Six candidates are vying to replace the term-limited Fernando Cabrera in a Bronx district that faces unique housing challenges.
Council Countdown is a partnership of City Limits, City & State, Gotham Gazette and the Queens Daily Eagle, offering coverage of the 2021 New York City Council races.
The race for the 14th City Council District seat —which covers the Morris Heights, University Heights, Fordham, and Kingsbridge neighborhoods in the Bronx—has already attracted more than $1 million in campaign money. That’s more than any other Council contest in the borough this year, and more than has ever been amassed in that district.
The $265,000 in private contributions and more than $795,000 in public funds were reported as of March 15, so the sum will almost certainly be a bit larger by the end of the election cycle in the borough with the highest poverty rate.
Six candidates are vying for the position: Adolfo Abreu, Fernando Aquino, Haile Rivera, Pierina Sanchez, Socrates Solano, and Yudelka Tapia. Solano is the only candidate who has raised less than $10,000 and was the last to jump into the race.
Solano, Tapia, and Rivera have received contributions from incumbent 14th District Councilman Fernando Cabrera, who is ineligible for re-election because of term limits and is now running for Bronx Borough President. Tapia has also contributed equally to Cabrera’s BP campaign.
Current Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has also endorsed Tapia’s candidacy, along with State Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, and Diaz Jr. has made one of the largest contributions to Tapia’s campaign through “People for Diaz.”
Tapia has tried several times to be elected to public office. In 2009 she ran against Cabrera for the 14th District seat and in 2013 she was a Democratic candidate in the special election for the 86th District for the New York State Assembly, but withdrew and didn’t make the ballot. She has successfully been elected district leader since 2010 and has been an auditor in the New York City Comptroller’s office for more than 20 years.
Like other City Council candidates, Abreu, Aquino, and Tapia are pushing for a change in the way the city calculates the Area Median Income (AMI) on which affordable housing rents are based; New York City’s AMI is based on regional data that skews it higher. Abreu, Aquino, Tapia, and Sanchez want the city to stop subsidizing above-market rate, non-affordable housing tagged as “affordable” units.
Aquino was a political reporter for El Diario de Nueva York for six years, has been press secretary for the state Senate Democratic conference and the state attorney general’s office, and has been an adjunct professor at Lehman College.
With just over $50,000 in contributions, he is the third best-funded candidate, and with this sum, “we can now focus entirely on voter turnout,” Aquino says.
One of his ideas to improve unemployment in the district is that “any program or development that receives city funds, subsidies or tax breaks in the district must employ a minimum percentage of district residents,” Aquino says in an email.
Aquino also believes the City Council should allocate more money to programs that “prioritize educational, job training and arts programs for those who do not have the connections or money to obtain these services on their own,” he says.
Aquino and Abreu propose an expansion to the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), saying it should guarantee employment for all people 26 and younger. Alternatively, Sanchez proposes universal after-school programs for vocational training and college preparation.
Abreu has 16 years of experience as a community organizer and is currently one at the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, an organization with a deep-rooted presence in the neighborhood. In 2019 he was part of the Housing For All coalition that lobbied to change state rent-regulation laws. He was also part of the coalition that fought for passage of the Student Safety Act —which requires the Department of Education and the NYPD to report quarterly to the City Council on incidents related to detentions, student suspensions, and other school discipline matters. In 2010, Abreu co-led the movement to regain the right of students to commute to school for free when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) tried to take away MetroCards for students.
In March of this year, the NYC Campaign Finance Board reported that Abreu had raised just over $63,000 and as of May 5, the candidate reported $69,000, putting him in second place with the most resources. When City Limits interviewed Abreu at the start of the campaign last year, the candidate had only recently entered the race but had already raised $30,000.
Several of the housing proposals Abreu highlighted would come hand in hand with new legislation, such as supporting tenant collective ownership through the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) or redirecting $451 million from NYPD funds for school safety division and community-driven safety programs.
