Sara M. Gonzalez 6,574 44%
Sara M. Gonzalez (Best Qualified Party)
ACCORDING TO THE CAMPAIGN FINANCE BOARD
AFTER THE SCANDAL
The race for City Council in southeast Brooklyn is one of the only ones scheduled this year. And all the candidates agree on one campaign issue: they must restore the public's trust in government.
A year ago, the races were far more numerous and the campaign issues in district 38 were far more grand.
In 2001, incumbent City Councilmember Angel Rodriguez campaigned on plans to build beaches on the waterfront, to find the billions of dollars to put the elevated Gowanus Expressway underground, and to bring better education and much needed housing in the area.
In August those promises were cut short when Councilmember Rodriguez pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and extortion. Rodriguez demanded $50,000 in cash and three apartment buildings at $1.5 million below their market value in exchange for his support of a Fairway supermarket. He resigned from his seat and is now serving up to five years in prison.
In his resignation letter, Rodriguez admitted his guilt, but maintained that he "did nothing to compromise my constituents."
Those running to fill his seat - a doctoral student, a lawyer, a former State Assemblyman, and the head of community board 7 - disagree.
"The community has definitely suffered this year because of a lack of representation," said George Martinez, political science teacher at the City University of New York who challenged Rodriguez for seat last year, but was knocked off the ballot in the Democratic primary.
"Many feel disappointed and others are outraged, especially in the Latino community," said Edward Rodriguez (no relation to the former council member), a lawyer in the state attorney general's office.
"The public trust has been lost," said candidate and former State Assemblyman Javier Nieves, who is running with the slogan "honest, effective, and proven." Nieves was recently removed from the ballot after another candidate questioned the validity of his signatures.
Sara Gonzalez, the chair of community board 7 and director of a nonprofit organization that offers after-school and tutorial programs, failed to return numerous requests for an interview.
The candidates will face off in a special election to represent the southern Brooklyn district that includes Red Hook and Sunset Park on November 5.
Last year, term-limits ousted 37 of 51 City members from office and hundreds of candidates campaigned to fill the open seats. This year, the race in southeast Brooklyn is one of the only races for City Council. Ruben Diaz, who is currently in the City Council, recently won a primary race for State Senate in district 32, but a special election date has not been set to fill his seat in the council.
Also this year, the City Council district lines will be redrawn to reflect the results of the latest census and terms in office will be shortened. The next City Council election will occur in the fall of 2003 and so the winner of the district 38 race will only serve one year before having to run again.
The candidates tend to agree on some of the basic issues: education and developing the waterfront to create housing and jobs.
"Education is the number one concern," said Edward Rodriguez, who also serves as the president of community school board 15.
But the candidates doubt whether ideas like burying the Gowanus Expressway and developing beaches have a place in the district's future and are opting for more realistic plans.
"I've always thought [former Councilmember] Rodriguez's ideas were out of step with the community's character," said Martinez, who would like to see the area become a "working waterfront."
"This is a vital area of the city," added Rodriguez. "There is no reason that Jersey City should be beating South Brooklyn in developing business."
However, in developing the waterfront, the after-affects of the Fairway supermarket scandal linger. Construction on the shopping center is continuing despite protests from some neighborhood residents.
Martinez said he supported the supermarket project from the beginning and is excited about the prospect that it will generate some 300 union jobs.
"In many ways, I think the Fairway project is a good one," said Rodriguez.
But Nieves is skeptical. "Angel was so vociferous about being against the Fairway without a housing component," he said. "All of a sudden, he made a switch. I still want to know where the affordable housing is in this project."
According to the city's campaign finance board, Gonzalez has raised the most money with more than $17,000. Rodriguez and Nieves trail with $10,600 and $3,400 respectively. George Martinez did not file with the campaign finance board, which matches small donations and limits the amount of money a candidate can spend.
Although all of the candidates consider themselves Democrats, none of them will be listed as such on the ballot on November 5. By the rules of a non-partisan special election, candidates must come up with their own party names. Parties likes like Education First, Better Future, and even Best Qualified will appear on the ballot.--Posted 10/21/02
Sara Gonzalez, candidate for the City Council seat vacated by Angel Rodriguez, wants to make one thing clear: she is her own woman. "It is important to me and my family that no one tie me up with anyone," said Gonzalez in response to news articles and editorials that have said she had close ties to former council member. "That needs to be clarified."
