Progressive activist Wilfredo Florentino looks to topple East New York political dynasty

Wilfredo Florentino
Wilfredo Florentino.
Florentino 2021

Community advocate Wilfredo Florentino has launched a progressive campaign to represent East New York and Brownsville in the City Council — pitting him against the area’s dynastic Barron family in a contentious race for the 42nd District.

Florentino, a grant manager at the NAACP who founded the first community theatre in East New York, said he’s spent the last several months on his community’s streets, which has allowed him to build a grassroots policy platform based on the needs of his neighbors.   

“Our platform was birthed from those conversations,” he said. “From the needs of everyday people.”

While the district’s current representative, Councilmember Inez Barron, is barred by term limits from seeking reelection, her husband Charles Barron is also in the running for the seat — which he had held from 2001 until 2013. 

While Charles had been in the Council, Inez served in the state assembly, before they swapped, leaving Inez in the Council and Charles in the assembly. Now, the Barrons are looking to trade back, with Charles eyeing a return to the city’s legislature. 

Florentino, however, has other plans. 

Lamenting that East New York and Brownsville have become the epicenter of multiple crises — including COVID-19, gun violence, deteriorating public housing, and porous economic prospects — the would-be politico hopes to secure a legislative perch to address the inequity, and to empower the community in the important discussions about the future of the neighborhood. 

“Community is always a secondary, tertiary, an afterthought as it relates to planning,” he said.  “Sometimes we aren’t even considered.”

Another priority of Florentino’s is reallocating funds from the police department and distributing them to community-based programs — a proposal he admits has run into messaging problems in some communities with higher crime rates. 

“Unfortunately ‘defunding’ has become a negative word in some communities of color,” he said. 

Florentino, an 11-year member of Community Board 5 and a military veteran, said he thinks the “defunding the police” conversation has come with an emphasis on the fact that any funds repurposed from the police department would go towards social programs. 

“In saying ‘defund,’ you can’t say defund without the refund, which means reinvest,” he said. “It’s not defunding for the sake of defunding, but defunding to ensure that our community has resources.” 

The 42nd District overlaps with the long-troubled 75th Police Precinct, the precinct with the most civilian complaints in the city and the most shootings in 2020.

“That is regrettable, that is unfortunate, that is unacceptable,” Florentino said. 

The candidate said he would pursue more community-based approaches to safety if elected and has called for an elected Civilian Complaint Review Board. 

“There are ways in which our community can be empowered to work to ensure safety,” he said. 

In facing off against the vaunted Barron clan, Florentino says he plans to keep the campaign centered around policies that would have a tangible impact on the lives of his would-be constituents, which he hopes will build enough support to propel him to victory. 

“Our campaign is focused on ensuring that the issues are at the forefront of any discussion,” he said. “Folks want change, folks want to see progressive policies that impact them on a daily basis, issued around housing, issues around employment, issues around education, issues around safety. That’s what this campaign is going to be about — it’s going to be about the issues and it’s not going to be about anything other than the issues.”