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2021 Elections: Who’s running for Council in the 38th District

Six of eight candidates running to represent Sunset Park and Red Hook in the City Council told Brooklyn Paper about their experience, policy positions, and goals.
Courtesy of campaigns

Eight candidates are vying for the Council seat representing Sunset Park, Red Hook, and northern Bay Ridge — and with the district’s contentious land use controversies and incoming development, the race will be one to watch.

Term-limited Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who is now running for mayor, has held the seat since 2013. Affordable housing, displacement, and waterfront development remain key issues in the working-class district. The new elected will also face a slate of premier waterfront industries, such as new manufacturing hubs and a wind turbine assembly plant.

Six of the race’s eight candidates returned Brooklyn Paper’s questionnaire. Candidate Yu Lin did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and no contact information or campaign website could be found for Ronald Ferdinand. Jump to the candidates who responded by clicking on their names — Alexa Avilés, Rodgrio Camarena, Erik Frankel, Jacqui Painter, Victor Swinton, and César Zúñiga — or by scrolling below.

Alexa Avilés 

Alexa Avilés.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Alexa Aviles: I’m running because New York City needs elected officials who will finally prioritize people over profits. All my life, I’ve watched as this city becomes a place that only works for the rich: luxury condos rise as public hospitals get shut down, financiers reap unbelievable profits while the government cuts school budgets, and the city becomes a little bit less livable every day for the working class. I want my daughters to inherit a New York where everyone has what they need to survive and thrive; and where decisions are made by working-class communities, not corporations. 

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in.

AA: I’ve lived in the diverse, vibrant community of Sunset Park for nearly 20 years, and my daughters were born and raised here, just like their dad.  I’ve worked hard my entire career in the non-profit sector to get funding to community-based organizations that improve conditions for working-class people, and in my off-hours I’ve worked just as hard as an education organizer and member of the Parent-Teacher Association. I  have always been proud to serve my community at a local level as a member of the local Community Board 7, Parent Representative of the M.S. 88 School Leadership Team, and Chair of the New York City Youth Board.

BP: What’s your political experience?

AA: My experience as a parent is what led me to politics. In almost a decade as president of the Parent-Teacher Association of my daughters’ school, I grew the PTA’s budget ten times over, started an after school program; ensured students had adequate arts, dance, and music equipment; ensured communications were translated; provided interpretation for families at all school functions and particularly with children with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs); and implemented culturally responsive community and educational activities.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

AA: Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is the number one challenge at the moment, but it has only exacerbated problems like overcrowded and underfunded schools, housing insecurity, stagnant wages and few job opportunities, and our fundamentally flawed approach to public safety. We need to radically change how we approach the city budget: instead of cutting essential services people rely on, we must defund the NYPD and invest in the services that keep us safe.

BP: What endorsements do you have?

AA: My campaign puts working people first, and as such, I’m proud to be endorsed by seven unions and labor organizations: The New York City Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO CLC), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), District Council 37, 32BJ SEIU, CWA District 1, NYS Nurses Association (NYSNA), the Labor Strong Coalition, and the Hotel Trades Council. I’m also endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party, New York Communities For Change, the New York Immigration Coalition Action Fund, among other organizations and elected officials listed here

Rodrigo Camarena

Rodrigo Camarena.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Rodrigo Camarena: I’m running to build a New York for all of us. For decades, our elected officials have let private interests dictate decisions around land use, education, healthcare, and criminal justice, at the expense of communities of color and working families. With rent, unemployment, and the pandemic putting an enormous strain on New Yorkers, we need elected representatives with the courage to implement radical solutions that benefit the many and not the few.

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in.

RC: I’m a lifelong immigrant advocate, new parent, and community organizer. I’m currently the Director of the Immigration Advocates Network, the largest network of nonprofit legal advocates committed to defending immigrants, and am the former Executive Director and Board Chairperson of the Mixteca Organization — an immigrant rights organization based in Sunset Park. I also developed new initiatives to tackle economic inequality as Executive Director at the New York City Department of Small Business Services. I’ve been working and organizing in Sunset Park for the last 15 years.