Gonzalez, like her opponents, believes the Angel Rodriguez scandal was damaged the community, however she feels that her years of working in the area and on the community board will help the district recover. "I don't need to regain trust," she said. "I have been here."
Gonzalez considers affordable housing and education the most pressing issues in district 38. "Why are schools in Sunset Park and Red Hook not in the same condition as the schools in Park Slope?," she said. She stresses community input as a way to find solutions to this and other problems.
She is also an advocate of waterfront revitalization and stresses the need to find a balance between "job creation and recreation." She sees the Gowanus expressway as detrimental to the community, but offers no specific plan for its future. "Whether there should be a tunnel or some other solution, I'm not sure," she said. "But it should go."
Javier Nieves, who was removed from the ballot after Gonzalez challenged his petitions, has decided not to appeal and will not appear on the ballot on November 5.--Posted 11/1/02
LETTER OF RESIGNATION
August 28, 2002
It is with great regret that I am offering my resignation as a member of the City Council effective immediately. On March 29, 2002, I was charged with several criminal acts, relating to the development of a parcel of land in Red Hook by Brooklyn. While I did nothing to compromise my constituents, nor the Council, I did commit an inappropriate act, which violated the law. I now want to put this episode behind me. In order to accomplish this, I have decided to accept a plea agreement offered to me by the United States Attorney's office.
The plea agreement will allow me to spare my family and my Council colleagues the rigors of a lengthy trial, and enable me to fulfill my obligations to my family as a husband and a father.
My entrance into City government began unexpectedly, but became my passion over the past few years. During my tenure, I was able to bring much needed funding to community programs and projects, and excellent community service to my constituents. I will miss serving the public, but realize that I must atone for the error I made.
In addition to my resignation, I want to offer and extend my deepest apologies to you, my Council colleagues, my constituents, and my staff for any embarrassment I may have caused to all of you as individuals and to the institution.
For the record, it was not the institution that failed, as was alleged by news media reports when this situation first became public in March; it was I who failed the institution.
Thank you for your consideration.
RODRIGUEZ PLEADS GUILTY
by Gotham Gazette
Brooklyn Councilmember Angel Rodriguez will plead guilty to bribery charges and will resign from the City Council, according to statements from his lawyer.
In March, Rodriguez was arrested and charged with a 15-count federal indictment for extortion, conspiracy, and fraud. Rodriguez allegedly told a real estate developer seeking to build a Fairway supermarket and retail stores in Red Hook that he would support his project in exchange for cash and valuable real estate properties. The developer, in cooperation with federal and city authorities and using wiretaps and recordings, agreed to give Rodriguez $50,000 in cash and three apartment buildings in Cobble Hill at $1.5 million below their market value. Rodriguez had been an outspoken opponent of the project, but testified in support of it before the full council on January 30. The council approved the plan unanimously, just two days after the sale of the three Cobble Hill apartment buildings, according to prosecutors.
Under a plea deal, Rodriguez will serve approximately four years in prison. He could have faced up to seven years if convicted by a jury.
Rodriguez initially entered a not-guilty plea and was free on $500,000 bond. He could have stayed in office until his sentencing, but "decided to resign immediately and take responsibility for his actions," his lawyer told WNBC. Rodriguez, who was elected in 1998, continued to collect his $90,000 salary in the five months between the indictment and his plea.
Rodriguez was recently a contender for Speaker of the City Council, served as the co-chair of the Black and Latino caucus, and was a member of the Finance committee.
Council Speaker Gifford Miller said on Wednesday that he had not yet spoken with Rodriguez and did not feel additional measures were needed to ensure the integrity of the council. "The sooner the matter is resolved the better," said Miller.
It has been nearly a decade since a member of the New York City Council has been indicted on criminal charges. In 1994, Bronx Councilmember Rafael Castaneira-Colon was convicted of stealing $383,000 in public funds. Castaneira-Colon, who served in the council between 1982 and 1993 and as Majority Whip under Speaker Peter Vallone, sought re-election two weeks after the indictment was issued, but was defeated in the Democratic Primary. He finished out his term in the council and eventually plead guilty to grand larceny charges. Castaneira-Colon served two years in prison.
Rodriguez's district 38 seat -- which includes the areas of Sunset Park, Red Hook, and Carroll Gardens -- will remain vacant until a special election in November.
Posted August 28, 2002
LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION
Sara M. Gonzalez Sara M. Gonzalez is the chair of community board 7 in Sunset Park and executive director of Hispanic Young People's Alternatives, a nonprofit organization that offers after-school and tutorial programs.
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