The race to succeed Rosie Mendez in the City Council started out with a very crowded field of Democrats. A number of them fell by the wayside with ballot-petition challenges — or just dropped out if they felt they couldn’t win. But five still remain.
The district includes the East Village, the Union Square area, the public-housing complexes along the East River on the Lower East Side, Gramercy, Rosehill, Kips Bay and all the way up to the mid-E. 30s.
Of the five candidates left standing, two are well qualified to lead the district: Carlina Rivera and Mary Silver. But Rivera has the clear edge, in our view.
Rivera grew up on the Lower East Side, and has been active in community issues since she was a teenager. In fact, we remember seeing her when she was around that age standing in solidarity with local politicians and activists at rallies to save the old P.S. 64 (the former CHARAS / El Bohio) from being demolished or redeveloped into an illegal “bed for hire” university dormitory.
(The fate of that vacant school building, at E. Ninth St. and Avenue B — formerly home to the CHARAS / El Bohio community and cultural center — remains a thorny problem to solve for the next councilmember. Rivera, given her connections to the players on this issue, is best positioned to finally break the impasse and try to get the building returned to community use.)
Rivera also gained community experience working as an organizer at GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), a group that fights for East Village tenants’ rights.
She has been a Democratic district leader — the lowest level party office — so has on-the-ground experience as a political representative. She also served for a year as the legislative director for City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who currently represents District 2. After three terms in office, Mendez must step down at the end of this year due to term limits.
Rivera has also served on the East Village’s Community Board 3, which further familiarized her with the district’s pressing issues, its community activists and its constituencies.
She has the right positions on all the issues, from insisting on a rezoning for the area south of the proposed “tech hub” on E. 14th St. as a condition for that project’s approval, to supporting the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and advocating for the City Council finally to hold a vote on it.
Rivera’s wealth of political endorsements speak to the good working relationships she has already forged over the years with other elected officials, which would serve her well in office.
Basically, Rivera has all the right experience for this job. Again, she grew up in this community and has a tremendous passion for it. “I know every corner of this district,” she says, proudly. She has a strong, confident personality that would serve her well in the City Council in standing up for her community.
Mary Silver is also an impressive candidate. A grassroots education advocate with a law degree from N.Y.U., she raised three daughters in the district, where they all attended public school. Silver helped push for the creation of the River School, a new public school in the Murray Hill area. She formerly lived in the East Village for years and now lives in the northern part of the district, in the E. 30s.
Silver is smart, thinks well on her feet, and is personable and gracious. She has a good grasp of the district’s issues and has served on Community Board 6. As much as she is an education advocate, she also never fails to point out that the district’s seniors need services, too.
Silver also has good connections with local principals and teachers, who, in fact, urged her to run for office. However, her relationships with local politicians, community activists and other local stakeholders are not as deep as Rivera’s — Rivera’s experience in the larger community being broader.
The other three candidates in the race also all bring impressive backgrounds and skill sets to the table. Jasmin Sanchez is a lifelong Baruch Houses resident with an expertise in youth development. Jorge Vasquez, also a native Lower East Sider, is an attorney with a passion for uplifting the district’s underserved. Ronnie Cho worked in the Obama administration and has some good ideas. He speaks with conviction about getting big developers’ money out of politics and putting an end to “politics as usual.”
However, Cho has only lived in the East Village four years and lacks a network or track record in the community — seen by the fact that he had to fly around the country for much of his fundraising, and failed to qualify for matching funds under the city’s Campaign Finance program for lack of sufficient (75) in-district contributions. At a candidates debate sponsored by The Villager, Cho denied he ever wanted matching funds, saying the money could be better spent elsewhere. Let’s be real, though: Honestly, who would turn down matching funds if he or she could get them? Cho was put on the spot on that issue, but could not talk himself out of it.
Sanchez, too, said she didn’t want public matching funds — but, in her case, she didn’t raise enough money to qualify for the program.
Rivera is the best candidate to succeed Mendez. With her experience and skills, if elected, she would hit the ground running and represent her district ably. She knows her district, has the background and the expertise, and, over all, has what it takes to do the job, and do it well.
The Villager endorses Carlina Rivera for City Council District 2 on Tues., Sept. 12.