Community board chair enters growing race for Sunset Park council seat

Community Board 7 Chair Cèsar Zúńiga.
File photo by Steve Solomonson

Community Board 7 chair César Zúñiga announced his candidacy for the 38th Council District last week, adding his name to the increasingly crowded field to replace term-limited Councilman Carlos Menchaca in the district spanning Sunset Park and Red Hook. 

Zúñiga, an early childhood educator who ran for State Assembly in 2014 and has chaired Community Board 7 since 2018, says he hopes to bring the hyperlocal issues he’s worked on with the civic board to the campaign trail. 

“The job of particularly a City Council member is to be hyper-local, and that’s how I intend to run the campaign, on hyper-local issues, and that’s how I intend to be a legislator,” Zúñiga told Brooklyn Paper.

The lead-up to the 2021 election comes as Sunset Park grapples with compounding issues, including a housing crisis, the recently scrapped Industry City rezoning, and the health risks presented by its overcrowded housing stock. 

Zúñiga, who lead the board as it failed to reach a consensus on the contentious Industry City rezoning in January, says he thinks the best way forward for the waterfront is as a working industrial area with recreational uses along the shoreline, and thinks the city should revisit the community boards 197-a plan, which contains a comprehensive vision of how to revitalize the industrial corridor and preserve existing jobs.

“I’m optimistic about the waterfront,” he said. “We want a working industrial waterfront, period, end of story.”

Zúñiga says he also wants to shift the narrative away from Industry City being the only major player on the waterfront, and bring other entities like the Economic Development Corporation to the table with community members when discussing new projects.

“Anyone who is on that waterfront and has a major stake in it, we should be holding them accountable and be requiring them to come to the table with the community and talk about our joint vision for the kind of development we want to see there,” he said. 

The board chair says he hopes to improve general infrastructure in the neighborhood — namely traffic issues, which are dangerous along Third Avenue and which Zúñiga fears will only be worsened by a planned multi level distribution center planned for the waterfront.

“Something needs to be done about traffic in south Brooklyn, and in particular in Sunset Park,” he said. “We’re having all these conversations about last mile distribution, and unless I’m missing something, the goods that are going to come into these distribution centers are going to have to come somehow on our roads, and have to leave the distribution center on our roads.” 

Zúñiga is one of at least five candidates vying for the seat, including organizer Whitney Hu, community philanthropist Alexa Avilés, activist Rodrigo Camarena, and adult day-care operator Yu Lin.