The Democratic debate for Brooklyn’s 51st Assembly District, which includes Sunset Park, Red Hook and parts of Bay Ridge and Park Slope, was held on Saturday, June 20 as an online neighborhood-led event.
Current Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, who was first elected in 1994, was on hand, as were challengers Katherine Walsh, Genesis Aquino and Marcela Mitaynes.
It was the second debate the candidates had in a week. The first was hosted by UpRose. Sunset Park Podcast host Rob Aguilar, who was the moderator with Shanna Castillo.
The debate touched on current issues faces not just the local area but the country, such as the high unemployment rate and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We should be able to develop workforce development in our community by using our nonprofit organizations that we have in place such as Center for Family Life,” Ortiz said. “It’s important that they have resources in order to develop some technical programs for our high school students and community.”
Ortiz also recommended a helping hand for small businesses.
“Eliminating small businesses to pay their rent as well as their mortgages can be another way to lift their businesses and continue to function in our community,” he said. “Also, make sure they file all the paperwork from the state and federal government so they will be able to receive some funding.”
He also discussed the lessons learned from COVID-19.
“We were short changed because we didn’t have the real manufacturers in place to create ventilators and masks,” he said.
Walsh touched on the topic, saying that the proper legislation hasn’t been passed to help the community.
“There were many bills that were introduced, and the ones that were some of the most ambitious to do what needed to get done to protect families and their homes and to cancel rent and also think ahead and be aggressive to help small businesses and workers didn’t happen,” she said.
The topic of defunding the NYPD was also brought up as all four candidates agreed with the idea.
“The NYPD gets sufficient funds to do what they need to do and unfortunately the money is being used to police communities like this one in the 51st Assembly District and black and brown communities,” said Aquino. “So the money should be redistributed to make sure we are having enough services to make sure people have a safe home, our youth are not in the street.”
“The police violence and harassment is something that is not new to black and brown communities,” said Mitaynes. “We want to take the amount of money they are receiving and put it in other services, but also, we don’t need to keep buying these equipment they have to militarize them.
“We were peacefully [marching], but we were met with police with shields, pepper spray they were using, they were using bikes to push us back,” Mitaynes also said. “To understand they don’t need these monies, try to reinvest in the community, have counselors to help with conflicts in schools.”
Walsh said she decided to run for the seat because conditions in the district have worsened.
“The challenges that we are facing in our district have only gotten worse over the last 26 years when Felix Ortiz has been our legislator, talking about housing and transportation,” she said. “I wouldn’t run if I didn’t think I would be able to be an effective legislator.”
She added that she wanted to be able to “bridge between all levels of government that need to work together from the city, state and federal level that does not currently happen now with the current functioning of our state assemblymember and how he’s conducting his affairs.”
Ortiz responded that his experience and the neighborhood’s diversity continue to make him the right fit.
“Hispanics and minorities have been trying to fight to make sure that we can continue to have representation not just within the state level but the city and federal level as well,” he said.
He then discussed his track record.
“Why the people should send me back to Albany is because I’m not afraid to take on issues and step to the plate,” he said. “I have passed over 100 pieces of legislation with Republicans and new Democrats. I have managed to pass bills which have really saved lives.”
To watch the full debate, visit https://bit.ly/2NmFnxe.