Just weeks after Speaker Corey Johnson bowed out of the 2021 race for mayor, one of his colleagues, Sunset Park Councilman Carlos Menchaca, floated the possibility that he would step into the contest.
Mid-afternoon on Oct. 9, Ben Max, the executive editor of the online watchdog publication Gotham Gazette tweeted his discovery that Menchaca — who has represented Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights, and portions of Borough Park since January 2014 — had opened an account with the city Campaign Finance Board for a mayoral run.
Menchaca did not respond to a query from Brooklyn Paper’s sister publication Gay City News seeking further comment but later in the afternoon tweeted, “Amigos: These past months I’ve been thinking a lot about our City and how we could do better, we must do better. Nothing is official… will share news soon. #brighterdays”
Menchaca recently garnered widespread attention after developers of Sunset Park’s Industry City withdrew their controversial rezoning proposal following his opposition to the project.
Industry City’s owners sought to rezone their 35-acre industrial complex to pave the way for a a $1 billion, 12-year redevelopment of the campus that would have added big box retail, academic space, and other uses.
Andrew Kimball, the chief executive of Industry City, said the redevelopment would have created thousands jobs, but local activists argued it would lead to the gentrification of Sunset Park’s working class, largely immigrant community without offering well-paying jobs.
In July, Menchaca vowed to vote down the project after tentatively disapproving of it for months. As the local Councilmember, Menchaca held outsize power over the project’s passage in the City Council, which traditionally defers to the local member on land use votes, but Menchaca’s disapproval drew ire from some of his colleagues, including Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres and Brooklyn Councilman Robert Cornegy, who said the redevelopment would create needed jobs.
Torres’ position was quickly undercut, however, when numerous local elected officials — including Congress representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke, Nydia Velázquez, and Jerry Nadler jumped into the fight on Menchaca’s side.
The following day, Industry City withdrew its land use application from the Council.
An outspoken champion of the Latinx and Asian-American constituents he represents, Menchaca has been a searing critic of President Donald Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts, and last year took on Mayor Bill de Blasio after the mayor said the city to be willing to work with ICE agents to track down undocumented residents accused of certain criminal offenses.
Menchaca also clashed with several colleagues this summer over the city’s budget. He was among 17 Councilmembers who voted against the budget Johnson had negotiated on the Council’s behalf with de Blasio.
Menchaca and Finance chair Daniel Dromm got into a heated Twitter dispute over claims that the budget cut roughly $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion budget in response to racial justice protests. Menchaca, along with many other critics of the budget, noted that a significant portion of that $1 billon was merely shifted to other city agencies for the same police purposes.
Though Menchaca rose up in politics as an insider — working as an aid for former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and later for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn — he has become independent figure in his eight years on the Council, at times alienating other Brooklyn representatives. Former Councilmember David Greenfield, a social conservative who represented an adjacent district with a large Orthodox Jewish community, was a particular nemesis.
In 2017, Menchaca withstood a primary campaign by Assemblymember Félix Ortiz and the county’s Democratic Party to unseat him after one term. (Ortiz, who was first elected in 1994 and is the Assembly’s assistant speaker, was defeated for reelection in this June’s Democratic primary.) Nydia Velázquez, the district’s representative in the US House of Representatives has been a consistent ally of Menchaca’s.
Menchaca, who is 40, was the first out gay legislator elected in Brooklyn and the Council’s first Mexican-American member, having grown up in public housing in El Paso, Texas, one of seven children raised by a single mother.
In a 2013 interview, Menchaca credited his mother’s influence in encouraging his interest in learning, but he also noted the government social safety net that was vital to the family’s well-being. When he decided to challenge Sara González, an 11-year incumbent, he cited the city government’s failures during the Superstorm Sandy crisis the year before as the motivating factor.
“Government was nowhere to be seen,” Menchaca said at the time, as he promised to be a candidate and legislator who would be “visible and active.”
One undeniable skill Menchaca brings to his political career is his skill as a community organizer, which helped him turn out record numbers of primary voters, both in 2013 and 2017. As the Trump administration’s ICE crackdown on undocumented immigrants stepped up in recent years, Menchaca worked to facilitate dialogue between undocumented transgender women in his district and the Lambda Independent Democrats, the borough’s LGBTQ political club that has traditionally drawn most of its membership from heavily white, more affluent neighborhoods.
If he jumps into the mayoral race, Menchaca would join former de Blasio aide Maya Wiley, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Loree Sutton, a retired US Army brigadier general and psychiatrist who served as the first commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services.
This article first appeared on GayCityNews.com.