In Public Service: Reynoso brings community organizing skills to council
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso rode his bike from Williamsburg to the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge for an interview with the Brooklyn Eagle.
“I ride a bike everywhere I go,” he said.
Reynoso, 32, is one of the youngest members of the City Council, but has a clear sense of direction and an ambitious plan for his life in public service.
The proud son of Dominican immigrants, Reynoso, a Democrat, would like to someday be the first Dominican from Brooklyn to be elected to Congress.
But that’s in the future. Right now, Reynoso is very involved and committed to the present.
He said he is fully dedicated to representing the constituents of the 34th Council District. The district includes parts of Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn as well as Ridgewood in Queens. The famous Peter Luger Steak House is in his district. So is the Williamsburg Bridge.
It’s a vibrant district that is home to many immigrants from El Salvador, Ecuador and Mexico.
Reynoso won the council seat in 2013.
The council race showed that Reynoso is not afraid to take on tough challenges. His opponent in the Democratic Primary was former Assemblymember Vito Lopez, the once powerful chairman of the Kings County Democratic Party who had a reputation for exacting political revenge on people he felt were disloyal to him.
By the time the 2013 council campaign came around, Lopez had resigned from the state Assembly seat he had held for many years. Lopez was also plagued by accusations of sexual harassment.
But Reynoso said he still considered Lopez a political force and treated him like a formidable opponent. “My goal was not to blast him,” he told the Eagle. “I concentrated on telling people what I’m about and what I would do in the council.”
Lopez died Nov. 9, 2015 after a bout with cancer.
During the campaign, Reynoso knocked on 6,000 doors in the district, meeting constituents and talking to them one-on-one about their issues.
He also went to a lot of senior citizen centers to talk to voters.
“I had so much energy. I couldn’t sleep,” Reynoso said. He recalled telling himself, “Win this race and it will change your life.”
Reynoso won the primary handily and won the general election that November.
The victory did change his life.
Reynoso, a graduate of LeMoyne College with a degree in political science, cut his teeth as a community organizer for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
He went to work for ACORN straight out of college. “I thought I could change the world,” he said.
He certainly changed lives.
Among his projects was an effort to organize day care workers.
“They open up their homes and provide day care to children. But they were treated like glorified babysitters. They had no health insurance. They had no days off. And they played an important role to play. They helped transition kids to be away from Mommy. We had to organize them,” Reynoso said.
Reynoso had a great deal of respect for ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis.”I learned a lot. I learned how to organize effectively,” he said. Lewis taught him how to employ creative skills in protest efforts to garner publicity and attention.
Reynoso recalled a protest at a Target store in Downtown Brooklyn. ACORN was protesting the fact that Target executives made 200 times more than the average workers, such as cashiers. ACORN got its point across with shopping bags depicting a Target logo with the message about executive pay.
At another protest, this time on Long Island, ACORN members found a way to convey the message that despite the fact that the community was largely African-American, there were no people of color on its police force. “One guy threw crayons at the police,” he said.
The tactic worked. “Within two weeks, they hired two black officers,” Reynoso said.
Reynoso went to work as a Ridgewood organizer for Diana Reyna, who was the council member representing the 34th Community District.
He worked with the Ridgewood Property Owners Association, Friends of the Ridgewood Library and other groups, and eventually took on more jobs in Renya’s office.
In 2007, Reynoso became Reyna’s chief of staff.
Two years later, in 2009, Reynoso was Reyna’s campaign manager when she ran for re-election to the council.
Reyna won. “No one believed we could win,” Reynoso said.
In 2013, Reyna agreed to become deputy borough president to Eric Adams.
Reynoso ran for her council seat and won. “I hit the ground running,” he told the Eagle. He made sure his district got attention from the city. He pushed to get more discretionary funding in the council.
A member of the council’s Progressive Caucus, he is chairman of the Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee.
Forty percent of the city’s trash comes into his district to be processed at local plants. His district has one of the highest asthma rates in the city, he said. “Trucks on our streets are polluting our air and destroying our roads,” he said. “Now it’s my turn to step up and do my best for my community.”
Reynoso said he is seeking to spread the responsibility of trash disposal around the city. “Equity is what I’m after. Everyone has to do their part,” he said.
Even if more trash plants are built around the city, “Williamsburg will still be the most by far,” Reynoso said.
Reynoso has nine employees on his staff. Two of the employees work at the council’s offices at 250 Broadway near City Hall. Seven workers are at his district office. Thirty to 40 people come into the office each week to seek help with housing issues, he said.
But Reynoso doesn’t wait for constituents to come to him. He sends staffers out in a regular basis to talk to constituents. “I have three people who knock on doors to see what the problems are,” he said.
While Reynoso said he feels Adams pays attention to North Brooklyn, he disagrees with him about the running of community boards.
As borough president, Adams oversees Brooklyn’s community boards. The borough president technically appoints all 50 members to a community board, but half of those members are appointed with a recommendation from the local councilmembers.
“Community boards are political cesspools,” Reynoso said.
Community boards should reflect the demographics of the neighborhood, he said. And he believes that the membership shouldn’t depend on political patronage. “People should have qualifications. Take politics out of it,” he said.
Reynoso has shown a willingness to talk to Adams about it, however. When the interview with the Brooklyn Eagle ended, Reynoso left the Marriott to walk over to Borough Hall to do just that.
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