Community Board 7 Chairperson César Zúñiga said Tuesday he’s running for the District 38 City Council seat in next year’s election.
The district is currently represented by Democrat Carlos Menchaca, who is term-limited. It includes Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights and parts of Borough Park, Dyker Heights and Windsor Terrace.
Zúñiga, an early childhood educator who has been the chair of CB7 since 2018, told this paper why he decided to join what is expected to be a crowded and competitive race.
“The biggest motivator for me is the recognition that we’re at the time when we need strong and decisive leadership,” he said, “and I feel like I have demonstrated through my tenure as chair of Community Board 7 that I have a leadership style that can bring people together.”
Zúñiga’s said one of his biggest challenges has been the controversial Industry City rezoning plan.
“All along the process, folks were eager for me to use my role and my limited power to advance one side or the other, and I resisted that very much,” he said. “My motivation was always to create a space for us to have a conversation, particularly because of how consequential this rezoning and some of the other issues are. It’s all about getting people engaged and participating in the process.”
Zúñiga put affordable housing, economic development and job creation at the top of the list of issues facing Sunset Park and surrounding areas. He also said he will focus on early education as a way to address inequities in schools.
“I have seen first-hand through my professional work how starting early with children and families can really make a difference in terms of the later outcome,” he said. “[Mayor] De Blasio made a big deal about it, but what I want to remind people of is we have just begun to scratch the surface with it.”
He also spoke about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the community.
“None of these issues can be talked about without talking about the COVID context and what it’s highlighted for us, what it’s created in terms of the economic conditions we are now facing,” he said. “The budget the city passed is horrendous and needs to be called out for its lack of equity and justice for the people that need it the most.”
Zúñiga joins fellow Democrats Alexa Aviles, Rodrigo Camarena and Whitney Hu in the race for the council seat.
“I’m under no illusion that I’m somehow the next logical councilmember,” he said. “I will be very humble in how I run this campaign. I will work tirelessly to earn the votes I anticipate getting.”
As for his role as chairperson, Zúñiga said there are no rules that bar him from serving while running for office.
“I’m going to take it one day at a time,” he said. “I might make a decision on the chairmanship as the campaign gets more demanding. For now, I’m still the chair and we will see how the campaign unfolds.”