BP: What’s your political experience?

RC: This is my first time running for political office but I’ve worked on a number of electoral and issue-based campaigns over the years, including campaigns for refugee and immigrant rights, environmental and indigenous justice, and workers’ rights.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

RC: I want to address chronic housing insecurity in my district by building permanently affordable housing, investing in supportive housing, fully funding NYCHA, and overhauling our land-use rules. I want to build a fairer economy by passing commercial rent-stabilization, investing funding for worker-owned, M/WBE, and our local green industries, and strengthening benefits and protections for workers. Lastly, I want to invest in the educators, healthcare workers, social service organizations and community groups that support vulnerable New Yorkers and create real security in our neighborhoods.

BP: What endorsements do you have?

Our campaign has been endorsed by community and faith leaders including former D38 Candidate Carmen Valdivieso Hulbert, Rev, Juan Carlos Ruiz, and others. We have also been endorsed by the Jewish Vote, Brooklyn Progressive Alliance, and other progressive groups.

Erik Frankel

Erik Frankel and his son.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Erik Frankel: I feel that it’s necessary to run for City Council because I can no longer sit back and watch self-serving politicians and community activists overrule the interests of the community for their own personal gains. Brooklyn can thrive if we have public servants who are dedicated to the success of the entire community, not just taking care of their own interests and the well-connected. As a fourth generation family business owner in Sunset Park, my heart and soul are here.

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in.

EF: My roots in this community run deep: My family immigrated to Sunset Park in the 1880s. Frankel’s Shoe Store is a fourth generation family business which is a pillar of the local community, and I hope my son will carry on the tradition. I have either lived in or spent a lot of time in many of the countries people in my community immigrated from. I am sensitive to the needs and challenges facing both old-timers and newcomers. 

BP: What’s your political experience?

EF: I hope to bring the experience from running a family-owned business, working in Brooklyn as well as abroad with international Governments and non-government organizations (NGos) in Vietnam, Myanmar, and China. I have created, implemented and participated in work vocational programs within the US as well as abroad. 

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

EF: Firstly, home ownership and the cost of housing. We need to build affordable housing, and push to allow residents in government housing the option of homeownership. Secondly, education. We desperately need an education that provides people with the tools to be competitive in the job market, especially support for trade schools and skills training. Lastly, pollution: The industrial section of Sunset Park needs to be rezoned to reflect the needs of the community. The BQE is more than just an eyesore, it is an environmental and sociological disaster that needs to be removed and/or placed underground. 

BP: What endorsements do you have?

EF: I have not sought and do not have the goal of seeking endorsements from narrow special interests. I seek only the endorsement of the voters, the people who have never been given a voice: construction workers, restaurant workers, small business owners, renters and homeowners, the people of my community who have been shortchanged of proper representation.

Jacqui Painter 

Jacqui Painter.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Jacqui Painter: I’ve seen our home be neglected and disinvested in for too long, and we are a strong waterfront community whose voice deserves to be heard. Right now we’re facing an unprecedented crisis that’s going to need someone who can listen to the needs of the people, lift up our essential workers, and fight for an equitable city for all working class New Yorkers. As a District 38 native, lifelong activist, community organizer, and founder of Red Hook Relief I’m running to put our communities first.

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in.

JP: Over the past several years, I have developed close relationships with community leaders and stakeholders as we worked together to improve the conditions of the neighborhood, especially in matters of climate, healthcare, and housing justice. My years of work at the NYCHA Red Hook Senior Center while directing a medicare and medicaid organizing project allowed me to understand and respond to the pandemic, prompting me to start Red Hook Relief, the mutual aid organization for the neighborhood. Growing up in Red Hook I have seen firsthand the impacts of climate change, greed, speculation, and neglect on my community.

BP: What’s your political experience?

