Carlina Rivera (photo: John McCarten/City Council)
Max Politics Podcast: Carlina Rivera Runs for Congress in the New NY-10
Recorded June 1, 2022
Listen to the audio here, or at Max Politics wherever you get podcasts.
Democratic primary day: August 23, 2022
District: Lower Manhattan & parts of Brooklyn (see map here)
Ben Max: [Longer intro…] So we have Carlina Rivera with us today. Welcome.
Carlina Rivera: Thank you so much for having me. What a great kind of rundown of what’s been happening in New York City politics.
Ben Max: Thanks. You know, it is hard to keep it concise. I didn’t there, but I tried to keep it as narrow as possible. You are in the City Council now. You’ve been on the show in the past. You represent the 2nd City Council district, including the East Village, Lower East Side, and other parts of Manhattan. You chair the criminal justice committee in the City Council. Last term, you chaired the committee on hospitals, lots of work there that we’ll get to, but you’re here in a new and different capacity, and you’re making an announcement.
Carlina Rivera: Yes, I am running for Congress in NY-10, which is a fantastic district that includes neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including where I was born and raised in the Lower East Side. And I’m here to let people know, I am very, very excited about this. I am someone who really believes deeply in public service. I truly care about doing this work. I think I have a record of results, and I am someone who wants to make New York a city everyone can see themselves in. I get the job done. This is my home, and the community is behind me. So I’m really excited to move forward and to, as you mentioned, engage in what’s going to be a very hot and busy summer. And I’m excited to do that with all of my neighbors, my friends, my family from Brooklyn to Manhattan, people that I know that I have a local perspective that NY-10 I think really wants from their representative, and I want to be the member of Congress that does both — that really understands how universal issues affect people across the country, but that has a very, very nuanced and local understanding as to how to get things done. And of course, how to build coalitions to make sure that we have a really, really balanced approach to how we’re taking care of families.
Ben Max: So many of these congressional districts are very big, obviously, and I ran through a little bit of what this new NY-10 looks like with some big chunks of downtown Manhattan. Some of those have some similarities. There’s of course different neighborhoods, different demographics. You already have that even in a City Council district, which is smaller. And then we get into Brooklyn, and there’s various and diverse communities in Brooklyn. When you’re looking at this new congressional district and you’re seeking voters’ approval in the Democratic primary coming up in August now, and you want to represent this congressional district. How do you describe this district? What are some of the ways you’re thinking about the people and the neighborhoods and the communities that you’re seeking to represent here?
Carlina Rivera: This was a very highly engaged district. These are people and families that take voting very, very seriously. I also think that they look at their congressional members, their representatives, as very local positions. They want someone who is going to understand what’s going on like in their streets and on their block. And understanding that housing, jobs, reproductive rights, acting on climate change, public safety, these are some of the top issues that we discuss every single day in the council, but of course, when I’m at community meetings, when I’m checking in with folks. So I think there is just an understanding that right now, the future of New York is up for grabs.
I think I’m the candidate to lead us there. I’m a homegrown candidate of fierce commitment to my community to fighting, to bring resources into our neighborhoods, especially for those who are struggling, and that I’ve stood up to powerful interests in the past. This is a place where I have a lot of memories too. I have memories of going to the matinees on Sundays at Cobble Hill Theater where my mom and family came from Puerto Rico, they landed in Brooklyn. Going to Fulton Street, shopping at A&S, it’s now a Macy’s, visiting my family and friends, and Sunset Park, and of course all of the memories I have playing basketball on the west side, visiting small businesses and restaurants in Chinatown. My entire life has taken place in these amazing neighborhoods, and now to have this rare opportunity to be able to be their representative in Washington is something that I’m really excited about. I think New York is at a crossroads, and I’m running for Congress to turn my love for New York into a vision for the city that everyone can see themselves in. I think even before the pandemic, people were wondering, they felt very, very transient in their jobs and in their homes. Is there going to be a future for me here in New York City? I have those lived experiences living paycheck to paycheck, having student debt, looking for a job, filing for unemployment during economic crisis and instability, and I’ll be a tireless advocate for New Yorkers. I’ll drive new and creative solutions as the city rebounds from the pandemic and rebuilds for the future. And I understand the city’s most pressing problems, but also our limitless potential.
There is so much talent here in New York City. There is really a time right now to, of course, deliver a just recovery, but to also think about, alright, how can we take some of these solutions and some of the things and the accomplishments that I’ve had on the local level, and it can certainly translate to solutions for communities and people across the country. Some of my housing work and really changing the whole conversation around building affordable housing by bringing deeply affordable mixed-income housing to two of the highest opportunity neighborhoods in the country at no cost to taxpayers. I think a lot of the work that I’ve done around healthcare and specifically reproductive rights, leading the change to create the first municipal program in the country to directly fund abortion care. And in terms of public safety, which I know is at the top of the agenda for many folks, increasing investments in some of these strategies to law enforcement that include community-level programs and violence interrupters. I’ve visited the stand up to violence program at Jacobi Hospital where they’re treating gun violence as a public health issue. So these are programs that are working that I’ve really been advocating for and want to take some of those skills and of course, my lived experience and my absolute love for the city, and I love to do that as the Congressmember for NY-10.
