Bushwick community activist joins race for Espinal’s seat

sandy nurse
Sandy Nurse is running for Councilman Rafael Espinal’s vacated seat.
Photo by Kyle Depew

Less than a week after Bushwick Councilman Rafael Espinal resigned, an insurgent progressive has emerged as a contender to fill the vacated legislative post. 

“I am someone who comes out of movements for social justice and I have been working in the community to give young people good jobs,” said 35-year-old Sandy Nurse.

Nurse, the co-founder of the local community venue Mayday Space, had been running for the 54 Assembly district to unseat incumbent lawmaker Erik Dilan (D–Bushwick) — until she changed course and declared her candidacy for the 37th Council district in the wake of Espinal’s sudden announcement. 

Since her announcement, Nurse has racked up a number of progressive endorsements, including State Sen. Julia Salazar (D–Bushwick), Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D–Williamsburg), Councilmen Antonio Reynoso (D–Bushwick) and Carlos Menchaca (D–Sunset Park), along with social justice groups Make the Road Action and New York Communities for Change.

Nurse has lived in Bushwick since 2009 and brings with her a record of community activism —  including founding the bike-powered food waste hauling and composting service BK ROT in 2013, which is staffed mostly by young people of color.

The upstart candidate swore off campaign contributions from real estate corporations and limited liability companies, and said she would take on big developers in the district — which covers Cypress Hills, Bushwick, Brownsville, Ocean Hill and East New York.

She supported the plan put forward by locals known as the Bushwick Community Plan as an alternative to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed rezoning for Bushwick, before City Hall killed the plans because they didn’t accept the community scheme.

“Rezoning is one tool in the toolkit, there are many more,” she said. “I think we can go deeper and there’s plenty of money in the city we can get from the ultra rich.”

Her run challenges the establishment Democratic Party in Brooklyn — which threw its weight behind Darma Diaz, the party’s female district leader for the 54th Assembly district, and a close ally of Erik Dilan, reports City and State.

The candidates will face off in a non-partisan special election on April 28, which aligns with New York’s presidential primary — after which the winner will serve out the remainder of Espinal’s term until the end of the year, and a primary and general election for the following term are expected to follow this year.

The process mirrors the ascendancy of Councilwoman Farah Louis (D–Flatbush), who won a special election for the 45th Council last year after Jumaane Williams was elected to the citywide public advocate role. 

Espinal quit public office on Jan. 26 to head up the non-profit Freelancers Union, abandoning his post in the council.