PRIMARY GUIDE: 51st Assembly District race
FELIX ORTIZ VS. CEASAR ZUNIGA
For the past 20 years, Felix Ortiz has made it his life’s mission to serve the people of the 51st Assembly District and his goal now is to continue that progress.
“I want to work with my constituents and have a safe neighborhood with good schools, taking advantage of the improving economy and a mayor who is more sympathetic to the needs of our community, such as housing that is affordable, and pre-kindergarten and kindergarten,” he said.
Among the projects Ortiz looks forward to tackling are a bill for railroad infrastructure in Sunset Park, building another elementary school in the neighborhood, adding technology to every city classroom, and promoting development “that takes into consideration the cleaning up of brownfields and the Gowanus Canal.”
His biggest challenge going forward is the economy, “because if it collapses, it puts a lot of pressure on anything we want to develop,” but he considers his knowledge, experience and relationship with community members to be his biggest strengths.
“My community believes in what I have done over 20 years,” he said. “I will always put my community first and politics after.”
Ortiz, 54, has lived in Sunset Park since moving there from Puerto Rico in 1980 and has raised his family in the neighborhood.
“My grandkids have been my eyes and ears in shaping public policy,” Ortiz said. “Seeing what they see and hearing them ask what am I going to do about things – I want to involve them and other children in this process. They never refer to me as an assemblyman because I make it clear that I am one of them.”
For Ceasar Zuniga, running for and serving in public office is all about “bringing people together” and giving them a voice as their communities of Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights and Gowanus continue to experience economic, educational and environmental changes.
“Everybody has to be involved because the beauty of the 51st Assembly District is its diversity and I’m committed to giving the community a voice and engaging everybody,” said Zuniga.
Zuniga, 41, has been active in local issues for five years, most recognizably as a board member and former officer with the Community Board 7. He currently serves as chairperson of the Public Safety Committee. He is also a member of the Council of the Sunset Park Promise Neighborhood Initiative.
He takes particular pride in his career in promoting early childhood education and literacy initiatives for low-income families at the nonprofit Parent-Child Home Program, where he works as research and evaluation director.
“We target two and three-year-olds, aiming to address the achievement gap by empowering parents and emphasizing that they are their children’s first and most important teachers,” said Zuniga. “This will inform my efforts as a legislator in accountability and transparency.”
If elected, Zuniga’s goals also include addressing the problems of school overcrowding, affordable housing and maintaining a working waterfront – with no change to zoning and no mixed-use development – that balances redevelopment and community needs for job opportunities and infrastructure.
Zuniga is “the proud son of immigrants from Mexico who arrived 45 years ago” and earned degrees in political science and psychology. He lives in Sunset Park with his partner Emily and children Javier, four and a half, and Joaquin, 15 months.
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