Sunset Park and Red Hook residents greeted their new councilmember, Carlos Menchaca, at a symbolic inauguration ceremony at Sunset Park High School on Sunday, January 12. Chants of “Si Se Puede!”—“Yes, we can!”—punctuated the air after Menchaca, 33, promised to uphold the U.S. Constitution and represent his Brooklyn communities as New York City’s first Mexican-American councilmember and first openly gay elected official from Brooklyn.
“It doesn’t matter where we come from. You’ve proved that,” Menchaca told the packed auditorium. “We’ve opened the door to our government [and] all of you deserve a seat at the table. . . Come to our meetings. Make sure we get this right.”
The idea that his victory is a shared victory with residents of the 38th Council District and New Yorkers in general was a common theme throughout the ceremony, which saw dozens of Menchaca’s new colleagues in city, state and national government echo the sentiment in their congratulatory remarks.
Among those present were new Public Advocate Letitia James; U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer; State Senator Velmanette Montgomery; City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Councilmembers Vincent Gentile, Brad Lander, David Greenfield, Stephen Levin, Antonio Reynoso, Mark Treyger and Jumaane Williams; and Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Joan Millman.
“Carlos’ election signals a new direction in New York City history. Carlos made history like I did 22 years ago and is part of an incoming class of young, energetic, progressive individuals,” said Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, who was the first Puerto Rican woman to be elected to Congress and who Menchaca credited with giving him the self-confidence to “jump in[to the election] with both feet.”
Velázquez touted what she said is Menchaca’s understanding of “real affordable housing needs,” his support for “fair development” and access to healthcare and education, and opposition to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender, among other issues.
Marty Markowitz, former Brooklyn Borough President and Menchaca’s former boss, also praised the young councilmember’s leadership skills. “During [Superstorm] Sandy, you showed leadership and did it with humility, not for applause,” Markowitz said. “Remember: for those you help, they may remember, but for those you don’t help, they never forget.”
A Red Hook resident, Menchaca stayed on the ground helping with relief efforts in the weeks and months following Sandy.
He was sworn into office by Judge Analisa Torres, with his mother, sister, niece and partner by his side.
“I’m just so proud of my brother, coming from a family of seven, our mom raising us on her own, now up there fulfilling his dream,” said Christina Dominguez, who flew up from North Carolina to join her mother, Magdalena, who took a train from Texas to support Menchaca.
“From president of middle school council to high school to college, he’s always been a take-charge person and kind of had to take the role of father, so that leadership was already instilled in him not only in school but in family as well,” Dominguez added.
Cesar Zuniga, board member at Sunset Park’s Community Board 7, said he is “blown away” to have Menchaca as “a voice for our community, not just the Mexican American community, but all of Sunset Park.”
Menchaca is “proud” to be that voice, as well.
“I am so proud to be here. This day could not have happened if this community did not come together for a new generation of leaders,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do and we’re going to do it together.”