Rafael Salamanca Jr. has his City Council seat in the bag this election season—the money bag.
The Democratic incumbent, who has represented District 17 since he won a special election in February 2016 raised over $200,000 in funds to run again, far surpassing his only opponent in the primaries, retired union administrator Helen Foreman-Hines, who accumulated less than 5 percent of that figure through door-to-door campaigning.
The councilman, who earned 40 percent of the vote to occupy a vacant seat last year left open by Maria del Carmen Arroyo’s unexpected resignation, did not enroll in the city’s matching system for this bid.
“I just felt like I didn’t need to participate in the program, so I chose not to,” he said.
“I’m visible, I’m accessible I’m speaking to my constituents and I feel very positive about this
election.” Salamanca said, touting that he was born and raised in the area he seeks to continue to represent.”I’m looking forward to get here, and we can get this over with already.”
City Council District 17 covers parts of the South Bronx including Hunts Point, Melrose, East Tremont and Longwood where Salamanca currently lives. These neighborhoods are among the poorest in the Bronx with a median income of below $24,000 a year according to census data from 2015.
Foreman-Hines is geared up to run for the seat a second time. But although she has managed to triple her $9,000 in donations to $33,772 through the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s matching system, demonstrating the power of public funding, the retired union worker is far behind Salamanca in the money race.
“It’s a poor district, so I don’t expect a lot,” Foreman-Hines said. “I take the money that I get and I use it wisely.”
“I want to make the campaign about the people, not big donors,” she added.
The candidate said she earned her funds through phone calls, knocking on doors and hanging out with people in her neighborhood. The largest contribution to her campaign was $500, according the New York City Finance Board. Salamanca’s highest donor, Michael Muzyk, CEO and president of food-distributing giant Baldor, gave the councilman’s campaign $2,750, the agency’s records show.
Foreman-Hines did not submit her paperwork in time to get on the ballot the first time she ran in February 2016. But she said she is determined to make the district better, noting her experience raising three children as a single mother.
Foreman-Hines recently retired from working as an administrator for the Union-United Healthcare Workers East for over 25 years. If she were elected this would be her first time serving in public office. “A special election is a fast, quick turn around,” she said of the February 2016 special election. “If you don’t know the rules and you’re not in the mix every day, you don’t have time to fix it.”
This round of primaries will be the fourth election to happen in District 17 since 2016. Whichever candidate wins the primaries will go on to participate in the general election for the district.
Salamanca is entering the primaries confidently. “I’ve been in office for 18 months, and for the last 20 months, I’ve been campaigning,” Salamanca said. “It’s been a constant campaign mode because of the situation I was put in, in terms of the different elections.”
Salamanca had summer office hours allotted to speak to constituents September 6 but did not show up to the event. Only one constituent arrived to speak to him.
Both candidates have made affordable housing a main issue in their campaigns, and Salamanca has made efforts since he’s been office to make it easier for people who qualify. The City Council member vowed to prioritize preserving and adding affordable housing units as development in the South Bronx booms.
According to Salamanca, even when residents are eligible for affordable housing units, an adverse credit history can make it more difficult to qualify for an affordable apartment. It’s an issue he wants to tackle.
“If you have bad credit or your credit scores are not up to par their applications are being denied,” said Salamanca who is holding a forum in October to help residents have a better chance to get approved in affordable-housing lotteries. “The whole point of this housing forum was to educate the community on how to apply properly and give them a list of all the projects that are coming down the line.” Residents will also be able to receive free credit reports.
Helping constituents find homes to fit their budget is an issue in Foreman-Hines’s campaign also. “Affordable housing is not really affordable,” she said. The hopeful also wants to help veterans, seniors and people who struggle financially get better access to healthcare.
“Why is it people in the poorest district have to pay to go downtown to get something they should be able to get in the Bronx?” Hines asked. “I want to make sure the people are served well in District 17,” she added.