State Sen. Jose Serrano speaks at a recent event with his son at his side.

Photo by: Matthew Perlman

State Sen. Jose Serrano speaks at a recent event with his son at his side.

In the Bronx, it’s about the economy. Or is it about education?

The Bronx has the city’s highest unemployment rate and 29 percent of its households live below the poverty line. So, it’s no surprise that the dominant issue here for the upcoming presidential election is the economy.

But views about what to do are split.

One belief is that the key to economic recovery is education. And politicians here are feeling left out of a national debate that largely ignores solidly Democratic electorates.

Jose M. Serrano, a state senator who represents the South Bronx, is watching the presidential race closely. Sitting on a shaded green bench in Roberto Clemente State Park with his wife and two young children, Serrano noted the 14 percent unemployment rate in his native borough. “Now we have an opportunity to change that.”

Serrano, 40, was brought up on politics in the Bronx. His father is Jose E. Serrano, the 22-year Bronx congressman and former member of the state assembly. Before becoming a state senator, the younger Serrano served on the City Council and as a member of Bronx’s Community Board 4 in Highbridge and Concourse. He’s on the ballot for reelection this year, without a Republican Party challenger.

In the upcoming presidential race, “the two candidates have very different policies on how to create jobs,” Serrano said, while making faces at his daughter who was fussing in her stroller. His wife sat next to him trying to calm down their excited son who had spent the afternoon running around the Harlem River Festival, jumping in front of cameras to get in photos with his father.

“Romney’s trickle-down policies just don’t work,” he said. “You think the wealthy will pass along money just because they can? I give President Obama credit for at least empathizing with the working class.”

Serrano believes that jobs will come from “nurturing tech sectors, especially in the healthcare industry.” But without access to education people in his district won’t get those jobs, he said.

He insists that the economy in the Bronx will only recover if college is made more affordable. “We need tuition assistance and loans that won’t leave students mired in debt.” He also thinks the tuition hikes for public colleges in New York have to stop.

Serrano’s viewpoints reflect his urban upbringing and a city-centric philosophy that he feels has been under attack during the current campaign. “Cities drive the national economy,” he said. “We shouldn’t be ashamed of choosing to live in cities.”

He thinks Obama has been slipping to the right in order to capture more moderate voters, to the detriment of metropolitan areas.

“I wish I heard more of an urban agenda from the president,” Serrano said. “Progressives and liberals need to stand their ground. It’s OK to be progressive.”

But he also thinks the president may just be pandering for votes in Middle America. “In his heart of hearts, he knows what people here are going through,” Serrano said.

“Hopefully after his reelection he’ll go back to his real heart.”