First forum for 38th Council District held at Asian-American Democratic Club
The race is on!
The first forum for the 38th Council District was hosted by the New York City Asian-American Democratic Club at the Dyker Heights Adult Day Care Center, 6602 11th Avenue, on Thursday, August 10, and featured five candidates battling for the Democratic nomination to represent Red Hook and Sunset Park: incumbent Carlos Menchaca, Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, attorney Chris Miao, former Councilmember Sara Gonzalez, and businessman Delvis Valdes, who showed up at the very end of the debate, citing a miscommunication about the schedule.
The fairly civil debate covered a great deal of ground as the debate’s moderator asked about topics concerning Sunset and Red Hook residents.
Education continues to be a hot button issue in the district and each hopeful had an opinion regarding the issue of overcrowded schools.
“Over 20 percent of all the schools being built in New York City are coming to Sunset Park,” claimed Menchaca. “That’s five new schools. Parents have been driving this conversation for the last 20 years. What changed? The leadership changed in this community.”
He also discussed eminent domain. “We are sending a strong message to people who are holding property right now. We lost a site before because we didn’t have the courage as a community to say we’ll take your property and make a school because that is the crisis across the entire district,” he said.
“We need to work together with the SCA, the community board and parents,” Ortiz said. “Parents are the key because they know what children really need. We have managed to work with the School Construction Authority (SCA) and the rest of Sunset Park. It has to be about inclusion.”
Gonzalez mentioned the challenges. “Relationships are very important. To keep those relationships and reach out to them, whether it’s a senator or governor, that’s what it takes,” she said. “SCA has always been wonderful to this district but we need to make everyone accountable. That’s how we get what we need for this district.”
“We need to talk to local groups and parents because they’re the most important and know what schedule is most feasible for their children,” added Miao. “In certain schools, there are staggered schedules to alleviate overcrowding. The only problem is if a parent has to pick up their child, it may not be feasible for them to work full time at the same time.”
Homeless shelters have also been a major concern among Sunset residents over the past year and each candidate had a strong opinion on the matter.
“We really need to build affordable housing,” said Ortiz. “We shouldn’t continue to put homeless people in hotels, transitioning and trying to move them nowhere. I think that’s inhumane.”
Menchaca also chimed in.“These conversions have happened because the city has the ability to do them without asking the communities,” he said. “We need more opportunities to have a conversation and in Sunset Park we are doing that. These hotels that were transformed were warehouses, essentially, without any services. The City Council pushed the mayor. Now there’s a contract to make sure they are full of services.”
“The one thing we can’t do is say ‘not in my backyard’ because we have homeless people in every part of the city,” Gonzalez said. “You have to be able to pull the dollars so they’re not facilities that hurt people. There are a lot of women and children that are homeless.”
“I think the answer to the homeless issue is not to create additional homeless shelters because what that creates is a safe haven for the homeless population either to expand or remove it to our district,” said Miao. “The best thing to do is increase our funding to programs to assist the homeless and provide them with therapy or job training programs. We also need to set up a program donating clothes to these homeless shelters so they have the proper attire to go to interviews.”
Gentrification and locals being priced out has also been a fear of residents.
“We in Albany have been passing legislation to keep developers accountable,” Ortiz said, noting he had sponsored legislation that had stalled that would have required developers to build 40 percent affordable and low-income housing in new developments. “That would be the answer to solve some of the problems that we’re facing. If I’m in the City Council, I will work very closely with the mayor to ensure we can send some these messages to the state legislature.”
“(Ortiz) is right,” Menchaca elaborated. “The state holds so many keys to unlocking opportunity for affordable housing.” However, he said, “The corruption and lack of leadership in Albany has failed us and will continue to fail us until we bring reform at a higher level.”
He then cited the affordable housing being built on top of the new Sunset library branch as an example of progress being made under his leadership. “This is a new model that’s bringing 100 percent affordable housing forever,” he said. “That’s the kind of ingenuity we need. We need 100 percent affordable. Not 10, not 40. One hundred percent.”
“We have to embrace people that come to build, but when we do that, we have to educate the developers,” said Gonzalez. “We also have to provide them with the tools to understand the bureaucracy in the city. We need housing but we need folks that want to develop to get orientation and to be able to navigate the system.”
“The main thing is not to bring in commercial developments in terms of residential condos that are being sold at an increasingly high price that most people can’t afford and drive local residents out,” Miao said.
Valdes, who arrived towards the end of the debate, explained his tardiness. “My office was not notified about this debate so that’s why we weren’t here on time,” he said.
He then responded to a question by an attendee regarding small businesses. “I believe that I have the most knowledge about small business,” he said. “I grew up in small business much like the Asian community we have here in Sunset Park. My father has been a grocery owner all his life and I grew up in the supermarket business. I know what it’s like to be taxed and regulated to death and that’s what needs to be changed. It’s a free market world. The negotiation goes on between the tenant and the landlord, and I don’t believe that the government has a place in that relationship. I’m for strengthening small businesses and lowering regulation on small businesses. It’s the backbone of not only Sunset Park but America.”
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