As the largest comprehensive system of public higher education in the country, the vast number of alumni graduating from our schools are bound to be part of the present and future of New York State government. Currently, 61 alumni serve in the New York legislature, in both the state assembly and state senate.
Victor M. Pichardo, a proud SUNY graduate of the University at Buffalo, is a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly who represents the 86th District in New York City, which includes Fordham Heights and West Bronx. He is the Chair of the Commission on State-Local Relations and the Task Force on New Americans; and he is a member of the Committee on Cities; Committee on Higher Education; Committee on Housing; Committee on Real Property Taxation; Committee on Small Business; Committee on Social Services; the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus; and the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force. Before becoming an Assemblyman, Victor was the Director of Community Affairs for State Senator Gustavo Rivera in the Bronx. Best of all, Victor is a proud member of the SUNY alumni family and a SUNY supporter.
The start of Victor’s political career began when he pursued an internship with U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer in New York City. After completing his internship, Victor became Senator Schumer’s Staff Assistant, and was eventually promoted to Community Outreach Coordinator/Latino Liaison.
Before working for Senator Schumer, Victor and his family crossed paths with the Senator years prior due to an unfortunate family circumstance. Victor shared that his cousin was murdered after getting into an accident with a motorcycle gang in New York City. The perpetrator ended up fleeing, and Senator Schumer got wind of the situation through Daisy Rodriguez, Schumer’s Community Outreach Coordinator, who would eventually be Victor’s political mentor. Victor noted that “Schumer really went to bat for them,” sharing how the Senator worked with local police and the FBI on leads, which led to the Senator traveling to the Dominican Republic, to where the suspect had fled. Eventually, the perpetrator was caught and is now sitting in federal prison.
As a result of Senator Schumer’s and the local government’s efforts, Victor wanted to “pay it forward somehow, and repay what the Senator did for my family.” Victor has used this incident to build the foundation of his desire to work in politics and give back to his community. The aforementioned internship with Senator Schumer’s office, which kick-started Victor’s passion for politics, came about through Daisy Rodriguez staying in touch with Pichardo’s family. Following Victor’s graduation from the University at Buffalo, he began the start of his political career that summer.
In addition to his family’s history with Senator Schumer and other political figures, Victor shared that his education gained at the University at Buffalo was a driving factor in serving his constituents and the State of New York with unwavering dedication and support. Being able to experience life outside of the Bronx and live in Buffalo for four years was an important for Victor; through his student life experience, he was able to see the world in a different way and learn from it. During his time at UB, Victor recognized that people come from different walks of life and bring with them varying experiences.
In politics, this mindset has served Victor well. He told us, “understanding where another person comes from is very important in how you do your job as a legislator.” Having the ability to understand people, even if he doesn’t agree with their stance, and empathize with them – essentially learning how to walk in another person’s shoes – has helped Victor in his job, and he credits his time at UB for helping him develop these skills.
More specifically, Victor was able to grow as a person and a professional through his work study job with UB’s Admissions Office. He was a member of UB Student Admissions Recruitment Specialists (UB STARS) team, where he gave tours of the campus, and met and spoke with prospective students, especially those coming up from Downstate to see UB. Given Victor’s own experience coming from Downstate to Western New York, he was able to talk them through the cultural differences, what the school has to offer, and what they might attain from attending the university and receiving a degree.
Although it has been some time since Victor was giving tours and sharing what he loves about UB, he still remains connected to SUNY with his job as an assemblyman. One of his top priorities focuses on SUNY’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and other opportunity programs. He lauds SUNY because “as a whole, it has afforded college opportunity and education for thousands and thousands of people of color for generations.” On a more personal level, Victor was an EOP student and had the opportunity to stay at UB the summer before his freshman year through the UB CADS program, which helped him acclimate himself to the environment. As a result, Victor notes that it’s his responsibility as a beneficiary to the program to help expand it and create more opportunities for people who may not be able to go to college because of financial issues. He expands and shares that “if it wasn’t for EOP or TAP or other opportunity programs, I’m not sure that I’d be the member of the 86th assembly district.”
Victor is passionate about helping all prospective college students, even those who didn’t have the choice to immigrate to this country. He is proud to have worked on the José Peralta New York State DREAM Act. He shares that it was the proudest day of his career when the DREAM Act was passed, and that although Senator Peralta’s passing was tragic, the newer generations of immigrants coming after him that are now going to have more opportunities is thanks to his work and the DREAM Act.
Victor’s story shows us how students are able to find a home away from home on our campuses. As he best expresses, being a part of the SUNY family is “not about your financial well-being or ability to pay, it’s whether or not you can apply yourself, work hard, and get something out of [a degree].” If so, “then you have a place at SUNY.”
Julie is a Communications Assistant at SUNY System Administration.