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Women's History Month 2014: Mark-Viverito Talks Speaker Race, Women in Politics

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In the beginning of January, Melissa Mark-Viverito became the first Latina to lead the City Council. Two months into the job, she sat down with political reporter Courtney Gross to talk about the race and women in politics for the latest installment in NY1's Women's History Month series.

For years, Melissa Mark-Viverito, a hard-nosed councilwoman from East Harlem, has been shouting from the sidelines. Now, she is center stage, the city's first ever Latina City Council speaker.

"Make your presence known and not be afraid to speak up, and that's something that I was never afraid to do. I don't like in any way for anyone to try to attempt to intimidate me," she said.

Mark-Viverito's victory was just two short months ago, and in some respects, she is still just getting used to the job.

"You're much more recognized when you are out there," she said. "I think that also brings with it higher expectations."

Some say she was prepping for the post for years. But she did not come out of her victory unscathed. It was a bruising battle that split the Council. Her personality, perhaps, took a hit.

"I think a lot of that came out during the speaker's race, and I think it's been defied, that I'm hard or I'm not friendly," she said.

Long before she took the podium, Mark-Viverito was one of the most vocal forces in Latino and progressive politics, speaking out against stop-and-frisk long before the topic was trending and getting arrested at Occupy Wall Street. It was an activism that she said she learned at the kitchen table growing up in Puerto Rico.

"Social justice, which I believe really captures and guides me, is something that I did learn from my parents and from growing up in an island that still, to some extent, the issue of women being able to get ahead," she said.

It's an upbringing that's clearly evident at City Hall. Press conferences now feature an unprecedented flow of both English and Spanish.

Her leadership overall is a rarity, a single woman in her 40s leading a legislative body. Don't expect her to start making politics at City Hall personal. When NY1 asked her who she was dating, she said, "Uhhh, that's very private for me."

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