STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — What New York City based mambo drummer once played for Brazilian death metal band Sepultura? The answer is the famous band leader Tito Puente Jr. – son of latin jazz and mambo musician Tito Puente.
The same Tito Puente, Jr. who campaigned for city council candidate Debi Rose Saturday on Staten Island’s North Shore – the same Tito Puente who presented Rose with a plaque from the Staten Island Puerto Rican Cultural and Civic Association, “for her outstanding contributions to the Staten Island Latino Community.”
“I’m here to support my very good friend over here…soon to be in office, Miss Debi Rose. And she’s here running for councilwoman of Staten Island,” Puente said. “I’m giving her my one hundred percent support and that’s why I came out here to Staten Island to support the five boros of the place I call home, New York City,” he added.
Puento visited Staten Island’s El Pollo restaurant Saturday – for a meet and greet with fans and to campaign for Debi Rose. The percussionist, who is supporting Rose’s bid for Mike McMahon’s vacant city council seat, broke bread with the campaign staff and signed autographs for an enthusiastic collection of fans.
As he signed photographs for his admirers, Puente spotted NLN intern Nat Good’s “Kreator” t-shirt. “You know they are coming out with a new album?” he asked. Good nodded and Puente grew animated. “I played drums for Sepultura for about three months…” In response to this reporter’s asking if he really played drums for the famed Brazilian metal band, Puente said, “Yeah, it’s death metal man! And now I play Mambo, funny eh?”
After his meal, Puente posed for photos with restaurant patrons and volunteers from the Rose campaign. Late in the afternoon, a number of supporters gathered outside the Rose for City Council office and Puente joined them for a group shot. Among those present was Raphael Munoz, president of the Staten Island Puerto Rican Cultural and Civic Association – a Puente fan and veteran community activist who helped organize the event.
After the meet and greet at the El Pollo restaurant Puente and Rose – and a number of friends and supporters – climbed onto a festive float decorated with campaign placards and sign reading “Tito Puente – Mambo King”. As the float traveled through Staten Island’s North Shore, people on the street waved and cheered. DJ Tommy Whiteowl provided the music that emanated from the float — he told NLN that he supported Debi Rose “because of her work with non-profits and children.”
The humble but personable Puente and energetic Rose seemed to embody the grassroots, people powered essence of the campaign – which is engaged in what many regard as a David and Goliath struggle. Rose is challenging the stranglehold that the political machine of Congressman Mike McMahon has on Staten Island’s North Shore. McMahon, a conservative, pro-war, Democrat, is actively campaigning for his chief of staff, Ken Mitchell. The Staten Island Advance, the local – and only – Staten Island newspaper, has endorsed the machine candidate, as has often been the case in the past. The paper has gone so far as to predict a win for Mitchell. Despite this, Rose and Puente remain upbeat about their broad base of support – the Rose supporters represent a very diverse constituency. The race will be decided by a special election on Tuesday, February 24th.
Puente is releasing a new album of latin jazz, featuring a tribute to his late father – Mambo giant Tito Puente – in late April. He also has a role in a new movie, “La Familia”, in which he co-stars with Stephen Bauer. The film is due out next Summer. Puente will be touring to support his new album and the tour schedule is available at www.titopuentejr.net.
David Hernandez contributed to this article.
See NLN’s David Hernandez interview Tito Puente Jr: