The Fox News host was so excited about the high court’s first Hispanic nominee that he leapt from his chair in his home office and bopped his head on a low-hanging light fixture.
“This is as important to us as Obama was to the African American community. I have goosebumps,” says Rivera, 65, born to a Catholic, Puerto Rican father and Jewish mother. He defines himself as the former.
In an interview from his North Jersey home, Rivera says there’s only been a few times in his life he felt this pumped: When the Mets won their first World Series; when he passed his bar exam and when his kids were born. (He has five, ages 3 to 29.)
“It finally happened. Wow. Look how the Puerto Rican community came up with someone so world-class,” says Rivera of Sotomayor, 54, a federal Appeals Court judge in New York and the product of a South Bronx housing project.
The nomination of Sotomayer will help dispel, in Rivera’s view, “the whole poverty-pimp mentality that afflicts the Puerto Rican community in New York. Elected officials go around blaming ‘the man.’
Though no longer a proponent of affirmative action, Rivera supports Sotomayor’s vote earlier this month to uphold New Haven, Conn.’s decision to eliminate a set of fire department promotion tests because no minority candidates finished at the top of the list.
An appeal, filed by high-scoring white firefighters who were denied promotions, is currently before the Supreme Court.
Once a passionate crusader for affirmative action, Rivera says he’s done a 180 over the last five years and now believes the concept is obsolete.
“I feel for the white guys,” he says. “Growing up, I had a chip on my shoulder. I’d look around and see there were no Hispanics represented in the police department, the fire department, the unions. I thought affirmative action, no matter how much it might tick off the majority, was necessary as a remedial tool to make up for past prejudice.”
Now, however, Rivera says “artificial assistance” should no longer be offered to minorities, particularly in tough economic times.
“I don’t think it’s very useful anymore, like reparations for slavery. It’s something that served its purpose in a moment in history. Like any invention, it can become obsolete.”
Rivera plans to celebrate Sotomayor’s nomination by “drinking rum and eating rice and beans” before setting sail tomorrow to his home in Puerto Rico.
He was supposed to leave next week, but his sailboat was ready earlier than planned.
“It’s karma,” he says.