themselves in me and that they are being represented in a positive way and that we have a joint goal of wanting to keep our communities safe and clean, and in a better place for the next generation.”