JP: After serving as Student Government President in my time in college, I knew that I needed to do everything in my power for this county to not be run by a racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic fascist — so I joined the Hillary campaign as an organizer. For the past four years I have continued to serve my community as an organizer, manager, and director with a political consulting firm working to expand access to healthcare. I also fill up my free time with several political clubs like New Kings Democrats, Rep Your Block, Black Lives Matter Greater New York, DSA EcoSocialists, Kings County Committee member, Vice President of Communications at Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, and a NYC Parks Super Steward.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

JP: The climate crisis is one of the biggest threats to humanity on the whole, and the most vulnerable communities — like ours — are going to impacted both the soonest and most severely. We need substantial resilience measures and an investment in a Green New Deal to ensure our waterfront community is protected. I am committed to fight to fully fund NYCHA and start fixing unacceptable living conditions in the Red Hook Houses, and create 100% affordable housing for all. I will fight to ban ICE and NYPD cooperation, end collaboration with DHS by sealing NYC courts, and increase funding for Immigrant legal services and language access.

BP: What endorsements do you have?

JP: Our campaign is proud to have been endorsed by Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, and several community local leaders and NYCHA advocates.

Victor Swinton 

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Victor Swinton: I will lead the fight for the important changes to benefit the residents of District 38, such as affordable housing, reliable and respectable immigration policies, affordable health care, public safety and education.

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in.

VS: I’ve worked for the NYPD for the past 37 years. I am a proud resident in Sunset Park for the past 51 years.

BP: What’s your political experience?

VS: I never held political office. I am a member of Community Board 7 in Sunset Park, and the treasurer for the Lieutenants Benevolent Association Union.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

VS: There are a few pressing issues in the district, but my focus will be public safety, affordable housing, education to name a few. I would fight to bring the resources needed to this district to address these concerns. I would empower the community in participating more in the  decision making that affects this district.

BP: What endorsements do you have?

VS: I have received endorsements from the Lieutenants Benevolent Association and Detectives Endowment Association.

César Zúñiga

César Zúñiga.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

César Zúñiga: I’m running for City Council to bring bold, thoughtful, and community-led leadership to our district. Through my own upbringing, I’ve witnessed the struggles facing working class and immigrant communities, and have seen the power of having leaders who care deeply, listen to communities, and prioritize deep local engagement. I’ve dedicated my life to public service, and I’m committed to working as a partner with our community to build the future I’d like to see for my sons and all children and families in our district. 

BP: Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in.

CZ: I am the son of immigrants from Mexico, a dad of two who loves to cook, and a mountain biker who loves photography as one of my main hobbies. I am a lifelong educator and education advocate, starting my career as a teacher and working now to build programs that bridge the opportunity gap for children and families in the most underserved communities, domestically and internationally. My family and I reside in Sunset Park and have lived here since 2009.

BP: What’s your political experience?

CZ: In 1998, I was elected education commissioner for the Passaic Board of Education in New Jersey. I have been a member of Brooklyn Community Board 7 since 2009, served as 1st vice chair and elected chair in 2018. I am also an elected Kings County Democratic County Committee member with the Brooklyn Democratic County Committee. 

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

CZ: Affordable Housing, Education, Health Care and Economic Opportunity are our biggest challenges. I will use the insights I’ve gained at the community board over the years to develop specific solutions and pragmatic pathways to implementation. Specific solutions to the district’s pressing challenges will be informed by my personal experiences growing up in an immigrant, working-class family and by my professional insights working to improve the lives of children, families and communities.  In addition to fighting for my district, I will fight for structural (i.e. ULURP & Charter revisions) changes that will benefit all New Yorkers, particularly the working families of our city.   

BP: What endorsements do you have?

CZ: As of this submission, I’ve received the endorsements of Citizen Action NY, NYC Kids PAC, and District Leader Julio Pena III. I’m confident that as we continue to meet with and talk with community leaders and stakeholders, we’ll build out a strong grassroots coalition of supporters and endorsements.

Note: Some responses have been edited for brevity, clarity, and style consistency.

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