Ben Max: There’s a little bit of an interesting dynamic developing in this race. Yourself, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, Mondaire Jones, who as I said in the introduction is a member of Congress now but from quite far away now coming into run in this district, that there’s sort of this younger generation of elected officials here. And then there’s the former mayor, maybe the former Congressmember Elizabeth Holtzman. But regardless of your competition in this race per se, how much are you thinking about, even more broadly, for the Democratic Party for the federal government sort of needing a new generation of leadership? And what does that mean in concrete terms in terms of like policies that you’d fight for? People sometimes will run on the idea of sort of generational change, but their policies are not really that different from the older generation that’s currently in office, they just want to sort of take out an incumbent. You’re not running it against the incumbent here, but how do you think about sort of the need, if you think there is one, of sort of generational change within the Democratic Party, within the federal government? And if that’s something you’re thinking about, how does it manifest on the policy level?
Carlina Rivera: I think a lot about how some of my policy work has been able to take on some of our biggest issues. One thing that’s really important that’s finally at the forefront of the national conversation is climate change. I fought for and passed the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, which is a $1.45 billion plan to protect the east side from future disasters and storm surges, and that was such an emotional, intense time after the hurricane, and our community really came together to figure out ‘OK, how can we best protect ourselves?’ And I think issues like this influence national and even international policy, and I think these are some of the issues that we’re really trying to figure out how can we work on a local level. I mean that even in the federal way. Even as a congress member, you have a local responsibility to your folks.
Many of us are going to say, of course, we want to codify Roe. In New York City, I led the change to create the first municipal program in the country for abortion access. That is something that should be replicated across cities, and certainly will have to, especially in these kinds of times when reproductive rights are under attack. When I think about our vision as a city, revitalizing our city is my top priority in our pandemic recovery and beyond. I think for what I bring that’s really unique to the role is that I’m the only candidate with a strong existing constituency in the district, and I have, I think, the clearest path to building a district-wide coalition. The support for my run from a very diverse NY-10 and the city leaders is a clear sign that we have momentum and I think that they’re excited that I’m someone who is just very energized by the possibility of our city and of our communities.
There are great candidates running all over the state and all over this country, and we certainly have a lot in common in terms of our national agenda on gun control, on codifying Roe, on getting big money out of politics and enabling someone with very, very humble beginnings like myself to run. What I come to is the issues New Yorkers face continue to grow and my record proves that I’m well equipped to help deliver solutions as a member of Congress, just like I have as a member of the City Council, but that New Yorkers are certainly very hungry for leadership and vision that’s as bold as it is pragmatic in taking on those fights. And so, I think I’ve used my platform, kind of my own identity, to try to talk about these issues that are really affecting us in a very, very deep way. I think what is exciting and what I think people have really kind of responded to when I’m talking to them about my run is that I just have a love for my city and I’m deeply grateful for all the support that I’ve already seen. To run for Council and now for Congress and what an honor it would be. I’m a homegrown candidate, I’m from the neighborhood. I think people want to see someone who does have bold ideas, but who also has a very nuanced understanding of the local issues.
Ben Max: Let’s come back to local issues in a second. In terms of going big, going bold on the national level. If you’re elected to Congress, if Democrats keep control of the House, obviously, those are our significant ifs that will play out over the course of this election. You’re one of hundreds in the majority. If that happens, in the minority, it’s even harder to get your priorities done. But let’s say you are a member of the House in the Democratic majority. What are the one or two things at the top of the list where you would want to go big and bold with Democratic leadership, let’s just say in the House, in the Senate, in the presidency, where those issues where you would really want to use your voice, whatever it can it can help a crew in terms of political momentum to really have the country go big and go bold?
Carlina Rivera: I don’t want to name a whole bunch because I’m sure you have other questions for me and we have limited time. I mentioned the reproductive rights movement, the fight for abortion access. I think what we’ve been able to do in New York City with the first municipal abortion access fund, and it’s since been replicated in other cities like Austin. We’re learning from Austin too, right, they went ahead and they included something like transportation expenses. I think these are things that we can sort of influence in a national way that will hopefully lead to ultimately codifying Roe. I think that is such an important issue, and yes, it reverberates. It has consequences for other issues, I think that include just civil rights in general and treating people as full people, as real citizens.