Abreu proposes to encourage civic participation by granting municipal voting rights to city residents over the age of 16 and also supports expanding this right to immigrant New Yorkers, regardless of their immigration status.
“I would like to invest in a caring economy that ensures that all residents, including undocumented immigrants, have access to family, child, long-term, and disability care,” Abreu says by phone.
The Bronx has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and the candidates have different ideas on how to lift the borough up. Abreu, Aquino, Rivera, Sanchez, and Tapia agree that small businesses should be supported and more money should be sought for them.
Abreu plans to stabilize commercial rents to cut the month-to-month contracts that plague the city’s small business owners.
In addition to the 16 organizations that have endorsed him, Abreu says the most recent came from Make the Road Action. He also has a list of seven New York State Assembly representatives and State Senators who’ve given their support.
But when it comes to both political endorsements and money raised, Sanchez leads the way. The NYC Campaign Finance Board reports her fundraising at $81,000, and she currently reports $83,000 to City Limits. Among her most generous donors is 2nd District Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. As for political endorsements, Sanchez counts them by the dozen: more than 35 organizations including unions and progressive advocacy organizations, and 17 elected officials including New York Congressional representatives, State Assembly and City Council members.
Sanchez also has extensive experience in government, which she came to after graduating from Harvard, first working for the man she now wants to replace, Cabrera. After two years working with him, Sanchez interned at the White House and then returned to school to earn a master’s degree from Princeton. In her later time at the Regional Plan Association, she advocated for elevating the voices of immigrant communities and the “the result was a regional plan that centered equity and highlighted the priorities of marginalized communities in the region,” Sanchez responds by email.
In 2018 she went to work for the city and later became de Blasio’s senior advisor for housing, economic development, and labor, shaping legislation that set a prevailing wage standard for building workers in city-subsidized building projects. Sanchez is also a founding member of the Jerome Avenue Revitalization Collaborative, a coalition that seeks equitable development on Jerome Avenue.
Sanchez advocates for the passage of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act and the creation of more worker cooperatives. On housing, she proposes a three-pronged approach: cancel rent, ensure full funding for the right to counsel, and direct stimulus funds to repair the New York Housing Authority’s properties (NYCHA). In the medium to long term, Sanchez would redirect housing subsidies to achieve greater affordability and community control through non-profit entities such as community land trusts, and she would use grants from the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to promote homeownership.
Ultimately, housing is central to 14th district and the borough overall. According to the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), the Bronx is home to most of the 40,000 eviction proceedings initiated in New York since March 2020, and the 14th district is one of the red zones with the highest rates in the borough.
This scenario has prompted candidates, including Rivera, to support an expansion of the right to counsel.. Since 2020, Rivera has worked at HELP-USA, a social services group that prevents people from becoming homeless and being evicted. He has also worked with Food Bank for NY and Groundwork, which works with youth in poverty.
In the political arena, Rivera worked as a local organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, State Senator Pedro Espada Jr.’s re-election campaign, the Dominican Consulate, and as a supermarket consultant in the private sector.
Rivera has raised just over $28,000 and several of his large donors are linked to the grocery and food industry. Cabrera is among his donors and, in turn, Rivera has contributed to Cabrera’s campaign and has mutual donations with City Council candidates such as Leonardo Coello for District 16 and city comptroller candidate Zach Iscol. One of his first donors was former Councilman Rafael Espinal.
Neither Solano nor Rivera have a section on their online platform dedicated to their ideas or plans. Solano, for example, only has an op-ed from March 13, 2020, calling to close city schools. Solano is currently part of New York City’s COVID-19 contact tracking program and has worked in Rep. Charles Rangel’s office. Rivera outlined some of his views for City Limits in 2020.
In a borough like the Bronx, where 59 percent of people speak a language other than English at home, Tapia and Rivera are the only candidates who do not have a bilingual (English-Spanish) platform.
Early voting begins June 12 and the primary is June 22. You can verify that you are registered to vote at nycvotersearch.com