Meet the candidates running to represent the 38th Council District

Democratic Socialist Alexa Avilés will face off against Democrat-turned-Republican and Conservative candidate Erik Frankel in the Nov. 2 general election.
Courtesy of campaigns

After a crowded Democratic primary, City Council’s District 38 will see a Democratic Socialist square off against a past competitor now running on the opposite party line.

Alexa Avilés, the lifelong Brooklynite, mom and organizer who handily won the Democratic primary to represent Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights and parts of Windsor Terrace, Dyker Heights and Borough Park, will face off against father and fourth-generation business owner Erik Frankel in the Nov. 2 general election.

Frankel, who registered to run in this year’s primary election for the seat but did not qualify to appear on the ballot, changed lanes to run on both the Libertarian and Conservative party lines against Avilés, citing a more right-leaning agenda than his DSA-backed opponent.

In her campaign to succeed term-limited Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, Avilés vowed to help empower the district’s largely immigrant community, many members of which fear displacement from incoming development. The neighborhood is also home to Brooklyn’s Chinatown, a sprawling community filled with commerce and dining, that is expected to see a big change with the planned one-way conversions of Seventh and Eighth avenues. 

While the candidates have many of the same stances on these issues, they have starkly contrasting approaches on how they would deal with them. 

Brooklyn Paper caught up with both candidates to talk about their backgrounds and their priorities should they be elected. The candidates’s answers are listed alphabetically by their last name.

Alexa Avilés

Alexa Avilés.Alexa Avilés 2021

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Alexa Avilés: 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 MS 88 School Leadership Team, and Chair of the New York City Youth Board.

BP: What’s your political experience?

AA: My experience in the non-profit community and as a parent is what led me to politics. I have been supporting social justice movements for my entire career and as almost a decade as president of the Parent-Teacher Association of my daughters’ school, I grew the PTA’s budget ten times over, we organized the parents, 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. We brought in and connected families to services that they needed. 

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 cut funding for ineffective strategies like using police to address mental illness and invest in the services that keep us safe.

BP: What endorsements do you have?

AA: My campaign puts working people first, and 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. Since the primary, I’ve also been endorsed by Mason Tenders District Council PAC and Resilience PAC. 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, United Arab Women, among many other organizations and elected officials listed here.

BP: Do you support the planned conversion of Seventh and Eighth avenues in Sunset Park?

AA: Community Board 7 actually requested that the city Department of Transportation study a one-way conversion of Seventh and Eighth Avenues first in 2005, then again in 2015. I support the one-way conversion of both avenues and implementing safety changes, but the specific proposal DOT has laid out has become emotionally charged and controversial in the neighborhood, in part because residents and other stakeholders feel they weren’t heard when it comes down to the specifics of how the redesign will look. For starters, at the recent public hearings on the project, DOT and the mayoral administration did not send any Chinese-speaking staff to present their plan for two traffic corridors running through the heart of Brooklyn’s Chinatown.

I think it matters that residents should have a voice in saying what they want out of the redesign, because we’re going to be the ones using these streets the most. The plan was delayed by a lawsuit, and with just a few weeks left in this administration, we’re not expecting DOT to move forward, possibly for months. That’s why I believe it was right for me to raise my reservations about this plan and the public input process thus far, so we can use this time to organize and ask people what they want for Eighth Avenue. I am committed to using my office’s staff and resources to support public participation and popular education to shape the plans that affect our lives. And believe me, I do expect DOT to follow-up on the feedback given by community members on this plan, and I plan to ask the next mayor to devote more resources to ensuring DOT conducts community outreach in effective, culturally-responsive and language-accessible ways.

BP: How would you better position your district against climate change?

AA: I am committed to ensuring our communities’ voices and experiences are centered in policymaking for climate justice and resilience. Last year’s announcement that Norwegian energy company Equinor will be contracting with the state to develop the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal into a wind turbine assembly plant is a major opportunity for our district. This could bring about 1200 medium-term jobs to the district with the potential for more in the short-term and long-term. As exciting as this prospect is, I’m prepared to hold Equinor and public authorities involved in the deal accountable so we’re able to ensure these promises actually benefit District 38 residents and support local supply chains here in Brooklyn. Full implementation of Local Law 97, the nation’s toughest bill mandating energy efficiency in buildings, is another major opportunity to create good-paying jobs in construction and retrofitting (and again, supporting suppliers in areas like our industrial waterfront), but we will need to push back against the real estate industry’s attempts to water down the bill. I also support legislation to ban new and renovating buildings from installing gas hookups and other fossil fuel infrastructure in our buildings. 

