Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, leading contender for Speaker, is widely known as a former employee and supporter of labor union SEIU; as an activist who coordinated protests against the Navy’s use of Vieques as a proving ground; and as a committed radical representing Spanish Harlem, or “El Barrio.”

She is less widely recognized as a millionaire who grew up in an exclusive suburb of San Juan, and who established residence in her district only four years before first seeking election there.

Mark-Viverito is notoriously secretive about her personal life, telling the New York Times, “My private life is very private, my family is very private … but my professional life is very public.”  The Councilmember’s inherited wealth, which appears to have made her among the richest members of the new Council, has been buried in her official biography, which stresses her public service. However, records indicate that Mark-Viverito’s father, Dr. Anthony Mark, was a successful eye doctor and the founder of San Pablo Hospital, one of the largest private hospitals in Puerto Rico, which was sold in 1998 for at least $165 million. Councilmember Mark-Viverito, her mother and two siblings, along with another relative, are listed on the documents of sale as the beneficiaries of Dr. Mark’s estate.

Financial disclosure documents submitted by Mark-Viverito’s office indicate that she has personal wealth in the range of $1 to $2 million, largely in shared interest in condominiums and other real estate in Puerto Rico, including a 12-acre finca on the eastern shore of Puerto Rico, in Ceiba. (Intriguingly, the family’s estate abuts the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, which was the longtime base of the US Naval Forces Southern Command, and which oversaw the bombing tests on nearby Vieques that so incensed the future councilmember. Sometimes NIMBY works in strange and wonderful ways.)

The proceeds from the sale of the hospital, which closed after Dr. Mark’s estate entered probate, do not appear to be enumerated among the nearly $7 million in assets that were distributed to Mark-Viverito and the other heirs. Her office did not respond to questions regarding the disposition of the proceeds of the $165 million from the hospital sale.

The councilmember grew up as a child of relatively immense privilege: her father owned a dual-engine Cessna that could carry 6 passengers. Her mother, whom she describes as a Puerto Rican feminist pioneer, was an official with the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

Mark-Viverito also speaks of her paternal grandmother, Carlota Mark, whom she says worked as a Puerto Rican activist in New York from the 1920s until the 1960s. Carlota Mark and her husband are listed as members of the executive committee of a Spanish Institute dinner held at the Waldorf-Astoria on Columbus Day in 1962 to commemorate the “470th anniversary of the discovery of America.”  The Spanish Institute, now known as the “Queen Sofia Spanish Institute,” serves to “promote the Spanish language and the culture of Spain.”  There is no other documentation attesting to her grandmother’s activism.

Mark-Viverito lived in the West Village just off Washington Square until 1999, when she purchased a three-family house on East 111th Street. Her move to East Harlem has been characterized as “district shopping,” a calculated move by an aspiring politician eager to hone in on a winnable seat.

Her East Harlem residence, which was designated for middle-income purchasers, provides Mark-Viverito with a steady stream of rental income, and was paid off completely after only 10 years. Purchased for $350,000, its value is now estimated at $1.2 million.

Mark-Viverito appears to live with her brother, Randolph Mark, a filmmaker whose 2006 documentary “My Name is Jackie Beat” was co-produced by their mother. The film details the life of drag artist Jackie Beat, who sings off-color song parodies (e.g., “I saw Daddy f—ing Santa Claus”).

Councilmember Mark-Viverito has carefully crafted a public persona of radical commitment to the principles of progressive politics. She has stood in front of cameras in Zucotti Square and proclaimed herself part of the 99 percent. So it is not surprising that she would insist on compartmentalizing her public populist life and her private privileged life. But public officials, especially those who thrust themselves so forcefully into the foreground of political debate, owe the public at least a modicum of honesty about who they are and how they got here in the first place.

 

City & State columnist Seth Barron writes the blog City Council Watch.