In Public Service: Davila cites grit as key to success

Assembly member says she never gives up

December 23, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“My feistiness has carried me through,” Assemblymember Maritza Davila says. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas
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Drug dealers know not to mess with Maritza Davila.

As a single mother raising her three children in a Bushwick apartment house several years ago, Davila mobilized her fellow tenants, and together they chased drug dealers out of the building.

“I knew my kids deserved to be safer and I was willing to fight for it,” she boldly told the Brooklyn Eagle.

All of the tenants would come out of their apartments at the same time and stand guard in the hallway in an attempt to intimidate the drug dealers who were hanging out there. “It was like a citizen’s patrol,” Davila recalled. “We got the drug dealers out. We did not back off.”

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It wasn’t easy. “It took a lot of smarts, street smarts, to get it done,” Davila said.

Davila, a Democrat, is now a member of the New York State Assembly, representing the 53rd Assembly District (AD). The district covers Bushwick, the community where Davila grew up and the neighborhood she still holds close to her heart.

The 53rd AD also includes parts of Williamsburg. In recent years, there has been an influx of restaurants and “nice places to eat” in her district, Davila said.

Davila is a relative newcomer to Albany. She has served in the Assembly since 2013, when she won a special election to replace disgraced assemblymember Vito Lopez, who resigned when he was dogged by sexual harassment allegations. Davila was elected to finish out the remainder of Lopez’s term in office. The following year, 2014, she ran for re-election and won easily. She had no opponent. “No one challenged me,” she said.

While she is a newcomer, Davila is already making her mark in the state Capitol.

She was tapped by the Assembly’s Democratic leadership to serve as chairman of the Subcommittee on Retention of Homeownership and Stabilization of Affordable Housing. She believes rent regulations needed to be made stronger.

She is also a member of other important committees, including Housing, Correction, Economic Development, Social Services, Children and Families, and Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.

In addition, Davila belongs to the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus and the Legislative Women’s Caucus.

One big issue in her district is the tenant-landlord situation. “They are de-regulating apartments at a rapid rate. They are pricing people out,” she said. She is working to try to preserve the neighborhood’s housing stock.

Another problem in the district is homelessness, she said. Homeless people congregate in local parks like Maria Hernandez Park on Knickerbocker Avenue.

Davila prides herself on being in close touch with her constituents. She regularly visits senior citizen centers and visits the homebound elderly. For Thanksgiving, she handed out 385 free turkeys.

She introduced a yoga program at P.S. 196. She said she is always fighting to bring additional resources to schools in her district.

Davila favors mayoral control of the New York City public school system, but said parents have to be given a bigger role to play in the process. “We are missing the parental piece,” she told the Eagle.

Looking back at her past, Davila said her life took a turn when she moved into an apartment building in Bushwick with her three children several years ago, although she did not realize at the time that it was a turning point. Davila eagerly moved into the building. Prior that that, she had been in a shelter, she said.

“I was a single mother, raising three children in a dilapidated building,” she said. She lived on the fourth floor and would see “activity at night that was not family oriented,” she recalled.

She also discovered that she couldn’t get in touch with her landlord. “The landlord did not come to pick up the rent, so I couldn’t tell him about what was going on in the hallway. That December, I had no heat and no hot water,” she said. She had an infant at home.

Frustrated, she went to a Bushwick community center for help. The center’s staff advised her to organize the tenants in her building and stage a rent strike.

Davila decided to knock on doors in the building to get people on board with the idea of a rent strike. “Every door I knocked on had a single mother raising children. Just like me,” she said.

“They were afraid to fight,” she recalled. Undaunted, Davila organized tenant meetings in her apartment.

The tactic worked. “Within two weeks, we had heat and hot water,” she said.

“In numbers, there is power,” Davila said. From that point on, the tenants took matters into their own hands. They maintained the light fixtures in the hallway and kept the building clean.

The tenants also painted the building to make it a more pleasant environment. “We had Christmas parties in the hallway,” Davila recalled.

And they chased away the drug dealers.

“If you want your community cleaned up, you have to do it yourself,” she told the Eagle.

Her community work came to the attention of Lopez, who was the assemblymember at the time. He hired Davila to work at the Ridgewood-Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a nonprofit that he founded.

Davila helped residents form credit unions, block associations and tenant associations. She also helped domestic violence victims.

She sat on the boards of local hospitals and community organizations. “It all came from the heart. It’s the people who matter,” she said.

She also pushed to get affordable housing units built in the community.

Davila is a former member of Community School Board 14. “I ran for the school board because I realized that if you don’t like something, you can change it,” she told the Eagle.

She ran for a City Council seat in 2008. She ran in the Democratic Primary against incumbent Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-Bushwick). “I lost, but it was a close race,” Davila said. Reyna is now the deputy borough president of Brooklyn.

After the primary, Davila felt like she was at a crossroads in her life. She decided to go back to school. She attended Long Island University.

In 2013, when Lopez resigned from the Assembly, he asked Davila to run for his seat. She agreed. “I looked at it this way: Someone had given me a break. I had to give something back to the community,” she said.

Davila said she didn’t worry that she would be viewed as a Lopez protégé. “I know who I am. My feistiness has carried me through,” she said. “I don’t give up and I don’t look back.”


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