On September 14, at a hearing on the Inwood rezoning, Senator Marisol Alcántara accused members of the group Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale of sending e-mails that referred to people as “coons” and that said “‘these people they need to go back where they’re from’”—referring, she’d said, to immigrants.
Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale, a coalition that includes organizations like Metropolitan Council on Housing and Faith in New York as well as local groups like Uptown Community Democrats and Inwood Preservation, has been one of the leading critics of the rezoning effort lead by Ydanis Rodriguez and the Economic Development Corporation. The group says the Senator’s remarks were complete lies.
City Limits gave the senator, who caucuses with the Independent Democratic Congress (IDC), four days to produce evidence of the racist e-mails. A couple days after that deadline, her office sent an image of the following e-mail sent out on the afternoon of the hearing. The sender’s and recipient’s names were blacked out for privacy, but Northern Manhattan Is Not 4 Sale’s listserv was ‘CC-ed.
Asked by City Limits to clarify the e-mail’s meaning, Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale reached out to the sender of that e-mail. The sender, who did not share her name with City Limits, explained that she was a woman of color and was referring to the fact that Alcántara, Congressman Espaillat, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, and Assemblywoman de la Rosa are all members of the local Democratic club Northern Manhattan Democrats for Change.
“It is my personal belief, and not that of Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale, that they employ a variety of strategies to divide opposition, one being ‘good cop, bad cop.’ It is my personal belief, and not that of Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale, that Sen. Alcantara is insincere in her opposition to the rezoning, and has been assigned the role of “good cop,'” wrote the sender in an e-mail.
Other members of Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale added their disapproval of the Senator’s divisive accusations. “Senator Marisol Alcántara and other politicians of the area often misconstrue our words for their own benefit,” wrote organizer Nova Lucero. “We are not in a place to say that racism does not exist in our neighborhood, but what we can demonstrate with certainty is that our coalition, Northern Manhattan Is Not For Sale/Alto Manhattan No Se Vende, is an inclusive, diverse coalition that advocates strongly for and with the Latino, Spanish-speaking and immigrant communities to be represented in what the rezoning will look like.”
Earlier in the week, Alcántara did clarify her position on the Inwood rezoning on an e-mail to City Limits, which she believes is misunderstood.
“I am deeply plugged into the discourse surrounding the Inwood Rezoning Plan,” she wrote. “While I truly believe that activists are acting in good faith, I have encountered distrust from some about my position. My official stance is not a game about elected officials ‘playing good cop, bad cop.’ The Inwood Rezoning Plan is a serious matter that will have tremendous consequences. I would simply like to clarify that I, like the vast majority of activists and community groups in Inwood, do not believe that Inwood needs any form of luxury housing. As I have mentioned time after time, when you walk through the streets of Inwood and ask local residents about their housing needs, not one resident will tell you, ‘I need a luxury apartment.’ Inwood serves as one of the last bastions of working-class New Yorkers in Manhattan. If the city wants to expand its housing stock in Inwood, which I do believe is necessary, then the city needs to commit to building real affordable housing for real working-class New Yorkers. The way I see it, the Inwood Rezoning Plan as currently drafted is a plan to bring over 3,000 luxury units to a working-class community with a desperate need for affordable housing.”
She also e-mailed to City Limits a copy of a virulently racist letter at one time sent to her from a conservative member of the district (not affiliated with the rezoning discussion) as evidence of the racism she has faced while in office. The letter equated Dominican immigrants with “rats and locusts.”
Alcantara was not alone in suggesting that racial tensions underlay the heated discussion in the neighborhood over the de Blasio administration’s plan, which includes contextual rezoning to preserve the existing character of some residential areas as well as upzonings on some major corridors and in the areas east of 10th Avenue that are currently zoned for manufacturing. At the same hearing last week, Espaillat accused people who heckled him of using “code words.”
Alcántara was elected to the State Senate in 2016 to replace Espaillat, and immediately joined the Independent Democratic Conference. Earlier this year she accused Democratic Sen. Michael Gianaris of “white privilege” when he criticized the IDC.