What was supposed to be a debate between the two District 38 Democratic City Council candidates really was a conversation with Carlos Menchaca, since incumbent Councilmember Sara Gonzalez pulled out just hours before.
The event, organized by UPROSE, Transportation Alternatives and Trinity Lutheran Church, aimed to show residents of Sunset Park and Red Hook the platforms of the two candidates.
“It’s important for the community to have people to compare, ask questions and make informed decisions. These forums are happening all over the city to give people an opportunity to see,” explained Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE.
“People get flyers, but people rarely meet the candidates,” she added, noting that the event was mainly organized by the neighborhood’s young adults. “It’s important to get people involved in the democratic process at a young age.”
Reverend Samuel Cruz, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, said that he wasn’t sure if Gonzalez was unable to be at the debate or if she did not want to be there.
“It saddens me because a lot of young people are involved,” he contended.
But Michael Tobman, a spokesperson for Gonzalez’s campaign told this paper, “Despite the councilwoman working very well with some of the event sponsors, it became very clear that this had turned into a rally for her opponent rather than an honest exchange of ideas and she simply was not going to participate in that,” he said.
“Sara’s opponent has routinely misstated and misunderstood his own purported accomplishments and qualifications, and that has reached new heights lately,” Tobman went on.” She was not interested in validating [them] in any way.”
UPROSE member Javier Battista was the night’s emcee and David Sosa, Rosa Martinez and Brian Gonzalez, also UPROSE members and native Sunset Parkers, were the moderators.
Menchaca answered questions from the moderators, as well as from the audience.
He said that he learned to speak English at a Head Start program, growing up in public housing with a single mom and seven siblings.
“We need a fearless leader in the City Council because we have had 12 years of people doing nothing for this community,” Menchaca contended.
Menchaca said he would address quality-of-life issues in Sunset Park, including a truck route plan that works “for the entire community;” possibly installing security cameras along Eighth Avenue; more Sanitation pickups along shopping strips; additional ferry pickups at 36th Street and Pioneer Street; and better access to the waterfront for pedestrians and cyclists.
He also said that he would try to make the relationship better between the community and the 72nd Precinct.
“The 72 is not doing its job and we have to make sure that community affairs officers are part of our conversation to make better relations with the precinct,” Menchaca contended, adding that he does support the Community Safety Act.
“We need to re-fund [the NYPD] at appropriate levels so we have officers walking on the street. Now, they put them in cars and they drive around,” he explained. “We don’t know who they are and they don’t know who we are. The racial profiling has to end. We have to make sure that the 72nd Precinct is our partner on this issue.”
Menchaca also said that Sunset Park and Red Hook have to be better prepared for climate change, noting that he decided to run for office while coordinating efforts after Sandy in Red Hook.
“There are lots of ideas that we are still trying to grapple with. We need to keep the conversation going or communities like [this] will continue to get the brunt of climate change,” he said. “We need to support the organizations doing immediate disaster response.”
Menchaca also supports preserving the area’s affordable housing.
“One of the top issues we are facing today is that we need to make sure that we keep affordability,” he said. “We have to make sure they bring in a percentage of units at low rates. We have people living in slums and need a tougher councilmember to fight and I will do that.”
One audience member asked about the CitiBike headquarters on Third Avenue, noting that bikes are serviced in Sunset Park, but its residents are not able to enjoy the program.
“A place like Red Hook with little transit access should have a CitiBike,” Menchaca said. “This is what happens when decisions by the mayor completely forget about us.”
Menchaca said that he is planning to be a hands-on councilmember.
“A City Council office is supposed to be a place where you can feel welcome and get a response,” Menchaca said. “We are building a coalition larger than anything else we have seen today.”
Primary Day is Tuesday, September 10.