An ex-prostitute who was busted in a police sting is running to become the first trans woman on the City Council — representing the heart of the Bronx.
Elisa Crespo, 30, is one of the candidates seeking to succeed outgoing Councilman Ritchie Torres in the 15th council district — representing Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Mount Hope, Allerton, Van Nest, West Farms, and Bedford Park.
Torres — the first openly gay person to get elected in the borough — is vacating the seat in January after getting elected to Congress. A special election to replace him is expected to take place in March.
Crespo’s candidacy is a remarkable comeback story.
Crespo was arrested in Jacksonville, Fla. on November 14, 2012 after posting a sex/escort ad on the internet.
As it turned out, the two men showed up at her hotel room for oral sex were undercover cops in the Jacksonville police vice squad, who arrested her for prostitution.
Far from running away from her past, Crespo is addressing her work as a “survival sex worker” head-on.
“I am no longer engaged in sex work,” she told The Post.
Crespo, who transitioned to female at the age of 15, said getting arrested and spending time in jail was a low point that triggered a turnaround in her life.
“I was in a complicated struggle to make ends meet. A lack of job opportunities for trans women of color led me to sex work. Through this experience I wound up in Florida, where I was arrested and incarcerated with cisgender men. That moment transformed my life forever. It helped me begin my journey in civic engagement,” Crespo said during a recent political rally.
Crespo went back to school and earned a degree in political science from CUNY’s John Jay College, interned with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and currently serves as an education aide to Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
She told The Post she’s concerned that critics or rivals are attempting to “weaponize transphobia” by dredging up her arrest.
“It’s shameful. People are upset at the momentum my campaign is getting,” she said.
Crespo, a dues-paying member of the Democratic Socialist of America’s Bronx chapter, told The Post she supports state legislation to decriminalize prostitution — by no longer punishing paid sex between two consulting adults.
“Sex work is work,” she said.
Crespo said she turned tricks to support her mother — who was in an abusive relationship — as well as herself.
“It’s an unfortunate fact that trans woman and sex work go hand in hand,” Crespo said during an interview with empoweredtranswoman.com
“It’s not something I wanted to do. It’s dangerous. We’re putting ourselves in front of strangers that we don’t know who can harm us.”
Crespo said many trans woman don’t escape the life of sex work and wants to be a role model and trailblazer in politics.
“I feel the very weight of my community on my shoulders. It’s very important for me to show people we can do this. We’re not defined by our past. If we want to get into the arena, we have the right to do it — and we can do it,” she said.
“I’m hoping to inspire a new generation of people not only in The Bronx but across New York City.”
Crespo said she’s optimistic many Bronxites will be open to her candidacy but admitted there’s are older, “socially conservative” residents who may have misgivings.
“We’ll see on Election Day,” Crespo said.
One prominent Bronx politico and LGBT trailblazer — Councilman and Congressman-elect Torres — said Crespo has a shot at succeeding him.
“The race of CD 15 has several serious candidates, and Elisa is certainly one of them,” Torres said.
“My decisive election to Congress has shown that sexual orientation and gender identity are no longer insurmountable barriers to winning elected office in the Bronx.”
Allen Roskoff, president of the citywide Jim Owles LGBT Democratic Club said, “Elisa is a formidable candidate. She’s running a great campaign. I think the world of her.”
There is no shortage of competition for the seat. Other candidates include Ischia Bravo, district manager for Community Board 7 who was a former housing aide to outgoing Congressman Jose Serrano and executive director of the Bronx Democratic Party; Oswald Feliz of the Northwest Democrats for Change, Community Board 6 district manager John Sanchez; and Latchmi Gopal, a first generation Guyanese-American and Bronx DSA member who helps run Unemployed Workers United, among others.
Catherine Hanssens, Founding Executive Director of The Center for HIV Law and Policy, expressed optimism about Crespo’s candidacy.
“Ms. Crespo’s lived experience and obvious talent are exactly what we need to address overcriminalization and bias that limit employment, housing and education opportunities. It is thrilling to see a candidate with the courage to challenge the criminalization of sex work,” Hanssens said.
During an interview with The Post, Crespo emphasized that she has a policy agenda to aid the working class and poor residents of the Bronx’s 15th CD and citywide.
She said we should adopt an FDR-style infrastructure-jobs program to employ residents.
“We should have more vocational and trade schools,” Crespo said.
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