Four-term incumbent Erik Martin Dilan faces DSA-backed Samy Nemir Olivares, one of several races in this month’s primary where more left-leaning newcomers are challenging established Democrats.

Courtesy of the candidate’s campaigns

Samy Nemir Olivares, left, and incumbent Erik Martin Dilan, right.

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On June 28, more than 125,000 people living in the 54th state Assembly District will choose their Democratic party representative between two options: the four-term incumbent Erik Martin Dilan and Samy Nemir Olivares. The district covers parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Cypress-Hills, and East New York, overlapping Brooklyn community districts 3, 4, and 5.

This race is one of several underway this summer where more progressive candidates want to unseat established Democrats. Nemir Olivares arrives at the early voting period, which started on June 18 and runs until June 26, with a dozen endorsements from the progressive political wing such as Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Working Families Party (WFP), Make the Road Action, Sunrise Movement NYC, and the support of local political figures such as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Sen. Julia Salazar, City Comptroller Brad Lander, and Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes.

Dilan, meanwhile, enters the last phase of the race with endorsements from  Mayor Eric Adams,  Gov. Kathy Hochul, and New York State Sen. Roxanne J. Persaud and the blessing from unions such as the District Council 37 (DC37) and The New York State AFL-CIO.

READ MORE: The Bushwick Project, 2019

Although 56 percent of the district’s population speaks a language other than English at home, only Dilan has set up a multilingual platform on his campaign website with options for Spanish, Bengali, and Chinese speakers.

Another difference between these two candidates is the total amount of money they managed to raise for their campaigns. According to Dilan’s campaign, he’s received $240,000 this election cycle and had approximately $185,000 cash on hand, as of the 11-day pre-primary financial disclosure report released on June 17.

Nemir Olivares’ campaign raised $89,000 thousand less, totaling $151,00 with $30,500 cash on hand as of June 22.

Housing is priority

For both candidates, housing is the number one priority. Dilan voted for an eviction moratorium and mortgage relief to protect tenants and homeowners throughout the pandemic and plans to work with non-profit builders to create low-income rental units. Nemir Olivares plans to fight for legislation like Good Cause or Right to Remain in New York, which would give tenants the right to a lease renewal in most cases unless landlords have a legally acceptable reason to evict them, and intends to support the development of tenant unions across the district.

According to the 2023 Community District needs report, affordable housing was the most pressing issue in Community Board 4. The north Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick has suffered the adverse impact of 421-a, a tax incentive program for new residential development in the city, said Celestina León, the community board’s district manager. “In recent years, it only supported the creation of ‘affordable’ housing at 130 percent AMI [area median income], which is out of reach for the average Bushwick family and individual.”

“The program also lacked enforcement capacity to ensure developers do not exploit the program,” she added.

Besides housing, the candidates have prioritized different issues. For example, Dilan proposes criminal justice reform, complete elimination of assault weapons, and reduction of gun violence and the flow of illegal weapons.

“I’m glad we were able to raise the age for purchasing AR-15s this session in the wake of the horrible act of domestic terrorism in Buffalo and the mass shooting in Uvalde,” Dilan said by email. “But I want to push harder to keep 18-year-olds from being able to purchase any type of firearm.”

Dilan further explained that he wanted to do more to help working families, including fighting to make childcare affordable, and address communities that are childcare deserts and in need of more facilities.

Priorities for Nemir Olivares are education—especially public schools’ underfunding and high college tuition costs—and healthcare. “The first issue I’d like to champion in the Assembly would be to fully fund universal after-school programs and youth programs so that our youth have access to enrichment programs and extended hours,” Nemir Olivares said by email.

“In terms of CUNY, I will work alongside CUNY students and staff who have proposed a host of state-level bills known as the New Deal for CUNY to ensure that CUNY is made tuition-free, [and] that opportunities for students are expanded,” he said.

Also on education, Nemir Olivares supports State Sen.Jabari Brisport’s universal child care legislation, which would expand child care assistance eligibility to families that make up to 85 percent of the state median income, and cheers for universal free breakfast and lunch at public schools across the state.

On  healthcare, he plans to fight for the opening of community clinics and other health centers in the district and endorses the New York Health Act, a bill for a statewide single-payer healthcare system.

“I also will support the Coverage for All act, which would explicitly expand access to the Essential Plan for low-income New Yorkers to our undocumented neighbors,” he said. 

On healthcare,  Dilan introduced a bill that would impose a 9.63 percent tax on the profits transferred by health insurance providers to their parent companies out-of-state from subscriber prepayments or premiums, with some exceptions.

In addition to Good Cause, were he in office, Nemir Olivares would have liked to see undocumented children included in the $7 billion in early child care funding over the next four years, New Yorkers experiencing or at-risk of homelessness getting funding for the Housing Voucher Access Program.

He also would have pushed for passage of the Clean Slate bill, which would have expunged the criminal records of eligible New Yorkers with past convictions who’ve already served their time.

“It was a huge disappointment that the Clean Slate didn’t pass either that would have given formerly incarcerated people the second opportunity in their lives after making their time to get access to jobs, housing, education and reestablish their lives without barriers of discrimination,” he said.

According to Census data, 75 percent of the district’s population are renters and 46 percent of  residents have an income of less than $50,000. Dilan said he had supported the former pandemic eviction moratorium, the 2019 changes to state rent laws, and the $1.1 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance funds. Nemir Olivares said that all tenants deserve protection from eviction and that he would fight to prevent rents from rising excessively and establish universal rent control in New York State.

“Eviction legislation is the best way that we can work towards actually protecting all tenants from being unjustly forced out of their homes in New York State. Passing Good Cause Eviction would be one of my top priorities in the New York State legislature,” Nemir Olivares added.

A recent study from the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) found that in the six Brooklyn neighborhoods the report examined, immigrants comprise over a quarter of the population, and the percentage is even higher in Bushwick: 31 percent. Dilan did not detail a plan to specifically target this population, but noted that he had supported the New York State DREAM Act as well as the Excluded Workers Fund, and added that he wanted to drastically reduce SUNY and CUNY tuition.

Nemir Olivares, on the other hand, would support making the Excluded Workers Fund permanent; the Dignity not Detention Act, which would bar New York correctional facilities from contracting with ICE, and the New York Health Act and Coverage for All. Additionally, he would expand to the state level New York City’s law that allows non-citizens to vote in the municipal election, and champion policies to grant undocumented new yorkers access to citizenship.

“I would like to work with other colleagues to start the first Immigrant’s Rights committee in Albany to further explore legislation and ways to support our communities,” he said.

It remains to be seen if history repeats itself, with a progressive unseating a Democratic incumbent in this area of Brooklyn as happened in 2018, when now-state Sen. Julia Salazar unseated Martin Malavé Dilan, Dilan’s father. And If elected, Nemir Olivares would be the first genderqueer member in New York’s Assembly.