Freshman Rep. Adriano Espaillat, 62, a New York Democrat, talks about public housing, baseball, and his grandson’s love of cars.
Q: What has surprised you about Congress so far?
A: It’s a huge operation. It’s a great huge, large institution and for you to put your arms around it. You have to be very specific and develop a niche in every area you want to excel in, that’s close to your heart, something that’s good for our district, and it’s all local, obviously.
Housing is what I’ve chosen. Public housing is very broad. The White House is public housing. The president doesn’t pay rent. He has cold and hot water every day. He doesn’t have any mold in the bathroom or leaks in his pipes. We pay his rent and that’s public housing. We should have a level of commitment to tenants who live in public housing.
Q: How does it feel to be the first Dominican-American member of Congress?
A: It feels great. Just like hitting a home run.
Q: Tell me about your love for baseball.
A: One time I was meeting with a constituent in New York City and he was sitting with his back to my altar [Editor’s note: His “altar” is the baseball display in his office.] He was in my office, seeking to have the baseball diamonds shut down and to have them turned into soccer fields. There were two other people on the side that saw what was behind him. He didn’t know. He was having this conversation, making his argument about how he wanted these baseball diamonds done away with. Once he finishes, I said, “Excuse me, sir, just take a look back so you can say hello to my altar.” He blushed.
I’m a Yankee fan, of course. That’s my team. But the [Tigres del Licey, a team in the Dominican Republic], they’re sort of like the Yankees. For winter baseball, they’ve had the most championships. They just won this year, actually. They went to the Caribbean World Series.
Q: What Dominican food do you recommend?
A: I like the breakfast that my mother does, which is called “Los Tres Golpes,” the three shots. It’s mashed plantains, a grilled cheese and eggs, and a shot of espresso. And then you do your cholesterol check. Real plantains have a high level of potassium and potassium is supposed to give you energy, right? So when you have that in the morning, it keeps you going. Campaign time, I tried to have it everyday. It just keeps you going right through the afternoon. You begin to think about food maybe 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon.
Sancocho is the traditional dish, which is a stew with different types of meat. There’s one that has seven types of meat. It’s a very rich stew.
Q: What do you like to do with your grandson?
A: He’s an avid fan of cars so he has all kinds of cars. He has a huge collection of cars and he just lines them up in color order. He puts all the racing cars next to each other, all the trucks next to each other, all the regular cars next to each other. So it’s almost therapeutic for me, helping him stack that up. We play crash and we race. So when he sees me, he says “Cars!” He’s three.
Last book you read: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”
Last movie you saw: “Apocalypse Now” for maybe the tenth time.