Saturday, March 19, 2016

Luis-Manuel Miranda: In the room where it happens

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Friday, March 18

In the room where it happens

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of "Hamilton," spent this week making headlines in Washington. But he's not new to politics.
NOW ARRIVING
It was a particularly political week for Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator and star of the blockbuster musical "Hamilton."
Miranda was in Washington to perform at the White House. While in town, he met with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, later tweeting that Lew said "you're going to be very happy" with the new $10 bill. That tweet brought a surge of attention to the proposed redesigned currency, which treasury hopes can include a woman's portrait for the first time without angering Hamilton supporters.
He also lent his support to a bill providing bankruptcy protection to debt-strapped Puerto Rico, standing alongside members of Congress and another political force: his father.

Meet me inside

Luis A. Miranda, Jr. isn't just a supporting character in an epic toast from his son's wedding. He is a longtime powerbroker in New York.
A founder of the political consultancy MirRam Group, the elder Miranda has been on all sides of the political ecosystem: An adviser to Mayor Ed Koch; an early contributor to the campaigns of Sen. Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, and Fernando Ferrer; and a founder of the Hispanic Federation, an advocacy and social services group.
Luis Miranda says he can't remember a time when he wasn't involved in politics, dating to his time in Puerto Rico. And in Puerto Rico, all politics is tinged by an ultimate, portentous decision, says Miranda. You're casting a vote on Puerto Rico's future: Independence, commonwealth, or statehood.
In America, that's a Civil War- or American Revolution-era choice, which his son captures so well in "Hamilton."
Miranda says that upon arriving in America it took him a while to find his place in the Democrat-Republican divide. Since then, he's been engaged in "politics with a big P" —mostly electoral campaigns.
Angelo Falcón, founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy and another mainstay of the NYC political scene, says he's been "busting his chops" for years and has had disagreements with Miranda's political choices, but says he respects Miranda's establishing a "real powerhouse" political consultancy in MirRam group.
Falcón remembers the father-son team when Lin-Manuel was a kid, and he appreciates that now, the Hamilton creator remains engaged in political issues.
"What's happening in Puerto Rico is a humanitarian crisis," says Falcón — an issue that goes "beyond politics" and necessitates involvement from the wider community, particularly artists. "Sometimes we don't see our artists speaking out as much as they should."

History has its eyes on you

Lin-Manuel is an exception to that unfortunate rule. He has been steeped in local politics from an early age — he wrote the music for political jingles for some of his father's campaign work, including Ferrer and Eliot Spitzer. He was adept at ensuring that the "intended audience was identified in the music," says his father — a light salsa touch, for example.
Today he "reads like a madman" and "can talk to you about what happened in the debate last night." Though he's inevitably performing during the debates, he devours coverage. But politics was never what he wanted to do. "My son has never been a very political person" — as in big p Politics, says Miranda.
Lin-Manuel has become comfortable advancing political causes important to him, his father says, noting artists like Marc Anthony or those who boycotted the Oscars who have done the same.
The elder Miranda makes a distinction between his and Lin-Manuel's advocacy in the morning and the afternoon on the D.C. trip. Tuesday started by addressing media and supporters, already receptive to their cause. Later, they met quietly in Senate offices where they weren't always preaching to the choir.
In a meeting with amateur violinist Sen. Orrin Hatch, they discussed music before moving on to Puerto Rico, Lin-Manuel adding his "perspective from a personal view," his father says.
The younger Miranda is learning how to use his celebrity to advance selective causes: "He's not going to be in the room negotiating," his father says. Instead he's figuring out what he can "realistically do to move the conversation."
In other words, learning to have an impact whether or not he's in the room where it happens.
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