Cities are not structures, cities are the people that lead them have to center our humanity first and foremost, so I think reproductive rights is certainly a big issue and that just is healthcare in general. As you mentioned, I was chair of the committee on hospitals, and the work that we did in terms of addressing some of the systemic inequities that a lot of us knew was already there, and how the money flows into our hospital systems in a very disproportionate way, and the largest municipal healthcare system in the country is Health + Hospitals. And so who they serve and how they’re supported by the federal government is incredibly important. Health care and reproductive rights are very important. I mentioned climate change. I think some of the work that I’ve done not just on something like the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, but in the Council, we passed the Climate Mobilization Act. A lot of people call that the Dirty Buildings Bill, which was to address the emissions from our very inefficient buildings here in New York City. I think it also goes to how we’re prioritizing mass transit, green infrastructure, so really first prioritizing our cyclists and our pedestrians and investing in mass transit. I know where those transit dollars should go here in New York City, whether we’re extending the Second Avenue subway, looking at how to make sure that Brooklyn, Queens, some of our other boroughs have the same sort of concentration and focus in terms of infrastructure money, and making sure that we’re designing cities for people. I introduced and passed Open Streets. That’s been a national model in terms of how we reclaim our open space and redesign it.
And then ultimately, housing, I can’t tell you how, I guess encouraged that I am that housing is really finally kind of going to the top of the national agenda of how people are suffering in terms of access to housing and overall affordability. Whether it’s making sure that our communities are actually contributing affordable housing to the overall stock, especially in cities that are in crisis like New York City, but that’s being felt across the country. So how do we amp up mass production? How do we ensure that people with vouchers aren’t being discriminated against? We really have to talk about treating public housing as part of our general infrastructure, so the way that we mentioned hospitals and transit or like the MTA, that’s how we should talk about public housing. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of families, people that are living in public housing here and across the country, and their apartments are in disrepair and they’re living in such terrible conditions. It’s just not the New York way, and we have to care for these families and I think that that is certainly one of the best examples of affordable housing, and we have to go further. And we have to make sure that we’re preserving, and of course, really stepping up the supply and that production.
Ben Max: Other than a massive amount of federal funding for NYCHA repairs, which obviously plenty of people are advocating for and is something that there’s obviously a big chorus pushing for, but hasn’t happened. But other than that, is there one lever on NYCHA that you really want to see pulled or pulled further than it has been pulled? Is there something related to public housing that you would really try to move ahead on, or maybe there’s something that’s already moving ahead, but you want to accelerate beyond just a huge big old allocation towards NYCHA.
Carlina Rivera: This is I think the question that a lot of us struggle with, because yes, we can all agree we need a giant influx of cash. I mean, New York City alone needs $40 billion, and I thought what an opportunity there would have been to fund it as we were discussing kind of the American Rescue Plan and hopefully Build Back Better and those infrastructure bills that can bring this large influx of cash. I hope that people can admit to actually walking public housing. I have walked all of the developments in the Lower East Side, in Brooklyn, in Red Hook. I feel like until people actually see and understand what these families are going through, they have to do everything in their power, in their capacity to make sure that these families are supported to make their own decisions, whatever that may be in terms of their development. These tenant association leaders and public housing, specifically in NYCHA, they’re usually women, women of color, and they do this day in and day out, countless hours, they do not get paid. And all of this is to take care of the families there who have been really neglected for a long time.
So what are some of our solutions? I know there have been some legislative solutions being explored. I’ve certainly tried to do what I can as a councilwoman, funding the renovation of parks, making sure that their dollars are going in for things like making sure the compactor is moving because there’s a big trash and rat problem in our city. So I think people really need to walk public housing and understand what is going on, and then further move to empower these tenant associations and these leaders to make the decisions for their developments that make the most sense.
Ben Max: Quick question that connects your current work chairing the City Council criminal justice committee and a potential federal role. Do you believe that it’s time for a federal receivership of the city’s jails, especially those on Rikers Island? Do you think that it’s time to do that? I saw your colleague Keith Powers in the City Council says it’s time for that, there’s some others I think that believe that. Do you think there should be a federal takeover of the city’s jails?
Carlina Rivera: There is a humanitarian crisis unfolding in Rikers Island, period. I think it is receiving national attention and the conditions there for the incarcerated and officers alike are completely unacceptable, and it’s dangerous. I do not see a plan from the city to tackle these issues in the next few months, and I feel that the receivership is imminent. If, and again, we’ve asked in multiple hearings, I encourage people if you have the time, take a look at the hearings that we’ve had in the Council in trying to hold the Department of Corrections and of course this mayoral administration accountable for the lack of reform, and hopefully more transparency as time goes on. And recently, they announced an interagency task force, which sounds like a plan to make a plan, and that is just not the spot that we are in.
