Randy Abreu answers questions at Lehman College on July 20.

Fernando Cabrera, who has been the Councilmember for district 14 of the Bronx—serving Morris Heights, University Heights, Fordham, and Kingsbridge—since January of 2010 recently angered some people of his district after saying in a sermon at his church: “You know, it’s harder being rich than being poor. When you’re rich, you have more things to worry about. Millionaire people, they have a lot of stuff to worry about. More stuff to manage. … They really got there because of their ability to handle more pressure. … Do you know why your boss pays you what he pays you? Because of your capacity.”

The statement, captured in a 45-second clip posted on Twitter on July 12, was taken from a 46-minute sermon Cabrera delivered at his New Life Outreach International church on University Avenue, that did not dwell on that theme.

But it wasn’t Cabrera’s first time making headlines for incendiary statements. Back in 2014 he was in hot water for making a statement commending Uganda for their anti-gay policies. “Godly people are in government,” he remarked. “Gay marriage is not accepted in this country. Even when the United States of America has put pressure and has told Uganda ‘We’re not going to fund you unless you allow gay marriage,’ they have stood their place.” After controversy erupted, Cabrera said in a statement: “I do not support the persecution of gays and lesbians anywhere.”

Cabrera, first elected in 2009, is seeking a third term but faces two Democratic opponents in the September 12 primary, Randy Abreau and Felix Perdomo. The two challengers participated in a forum, which Cabrera did not attend, earlier this week. They met earlier with student journalists from the City Limits Youth Training Program in Public-Service Journalism and a journalism class from College Now at Lehman College.

The councilmember’s comments, which he has said were taken out of context, did not come up at the August 1 forum. But they were a topic Abreu addressed in the student press conference on July 20.

Abreu openly disapproved of the comment. I held a rally outside of his office a few days ago. And I responded simply by telling him I think he’s out of touch with the community. I think he’s out of touch with how we here in the Bronx actually grow up and live and how hard it is for us poor people to actually make it under a system that was never built for us to succeed.

Perdomo also took issue with the sermon. “I totally disagree with Cabrera. We are not lazy. It’s just we don’t have the opportunity.”

The two community districts that cover most of the 14th Council district, the 5th and 7th, have the 3rd and 8th highest poverty rate among the 59 community districts citywide, respectively, according to the Furman Center. Those rates have dropped slightly since Cabrera took office, and the local unemployment rate has dropped significantly in the Fordham area.

Cabrera hit back at his critics in an NY1 interview, claiming Abreu was all talk, and hadn’t actually done anything progressive to better the quality of life for Bronxites.

“My opponent wants you to believe that I am somehow insensitive or unaware of the problems and struggles faced by the poor. My opponent refers to himself as the progressive candidate, yet on every issue important to the progressive community, my opponent was not to be found. When I stood up to fight Donald Trump’s immigration policies, my opponent was not to be found. In the fight for fair wages, my opponent was not to be found.”

Abreu, a child of Dominican Immigrants, has focused his campaign on technology. His plans for combating unemployment and protecting low income families include the creation of a Grassroots Community Media Training that will offer certification courses that lead to digital media job opportunities. His platform also stresses including more minority- and woman-owed businesses in city contracting opportunities, requiring local hiring on all city projects and updating community benefits agreement for the Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment.

“I want to make this the only district in New York City that has coding as a second language,” he said. That means “we get everyone the opportunity to get the digital skills that are necessary to survive in the next decade.”

In his interview with student journalists, Abreu also stressed:

  • Renewable energy and energy democracy: “We suffer from energy insecurity which is when a mother or father, probably a single mother, has to deal with the very real reality of, ‘Well, do I pay the energy bill or do I put food on my table for my kids? That’s something that happens every day.”
  • Police community relations: “The police don’t really speak to us in the best manner. There is tension between the police and the gangs that are still out there. They are not all gangs. They are just people hanging out outside trying to have a good time and that tension arises. On Day One I’m going to walk out with the community police, walk the community, introduce the police to the kids who are hanging out and make sure that we build that community trust.”
  • A far-fetched idea on homelessness “It will be very cheap and affordable and smart to 3D-print micro-homes. And there’s a lot of unused space throughout New York City. And if we can 3D print micro-homes—no ovens, just a microwave in it—you can give a homeless person this sense of ownership over something and start there. You start with the basics and you give them a sense of ownership: ‘I’m taking care of my own home. I’m making my own bed. This is my place. Now I’ll take Randy up on his offer to get this job training and learn how to use a computer.'”
  • Perdomo talked about issues like:

  • Forcing landlords to follow the housing code: “I have to attack the problem. Landlords have to do it, and if they don’t, we’re going to enforce case by case building by building. I want to spread the world that we in the City Counci are going to take every case.”
  • Increasing resident engagement: “There’s not communication between the City Council and the district. Someties you don’t even know when is the community board meetings. It’s like a secret. I believe that we have to establish a line of communication between the district and the City Council.”
  • Jerome Avenue rezoning: “I feel like the city hasn’t been able to get people together and for that reason we don’t know what’s going on. There is no input from the community. I believe it should be stopped and we need more input from the City Council. It’s going to push a lot of people out of the district. That’s why right now I’m opposing the rezoning.”
  • Listen to the interview with Perdomo
    Listen to the interview with Abreu

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    This article is a product of the City Limits Youth Training Program in Public Service Journalism, which is sponsored by the Pinkerton Foundation. Additional reporting by Terrence Freeman, LaShea Gallop, Valeria Hernandez, Jonah Muhammad and Lianis Rodriguez. Read other coverage by this team here.