For Julio Ferreras, it was a night 37 years in the making.
On a cold February evening, just as the nation’s first black president wrapped up his initial speech to a joint session of Congress, the longtime East Elmhurst resident became the father of the first Latina elected to borough-wide office in Queens.
Councilwoman-elect Julissa Ferreras handily won Tuesday’s special 21st District election to replace her former boss, state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst), who vacated his council seat for higher office last month.
Gathering at the campaign’s victory party at the Gran Rancho Jubilee nightclub in East Elmhurst on election night, Ferreras arrived shortly after 10 p.m. to cheers, the beating of drums, and scores of ebullient labor organizers and poll workers.
But none seemed more excited by this week’s victory than Julio Ferreras, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who came to the U.S. in search of a better life in 1972.
“You wouldn’t believe how far she has come,” Julio Ferreras said. “Ever since she was little she wanted to represent her community … and now she has the chance.”
Along with wife Josephine, Julio Ferreras joined relatives, close friends and political allies at a celebration that had all of the trappings of a block party in any of the city’s Dominican neighborhoods.
Ferreras’ victory means that there will be three councilmembers tracing their roots to the small Caribbean nation — another sign that this once-marginalized community is finally come into its own.
And in a sign of slowly changing cultural attitudes, two of those three representatives will be Latina.
“We have so much in common, including the fact that she ran a race as the only woman against three men,” said fellow Dominican Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick).
This week’s election also was a major victory for Monserrate, who still faces a criminal charge stemming from an alleged late-night attack on his girlfriend last December.
Joined by Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Corona), Monserrate sounded a triumphant note at Tuesday’s victory party, carefully affixing his councilmember pin on Ferreras’ black blazer to loud cheers and applause.
“This is my sister who has been with me since day one,” Monserrate said. “She is a fighter, she is tenacious, and she is ready to kick ass in City Hall.”
Largely absent from the short two-month campaign, Monserrate took center stage at the victory celebration Tuesday night, talking for nearly 10 minutes before candidate Ferreras took her turn to thank supporters.
“It’s been demonstrated that I have a lot of influence in this community,” said Monserrate, speaking as people filed out of the club at the end of the night. “But this is all about Julissa.”
For her part, Ferreras credited members of the Working Families Party, along with support from unions 1199 and Local 530, for her larger-than-expected margin of victory.
“We endorsed Ferreras because of her tireless work fighting for responsible development and better schools, and we’re proud to have helped put her over the top,” said Jose Schiffino, a member of the Queens chapter of the WFP.
According to unofficial results, Ferreras received 2,216 ballots cast, or 46 percent of the vote. Her nearest competitor, community activist Francisco Moya, netted 24 percent.
Further behind, Democratic District Leader George Dixon got 18 percent of the vote, with businessman Eduardo Giraldo nabbing 12 percent.
Together with Peralta and Monserrate, Ferreras’ election signaled the beginnings of a close collaboration between the area’s representatives in the City Council, state Assembly and Senate — seats held for the first time in history by all Latinos.
“Monserrate and me said we have to settle our differences, that together nothing is impossible,” said Peralta, referring to a sit-down mediated by a prominent Latino city politicians, former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.
Joining politicians and campaign workers at the event were a number of faces from the candidate’s Corona childhood, including Jeannette Tejeda, one-time babysitter to a then-eight-year old Ferreras. “She was always such a smart girl who knew what she wanted.” Tejeda said.
Rounding out the family affair was Ferreras’ aunt-cum-campaign manager Clara Martinez, and neighbor Irma Linares, who both celebrated with a beaming Julio and Josephine Ferreras, who marked their 35th wedding anniversary on Valentine’s Day earlier this month.
Ferreras’ father, a former MTA mechanic working along the No. 7 line that snakes through the district, loomed large, even in her acceptance speech for ecstatic supporters. “This campaign reminds me of the 7 train — sometimes it runs local and sometimes it runs express,” she said.