BP: Did you support the Industry City rezoning? How would a new development in your district get your support/ what types of new developments do you think there should be in your district?

AA: I was proud to stand against the Industry City rezoning last year. I voted against it at the Community Board and organized with other members to reject their proposal. Our community is full of people who work in retail, manufacturing and the light industry, and so many of my neighbors walk or take public transit to work on retail corridors, like Fifth Avenue. Industry City’s plan, to build a bigger, taller playground for the rich, with an even more massive shopping center and hotel complex, never made any sense. For me, the litmus test of whether I can even consider supporting a project is whether it will displace our neighbors, either by building new market-rate apartments at prices that raise the cost of living in our neighborhood, or by displacing the industrial jobs that still exist along our waterfront. That said, I firmly believe we need a new, comprehensive approach to city planning and that we must free our city planning and housing agencies from real estate influence if we want to guide development in a positive direction. Comprehensive planning also means we must closely examine the impact of development on the surrounding infrastructure and ensure we are integrating climate resiliency into our plans. We must take every opportunity to support green, clean industrial and manufacturing jobs that will help our community and city move towards a healthier future. 

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, homeownership 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: Do you support the planned conversion of Seventh and Eighth avenues in Sunset Park? 

EF: We have seen too much legislation that discriminates against the Asian community, removing the gifted and talented programs, stopping standardized testing, and now the conversion of Seventh and Eighth Ave. The voices of the Asian community have been ignored too long, as well as the voices of the small business owners. The community does not support the conversion, so we should keep it the way it is. The businesses are dependent on people who drive. The people in our community use cars to get to work & run errands. We need more parking, not less. 

BP: How would you better position your district against climate change? 

EF: Rezone the industrial section of Sunset Park from industrial to residential. Stop building Last mile fulfilment centers in our District. We are building 6 last mile fulfillment centers in Red Hook, in addition to the 2 that are in Sunset Park. We should stop building sewing factories on the waterfront in Sunset Park using tax Dollars (Made in NY campus). Dismantle the SBIDC and use the money to increase homeownership. We can also take down the BQE and build a tunnel, the BQE is one of the greatest environmental disasters in Sunset Park. We can do a better job teaching our children about recycling and compost. I suggest everyone watch “Planet of the Humans” by Michael Moore. We can not windmill our way out of our situation, it is the way we consume.

BP: Did you support the Industry City rezoning? 

EF: We ended up giving the 75 acres to one of the wealthy international Oil and Gas companies in the World Equinor (formerly known as Statoil), who wanted the land to assemble wind turbines.  People were led to believe they were fighting against Industry City and gentrification, the truth is the voice of our community had been hijacked by activists who get their funding from wealthy foundations and the politicians.  This was a classic example of what happens when the ultra rich speak for the poor, using our community activists.    The rents are too high for working class people, most people are 1 paycheck away from being homeless.  We need to increase homeownership and stop the displacement of the hard working people in our community. 

BP: How would a new development in your district get your support/what types of new developments do you think there should be in your district? 

EF: Without homeownership, equity is just a word used by people. We need to build more coops and condos for people in our community. Rent to own and owner occupied. Homeownership stops homelessness. Affordable housing is not affordable. The people in our community are in need of homeownership, small businesses require real support and we need to build schools that help students compete in the global workplace. 

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. My opponent works for billionaires, I will work for the community

New York City’s general election, where voters will make their choices for city council, mayor, public advocate, and more, is Nov. 2. Early voting begins Oct. 23. Find out more about where and how to cast your vote here, and enter your address to view a sample ballot here.

Correction (12 pm): A previous version of this story listed Frankel as running on the Republican and Conservative party lines. He is running on the Libertarian and Conservative party lines. Brooklyn Paper regrets the error.