So unless they can really turn it around and come forward with actual reform and a plan to which I hope ultimately close Rikers Island, but to at least get conditions up to the point where we do not have, we are not at vigils or reading news about people who have died within the facilities themselves, then this administration should get on board in choosing a receiver and getting on board with federal intervention that they themselves could participate in terms of the discussion. There are only two options and I do not see the plan coming together, and it looks like federal intervention is on its way. So we have a few conversations ahead of us in terms of what to expect from leadership, but we are just not seeing it right now and we just had another person pass away. It is just in a very, very dangerous, harmful place, and we have to do something.
Ben Max: We’re in our last few minutes here with City Council Member Carlina Rivera, who is now a candidate for Congress in the new New York 10th congressional district, which includes parts of downtown Manhattan, parts of downtown Brooklyn, and a whole bunch of other neighborhoods in Brooklyn that I won’t list off right now because some of them are part of one of my last couple questions here. Coming back to the race here, you said something earlier about being the cannon in the race with the real sort of constituency and base. I think Assemblymember Niou would probably take some issue with that. I think former Mayor de Blasio would probably take some issue with that, although he’s obviously got lots of challenges in his old backyard where there’s a lot of disillusionment with his leadership, but he’s hoping to win people back, and maybe others in the race as well. But as you look at this new district, there’s a really interesting sort of demographics here. Very clearly, just by the voting age population, the total population in the district. White voters are likely to be a sizable majority of the voters here. They’re very much going to be mostly liberal to pretty darn progressive in some of these neighborhoods in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Then you’ve got heavily Latino neighborhoods and communities in both Manhattan and Brooklyn parts, heavily Asian communities in both Manhattan and Brooklyn parts of the district, and then you have more conservative white communities in parts of the district like out in Borough Park. When you’re thinking about those three to four big groups there, and again, these are broad brushes, but congressional districts are huge. Are there any ways that you’re thinking about sort of issues that matter the most to certain constituencies and certain communities that you would almost be able to say, ‘I know that the Latino communities, some of which you currently represent in Manhattan, and those in Brooklyn that are part of this district, the Asian communities, again predominantly Asian communities care about certain issues at the top of the list, et cetera, et cetera?’ Do you have thoughts on sort of that approach to the groups within this larger group and how you’re going to sort of talk to these different constituencies?
Carlina Rivera: Yeah, of course. Sometimes people ask me, what are Latino issues? What are women’s issues? We have the same issues as everyone else, and that is that people want a more affordable, livable city. I have very deep roots in this community. I’ve worked with all different sorts of stakeholders, even people who might be on kind of the opposing end of an issue. It’s so important to have that conversation to understand and broaden your perspective. And I’ve been navigating these dynamics for years and throughout my career.
I’m about outcomes that lift everyone and I have a record of doing that even before I became a City Council woman. I worked on a project called the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, that’s Essex Crossing now, and that was a very big issue for the Lower East Side. That was 40 years of history, nearly 2,000 families displaced, many of them Puerto Rican. And finally, there was a conversation that was going to be had about what to do, which was pretty much largely just parking lots. And that conversation of like, well what do we want? The people that have lived here, the people that lived through this displacement. What do we want? Well, we wanted affordable housing because that was the right thing and the justice part of it was so important. Open space, making sure that there was local hiring, having a seamless transition for the Essex Street Market vendors to go from one market to another with the same rents, but more amenities, because that market was so important, symbolic of the community’s history, and because there’s such a diversity in some of the kiosks and and the shop owners in there. And then of course, making sure there was a right to return for those families that were displaced many, many years ago, which was in and of itself another challenge, and how do some of these families prove that they actually live there? They have to go find baptism records and old report cards, and there were some great organizations on the ground that helped people do that. And you know, those issues unite all of us. I bring up Essex Crossing because it’s an example of lots of people wanting lots of different things, and the community coming together to say, ‘Here’s what we can agree to, and here’s how we have to move forward.’ And when I think about just kind of like my past and why I think I understand the issues, just so acutely and so personally, I know what it’s like to live in this city day in and day out, and I think what what gives me a lot of pride are the things that we have all been through together and how we’ve recovered as a community and as a city, whether it’s 9/11 recovery and taking care of those workers, whether it’s the Essex Crossing project, whether it’s Hurricane Sandy relief.
When I first ran, it was a crowded primary too and this is the council race. It was an exciting time for me as a first-time candidate. I won a crowded six-week primary with over 60% of the vote. When I first ran, I delivered for the community, I won my second term with 74% of the vote. And that is because I’m out there, I’m in the streets, I’m talking to folks, people know me, I went to school here, I played basketball here, I’ve won a couple softball championships here. Every milestone in my life is here and I know the struggles that everyday New Yorkers face because I lived them myself. This is so much more than just a job to me. It’s about taking care of the communities that raised me, and that’s what we do for each other as New Yorkers.
Ben Max: [Longer outro…] Carlina Rivera, thanks for taking the time and be well.
Carlina Rivera: Thank you. Thanks, talk soon.