The storm-slammed Red Hook Houses could become the key battleground of Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez’s re-election campaign.
Gonzalez (D–Sunset Park) primary challenger Carlos Menchaca accuses the 10-year incumbent of being missing in action in the months following Sandy’s assault on Brooklyn’s largest public housing complex — a charge Gonzalez denies, and she says she has the photos to disprove it.
Menchaca hopes to pull the district that includes Sunset Park, Greenwood Heights, Red Hook, and parts of Bay Ridge, Park Slope, and Borough Park from under Gonzalez by campaigning on his relief work in the massive housing projects that stretch from Clifton to Richards streets, where last fall over 6,000 residents were left without heat, hot water, and elevator service — and, according to Menchaca, without the aid of their councilmember.
“After Sandy, people kept asking, ‘where’s government, where’s our leaders?’” claimed Menchaca, a former aide to Borough President Markowitz and City Council employee. “That council office had a lot of potential to help people, and my opponent just wasn’t there.”
Menchaca — who grew up in public housing in El Paso, Tex., and moved with his partner to Red Hook from Park Slope last month — said he helped spearhead the recovery effort by working to identify what kind of assistance storm victims needed and coordinating teams of relief workers to provide it.
“The work that the volunteers brought in really were the heart and soul of that response,” said Menchaca. “The greatest need came from the New York City Housing Authority population, and it’s a part of the community that feels they’ve been a historic blind spot.”
But Gonzalez contends that she was on the ground with residents in Red Hook both before and after the storm — and provided this paper with several of pictures to back up her claims. Gonzalez provided images she said were from an event in Red Hook from early 2012 where she and representatives from the Office of Emergency Management warned about the dangers of a potential flood, along with photos of her talking to Red Hook residents with a Department of Sanitation Chief, assisting National Guardsmen with emergency supplies, and giving a freezing public housing tenant a space heater and blankets. The Councilwoman even said that when she and her staff ran out of gas during the post-storm fuel shortage, they caught rides with the police to reach the shattered neighborhood.
“We were there from beginning to end, my whole team,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also touted her work as Chair of the Juvenile Justice Committee, her role as a budget negotiator for Brooklyn, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in capital funding she has brought to the district as reasons voters will re-elect her this fall, thus making her the most senior member of the City Council.
“I have done an incredible job, and I have touched a lot of lives, and people are going to vote for me,” Gonzalez said.
But Lillie Marshall, president of the tenants association in one wing of the Red Hook public housing complex, said she was more familiar with Menchaca’s post-Sandy work than Gonzalez’s.
“Carlos, I was always aware of what he was doing. Sara, I didn’t see her more than a couple times. She may have been here more, but I didn’t see her,” Marshall said.
And longtime Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf said the projects could prove an Achilles’ Heel for Gonzalez in the district she grew up in — especially since the primary will coincide with the Democratic nomination for the next hizzoner.
“If Carlos Menchaca can excite the residents of the New York City housing developments against Sara Gonzalez, then she has a problem, because they will be turning out to vote for mayor,” said Sheinkopf.