Monserrate stands outside in front of a microphone. Another man looks on behind him.

Known Abuser Narrowly Loses New York City Election

On Tuesday, former New York State Senator Hiram Monserrate narrowly lost a campaign for a seat on New York City Council. Despite his loss, the fact that voters were willing to forgive and forget Monserrate, a known abuser, at the ballot box is concerning.

In 2009, Monserrate sliced his girlfriend’s face with broken glass and then dragged her through the lobby of his apartment. Prosecutors charged that Monserrate — an ex-cop and ex-Marine — attacked his girlfriend Karla Giraldo after finding another man’s business card in her purse. Though Giraldo objected to the case moving forward, Monserrate was convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to probation, community service, counseling, and a $1,000 fine. In 2010, he was expelled from the New York State Senate as a result of his assault conviction. In 2012, he was sentenced to two years in prison after misusing about $100,000 in public funds to help pay for a campaign. This campaign was the latest in a string of failed bids at public office.

Despite this history, Monserrate was able to garner 2,782 votes — 44 percent of the vote — in New York City’s District 21.  

Other than some minor media coverage by the New York Times and local publications like Gothamist, Monserrate’s history as an abuser remained largely obscured from the public narrative of his campaign. When brought up, such as in this interview about his newfound attempt at a political comeback, Monserrate framed his past violence within a redemption narrative:

I paid the price for that, I apologized for that… You can’t judge someone for an incident that occurred in their lives and try to use that incident to diminish them for the rest of their lives. None of us can live in the past.

Monserrate’s narrative is challenging for those of us committed to prison abolition and also to justice for survivors: how do we hold abusers accountable while envisioning a more whole form of justice? We know that abusers hold social and political capital in our country. We also know that incarceration is not the answer: it does not repair the harm done, places survivors in a vulnerable position within the criminal system, and feeds into the prison industrial complex where gender violence is rampant. How, then, are we to balance our desires for accountability with our desires for transformative justice? As far as we (and a sizeable portion of voters in Monserrate’s district) know, Monserrate has not engaged in any sort of public accountability. We don’t know whether he is still an abuser. Monserrate’s redemption narrative shies away from the past while also neglecting any commitments of his for the future — how do we know that he is accountable for his harmful actions, or that he will fight such violence in the future? This process need not involve jail or prison time. It could include various public acts of accountability — committing to supporting legislation that protects survivors, publicly demonstrating positive and healthy relationship norms in his current and future relationships, or committing to dialogue about violence prevention in his own circles, for example. Unfortunately, some voters have not held him to these standards, instead accepting Monserrate’s denouncement of the past as sufficient.

What does these voters’ acceptance of Monserrate’s redemption narrative without any indication that he’s claimed any public accountability for his actions — mean for survivors of intimate partner abuse?” There is trauma in seeing public figures abuse their partners, minimize the harm done, and then move on to their next movie, playoff, or election. This trauma is compounded by the treatment survivors receive for coming out: they are often victim-blamed, discredited, or even jailed by the prosecutors they go to for help. The public sends a dangerous message every time we vote for these individuals, watch their movies, and cheer on their teams: with these gestures of support, we are implicitly telling survivors that their humanity is less worthy than their abusers’. In a country currently governed by a known abuser, where survivors’ civil rights are routinely under attack, this can no longer be the message we endorse at the ballot box.

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Brianna Suslovic is a recent college graduate, a current graduate student, and an angry mixed girl. She's originally from upstate NY but currently splits her time between eastern and western MA. Check out more of her writing at her website, Check out more of her rants and musings on Twitter @bsuslovic.

Just a millennial trying to channel the rage of Audre Lorde every day.

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