The two-mile stretch of Brooklyn waterfront between the Williamsburg and Pulaski Bridges is an industrial area, dominated by warehouses, old buildings, and crumbling concrete. However, if Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets his way, over the next few years the area will be transformed to include parkland, a pedestrian promenade, and even sites for beach volleyball and archery as New York competes for the 2012 Olympic bid. In June, the City Planning Commission introduced a waterfront rezoning plan that will remake the industrial area into a mixed residential, commercial, and recreational area.
But two Democratic candidates running for City Council this fall say residents are primarily concerned about housing.
"Housing is the number one issue in the community," said Juan Martinez, a former president of community school board 14, who is trying to unseat incumbent Councilmember Diana Reyna. In the 2001 Primary, Martinez lost to Reyna by 571 votes.
Martinez said he can only support the mayor's rezoning plan if it includes a significant amount of low cost housing in the area. Councilmember Diana Reyna agrees.
"Rezoning will have to be used as a catalyst for affordable housing," Reyna said. Although she generally supports the plan, she said that the city must be careful to "create a mixed environment and not promote segregation based on economic situation."
The mayor's plan does include housing - including some for low- and middle-income residents - but much of what will be built will be rented and sold at market rate. Some residents fear that the rezoning will bring more gentrification in the district, which has already seen an influx of young and more affluent residents in recent years.
"No portion of any new housing structures going up in the area right now is affordable," Martinez said. "They are fancy co-op condos and $2,000 lofts that the folks who already live here can not afford."
A group of leaders from community groups Los Sures and St. Nicholas Preservation Group have formed a coalition called Mobilization Against Displacement (MAD) that calls on the city to require at least 40 percent of the new housing to be affordable housing. The mayor's response has been to offer incentives to private developers to create affordable housing, but community advocates say this is not enough.
Councilmember Reyna, who sits on the housing committee of the City Council, feels that her experience on the council will help in working with the mayor as the plan moves ahead. Reyna also said she has been willing to vote with the interests of the community in the past even when it means going against the mayor and the City Council Speaker; last year, she was just one of a dozen council members to vote against the city's 421-A program that gives incentives to developers, because she felt it did not adequately target areas outside of Manhattan.
Education is another critical issue in district 34, which includes the neighborhoods of Bushwick and Ridgewood, Queens.
Martinez, who has worked as a family worker, teacher, and president of the community school board, said he has the background to help parents and teachers negotiate Mayor Bloomberg's reformed education system. This past year, he said, community school board district 14 was the most improved district in the city. Martinez also led an effort in the area to keep community school district offices open and said he remains "guarded, concerned, and vigilant" about the mayor's new plan.
Martinez also challenges the incumbent's record on education. "She has not delivered for the community," Martinez said. "We have seen reduced day-camps and have not seen any additional funding under her tenure."
Councilmember Reyna defends her record and said as a member of the council she fought to keep education cuts to a minimum and made the tough choice to raise taxes in order to keep the school system and other social, senior, and parks programs running during the fiscal crisis. Martinez said he would have voted against both the property tax increase and sales tax increase that Reyna approved.
The race between Diana Reyna and Juan Martinez is also a campaign between rival Democratic factions in Brooklyn. Reyna is a former aide to Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Martinez has the backing of Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.
Also this year when all of the City Council district lines were redrawn to reflect population changes in the 2000 census, district 34 changed significantly as part of Ridgewood, Queens and approximately 20,000 residents from the area were added to the Brooklyn district.
Many residents of Ridgewood are concerned about the change, arguing that it will create racial divides in the neighborhood as a largely Hispanic section is politically separated from the rest of the area. Residents also fear that politicians and the press will overlook their concerns. "The Queens newspapers are not covering the district 34 race because they see it as a Brooklyn issue," said Queens Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who is backing Martinez.
Diana Reyna said she has reached out to community groups in the Ridgewood area and looks forward to representing them if reelected. Juan Martinez, who testified against the redistricting change and has a campaign office in the area, recently won support from the Ridgewood Democratic Club.
Cesar Estevez, a Conservative candidate, could not be reached for an interview.
Posted July 28, 2003
A trip that Councilmember Diana Reyna took to Trinidad earlier this year and a photo from the trip has become a focus of a bitter campaign.
Shortly after returning from the privately funded trip, a photo of Reyna in a Carnival parade costume appeared in local newspapers. Recently a campaign flyer, showing the picture of the council member with a bulls eye and the words "Target Reyna," was circulated at a housing project. Reyna filed a complaint with the police. A campaign worker for Juan Martinez said he was not aware of the flyer.
Martinez has a slight advantage in fundraising with $95,085 in contributions and matching funds. Reyna has raised $76,955 in contributions and matching funds.
Updated August 29, 2003