2021 Elections: Who’s running for City Council in the 34th District

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Terrell Finner and Jennifer Gutierrez.
Courtesy of the campaigns

The 34th Council District covers the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Bushwick, and crosses the Queens border into Ridgewood. Incumbent Councilmember Antonio Reynoso was elected to represent the district in 2013 and is now running for Brooklyn Borough President

The bi-borough district has undergone significant change during the past seven years, with many newcomers moving to the neighborhoods, bringing with them changing demographics, increased development, and rising housing prices. Bushwick was one of the de Blasio administration’s neighborhoods targeted for a rezoning, but City Hall dropped the plans after negotiations stalled with Reynoso and then-Councilmember Rafael Espinal, both of whom pushed for the community-led alternative known as the Bushwick Community Plan. 

According to the latest Campaign Finance Board filings, three people are registered to run for the seat, including one of Reynoso’s current staffers. Listed Candidate Sean Esrafily told Brooklyn Paper he is no longer running for the seat.

Here’s a rundown of each of the two remaining candidates:

Terrell Finner

City Council candidate Terrell Finner.Deshondre Sims

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Terrell Finner: The strength and solidarity I saw across New York City in 2020 is why I’m running. Like many, I had moments of hopelessness. My trust in government diminished. I watched concerns of people go ignored and felt we couldn’t rely on current leadership. Since the seat is term-limited I assumed someone from the incumbent’s camp would guard the establishment, and they did. But after six years of the same leadership, I’ll be the change we seek.

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

TF: I’m a young progressive and nonprofit administrator. I enjoy reading the news, listening to old and new music, and on talking on the phone with family I’m not able to safely see in person.

I’m an advocate for equity because I know what it’s like to be an outsider. Growing up poor, I learned overcoming challenges early. I’m an openly gay Black man, a first-generation college graduate, and somebody who knows what it feels like to lose a sibling to gun violence.

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

TF: Barriers accessing social services, an unfair economy, and diminishing support for the arts. Expanding access to housing, education, and health care is a necessity. Economic recovery must protect essential workers who put their lives on the line.

NYC’s arts scene is world-renowned and aids in our financial, social, physical, and intellectual well-being. My district is heavily populated by artists. As an arts administrator, I will fight for their needs until stages, studios, galleries, and venues reopen.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

TF: I will reject the divide between citizens and government; expand city government’s capacity for feedback and critique from residents, understanding that it comes from a desire to have a better life; and commit to advocating for every one of us.

BP: Tell us a bit about your political experience.

TF: I’m a first-time candidate for public office but my experiences speak volumes. In 2015, I graduated from Penn State with a BS in Health Policy and Administration. My degree shaped my understanding of how vital government intervention is regarding violence, poverty, and health disparities. Now, as the general manager of a nonprofit, I have ground-level understanding of community need and the process of delivering social services.

I’m equipped with skills in organizing, fundraising, budget management, and operations, but my greatest qualification is my warm heart for people.

BP: Any official endorsements?

TF: I have the endorsement of over 150 donors and look forward to receiving institutional endorsements soon!

Jennifer Gutierrez

City Council candidate Jennifer Gutierrez.Ramon Pebenito

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Jennifer Gutierrez: I made the decision to run with my community. I feel a deep responsibility to our families. Because of my history of coalition building and organizing they pushed me to take the leap, knowing that we would need an aggressive but experienced leader to respond post-COVID. Women are literally saving our communities and I think it’s crucial to empower women of color IN our communities, as well as at City Hall.

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

JG: I’m a NYC native and live in Bushwick with my family. I am the daughter of Colombian immigrants, a public school kid, and the first in my family to graduate from college. My mother was a domestic worker, cleaning apartments for over 25 years and my father was a baker before becoming disabled.

I have served the 34th district as an organizer and as a Chief of Staff for Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, managing our legislative and budgetary priorities at City Hall and managing our constituent and community efforts in the district. Throughout that time I have worked to keep tenants in their homes, advocated for a culturally responsive curriculum and opposed co-locations of our schools, rallied for safe streets, repairs to NYCHA, and demanded waste equity and budget justice.

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

JG: The district needs immediate support for renters and relief for commercial tenants. We need to expand Right to Counsel. We need more support to local food pantries and for mutual aid groups. We also need to focus on the thousands of undocumented families in our district — many of whom are essential workers — that face challenges in accessing city resources.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

JG: If elected, I would expand on Participatory Budgeting to include expense funding as a means to make government more accessible. I would host personal office hours outside of constituent services and welcome more community-based processes to inform council decisions. Lastly, as a woman and feminist, I will be approaching policies, budget decisions, and gender equity from a feminist lens.

BP: Tell us a bit about your political experience.

JG: I have proudly volunteered for campaigns for candidates I believe in, primarily in north Brooklyn. I know that a successful campaign in our community needs to be grassroots and needs to be about people power.

BP: Any official endorsements?

JG: Working Families Party, the Road to Justice Coalition, the New York Immigrant Coalition Action, New York Communities for Change, CUFFH Action, New Kings Democrats, Run for Something, and 21 in 21. Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, State Sen. Julia Salazar, State Sen. Jessica Ramos, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz and District Leader Kristina Naplatarski.

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