¡Si se puede!
It was a festive atmosphere on election night at Sunset Park’s Tacos Matamoros, 4508 Fifth Avenue, on Tuesday, September 12 as Carlos Menchaca, the incumbent in the 38th City Council District, won a crowded Democratic primary race that included both seasoned politicians and up-and-coming competition.
Within 30 minutes after the polls closed, it became clear that Menchaca, who currently serves Sunset Park and Red Hook, would win the primary. According to unofficial election night counts, the incumbent bested Assemblymember Felix Ortiz with 4,102 votes (48.6 percent) to Ortiz’s 2,777 votes (32.9 percent).
Chris Miao received 763 votes (nine percent), Sara Gonzalez 507 (six percent) and Delvis Valdes 285 (3.4 percent)
“Tonight is a very special night. It’s a night we all will all remember as one thing, which is unity,” said Menchaca. “We could not have done this without the help of the incredible coalition in this room. You made this happen.”
After thanking his supporters and volunteers, Menchaca focused on the present and future of the district and political climate. “These last two weeks have been really difficult,”he said. “The president has continued to attack us. DACA was a cruel decision. Hurricanes continue to pummel the lands that some of us that have families in. Today, I am happy but I’m also feeling affirmed. We started this movement not four months ago, but four years ago.”
Supporters were very enthusiastic. “I was incredibly proud to vote for Carlos today,” said Jenn Wittlin. “I’ve never experienced a local elected official be so involved in the community and I feel proud to know him and know he supports all of the community. When I voted today, I was disappointed there weren’t more people there. It makes me aware of voter apathy so it inspires me to get more people to vote. The campaign has been totally inspiring.”
After his victory speech, Menchaca spoke to reporters about the message that his win sent. “I feel like the community came out today and said yes to the things that we are doing,” he said. “We are bringing a united community to do the work that matters to our families like clean streets, safer streets. We want to make sure that our schools have the right kind of education for our kids. We are building more schools and we are building more resources. That’s what everyone said today and we also sent a strong message to anyone that gets in our way that we are ready to unite and say no, and say yes to the future of this neighborhood.”
Valdes showed up to congratulate Menchaca.
“I want the best for Sunset Park,” he said. “The people of Sunset Park and Red Hook have spoken. I wish him the best. I thank everyone who supported me. It takes a lot to run a campaign. You put yourself out there and everyone gets to analyze everything about you, and you try to do it for the betterment of the community. That’s where I came from. I wanted to help it out.”
Former Assemblymember Javier Nieves, who dropped out of the race late, was also in attendance to congratulate Menchaca. “Differences were put aside and I think he was the right choice,” he said. “His best accomplishment so far is he is a tempered person. He didn’t go out there mudslinging. He kept his cool. I think that’s a sign of trying to bring healing in the community and shows leadership.”
As polls closed at 9 p.m., it was a somber scene at Ortiz’s headquarters just a few blocks away. “I feel we did a good job,” he told this paper shortly before the race was called. “We played our cards clean. We spoke the truth and I think that like in any campaign when they run scared, they try to come negative with no facts.”
He also stated how proud he was of both his supporters and staff. “I’m very happy for the people that came to help and as they found out that we took this seriously, our support grew inside the community,” he said. “A lot of people you see are from here and not from outside. It shows the support I have here. I feel good about that because they recognize the work I’ve done and how I’ve done it.”
When asked for his reaction, Ortiz took a dig at Menchaca. “I don’t believe I would regret anything,” he stated. “I think I listened to the people of my community who asked me to do it — proof that the incumbent not only is incompetent, but lacks leadership.”
As for his future, Ortiz said, “I wake up tomorrow and get back to work. I’m not going anywhere.”
Menchaca is slated to face Carmen Hulbert of the Green Party in November for the general election.
Additional reporting contributed by Shreya Vaidyanathan