Espinal endorses local district leader for his former council seat

Darma Diaz is running for Rafael Espinal’s former council seat.
Photo by Jonathan Ortiz

Former Bushwick Councilman Rafael Espinal endorsed area District Leader Darma Diaz in an upcoming special election to replace him. 

The former legislator confirmed his support for Diaz — which Bklyner first reported — saying her long experience in the district makes her the right candidate for the job.

“I’ve known her for many years, she’s been an underground advocate who’s taken on the establishment throughout my career,” Espinal said. “And she can connect with the constituents because she’s been living in the district.”

Despite Espinal’s allusions to Diaz’s anti-establishment credentials, however, the candidate quickly garnered support from Brooklyn Democratic Party leadership, with the new head of the party, Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D–Flatbush), backing her just two days after Espinal’s resignation, City and State reported.

Diaz is running for Espinal’s seat for the special election on April 28 — the same day as the state’s presidential primary — for the 37th Council District seat, representing parts of Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Brownsville, Ocean Hill, and East New York.

Born in Williamsburg and a resident of Cypress Hills, Diaz is the director of housing services for the Queens nonprofit Overcoming Love Ministries and currently serves as the female district leader for the 54th Assembly District, which almost completely overlaps with the 37th Council District.

Assemblymember Erik Dilan (D–Bushwick) is the male district leader for that area.

Her campaign focuses on issues like housing, education, healthcare, and jobs, according to her website. 

She got involved in local housing issues during the 2016 rezoning of East New York and she said that the city should revive the recently-tossed Bushwick rezoning and better involve and educate local stakeholders about the plans. 

“Bushwick’s failed rezoning plan should be brought back to the table, with stakeholders present from day one,” Diaz said. 

She also advocates for tax credits to help small businesses along the corridors of Broadway, Fulton Street, Atlantic Avenue, and in City Line, and for dealing with overcrowded schools in Cypress Hills. 

Espinal, who was term-limited by December 2021, stepped down suddenly on Jan. 26 to take up the position of executive director at the non-profit Freelancers Union.

Diaz faces a handful of candidates, including upstart Bushwick community activist Sandy Nurse, who is running to take on big developers in the district and has vowed not to take donations from real estate corporations and limited liability companies. 

Diaz said she was open to all kinds of contributions as long as donors are interested in what’s right for the community. 

“I am always concerned when people say they won’t accept donations from real estate companies and LLCs,” she said. “I’ve worked with responsible developers, ones that sit with local stakeholders, work with local nonprofits who often have the pulse of their neighborhood, work with minority and woman owned construction businesses, as well as exterminators, plumbers, electricians, and more. I will work with anyone that wants to do right by my community.”

Nurse has collected several prominent endorsements of her own, 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.

Other candidates vying for the seat include Misba Abdin, Christopher Durosinmi, and Kimberly Council.