Cuban-born Connie Mallafre Melendez defies odds, gets sworn in as civil court judge
Connie Mallafre Melendez was officially sworn in as a judge in Brooklyn’s Civil Court during a special ceremony in front of a packed crowd inside the ceremonial courtroom at Borough Hall on Monday.
Mallafre Melendez, who ran for the bench and lost in the previous year, won the Brooklyn Democratic Primary this year with the most votes, 76,310 or 15.21 percent, out of any candidate. She was one of six women elected to the bench in Brooklyn during the general election.
“This is a woman who knows how to persevere, who knows that giving up is not an option, who knows how to stand up and continue to be heard and galvanize an entire community,” said Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who served as the master of ceremony for the event.
“They know of your challenges and victories, your story of perseverance,” Cumbo continued.
“When Connie lost the first election, she didn’t give up, she didn’t think, ‘Oh, it didn’t work out.’ She got back up, she came back stronger, she had her voice heard, her message became clearer and she won.”
Hon. Frank Seddio, chairman of the Kings County Democratic Party, spoke about how hard it is to run for judge in Brooklyn — all of the events that candidates need to attend, all of the people they need to meet and even money they need to raise. He explained that the reason Mallafre Melendez got the most votes in the primary was because she outworked a group of hardworking candidates.
“This was not a simple process,” Seddio said. “It takes a lot of work and a message that resonates with people, but nobody worked harder than Connie. It was unbelievable. She was everywhere, meeting everybody. At one point, I thought there were four of her.”
The ceremony drew a crowd of more than 200 with many people forced to stand just to get a look at the ceremony for the first Cuban-born elected official in New York state. A.J. and Gabriella Mallafre led the group in the pledge of allegiance, Sgt. Jessica Hernandez performed the national anthem and Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman gave the opening prayer.
Among those who spoke at the ceremony were Seddio; Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna; Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix; Hon. Lawrence Knipel; state Assemblymembers Maritza Davila, Jo Anne Simon and Robert Carroll; District Leader Olanike Alabi; and Mallafre Melendez’s children Frank, Olivia and Anjelique and her husband Frank.
Davila recalled speaking with Mallafre Melendez after she lost her initial run for judge in Brooklyn and she explained how that failed run only made her stronger the second time around.
“She said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this again,’” Davila said. “I said, Connie you are going to win.
She went at it again. She was back again in the summer at those block parties, at those events and everybody already knew Connie. Everybody was taking pictures with Connie. She put in her hard work. The dedication that this woman showed everybody in my district was beyond even my own expectation.”
Mallafre Melendez also became known on the campaign trail for her husband’s fervor. Cumbo recalled meeting him on the campaign trail and not being able to believe her eyes.
“I was in Fort Greene Park and I saw Connie … and I also saw this man who had on a Connie T-shirt, he had a Connie sign, he even had Connie socks on. He had a bicycle and it had a box on it that looked like a voting booth with more Connie signs,” Cumbo said still in disbelief. “I saw it and I was envious because she had staff that was really dedicated to her. “
After all of the speeches, Hon. Marsha Steinhardt, whom Mallafre Melendez clerked for over the past nine years, performed the oath of office. She was joined on stage by her beaming husband and three children.
Mallafre Melendez then thanked everyone who had a role in her being elected, from her colleagues, friends, family, district leaders and other elected officials to many others. She also spoke about the strong role her mother played in her life and coming to the U.S. from Cuba as a 2-year-old.
“Leaving Cuba was no easy feat,” Mallafre Melendez recalled. “My parents were strip searched, cavity searched at the airport in Havana. My sister’s diaper was removed and our bags were ripped open and torn to pieces. The few high heels that my mother had with her were broken at the heel and checked for smuggled jewelry. They let out a sigh of relief when they boarded the plane because we were finally free.”
Perhaps her most powerful words were a story about her parents meeting Fidel Castro, the former communist leader of Cuba, when she was a baby.
“As Castro spoke on the stage, he noticed me in my father’s arms and asked to hold me,” Mallafre Melendez said. “My father obliged, brought me to the stage and Castro took me from him. Castro held me up above his head and demanded the crowd to behold me.
“As the crowd emphatically cheered, he declared, ‘She is the future of Cuba.’ Well, Mr. Castro, you are very wrong. I happily stand here about to become a part of the judiciary of Kings County.”
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