New councilman vows to move progressive agenda forward
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Freshman Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) took his oath of office on Sunday, telling hundreds of supporters who attended the ceremony that the time had come to take the progressive ideals that he and other victorious candidates ran on and put them into practice in city government.
“The goals of our progressive agenda need to move away from theory,” he told a packed auditorium of cheering supporters at Sunset Park High School shortly after he was sworn into office by Judge Analisa Torres, a US district judge for the Southern District of New York.
“We need to make sure agencies listen to us,” he said, vowing to be a strong advocate for working class residents and immigrants. In addition to Sunset Park and Red Hook, the 38th Council District, Menchaca represents, includes the Towers of Bay Ridge co-ops on 65th Street as well as parts of Greenwood Heights, Borough Park, South Slope and Windsor Terrace.
Menchaca also promised transparency in government. “We’ve opened the door to our government. All of you deserve a seat at the table,” he told the audience. “We have so much at stake here.”
Menchaca, 33, who lives in Red Hook, is the first Mexican-American ever elected to the New York City Council. He is also the first openly gay councilman to represent a Brooklyn district. Prior to running for public office, he served as an aide to former borough president Marty Markowitz and then as former council speaker Christine Quinn’s liaison to the LGBT community.
Menchaca, who stunned the political world when he defeated Sara Gonzalez, who served as councilwoman for 10 years, in the Democratic Primary in September, and then solidified his reputation as a rising star in politics by winning the November general election in a landslide, had actually taken the oath of office earlier, when the new session of the City Council began on Jan. 8.
But the public swearing in ceremony gave the new lawmaker a chance to celebrate his victory with supporters, campaign volunteers, his fellow elected officials and community leaders from around the district.
There were several references during the ceremony to the improbable victory Menchaca achieved, defeating a longtime incumbent in a city where incumbents usually win re-election easily. The lawmaker said he crisscrossed the district, knocked on voters’ doors, met residents at block parties and talked issues with them face to face.
“What Carlos taught us is when you believe in something and you work hard, anything is possible,” said Linda Sarsour, master of ceremonies. Sarsour is the executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, an organization based in Bay Ridge.
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn-Manhattan), who along with Markowitz, was a co-host of the inauguration ceremony, said Menchaca’s election was important because it signaled “a new era in politics.” The new councilman, Velazquez said, “is part of a class of young, dynamic, energetic elected officials coming to power at the dawn of the de Blasio Administration."
Markowitz praised Menchaca for his work in Red Hook post-Superstorm Sandy, when he organized local volunteers to help hurricane victims rebuild their homes and businesses. “The Sandy storm clearly showed his leadership,” the former borough president said. Turning to address Menchaca directly, Markowitz said, “You became the go-to guy.”
Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who said she was impressed by Menchaca’s “level of commitment to social justice,” added that she will work with him to improve the lives of the people of his district. “I will always have his back. I will be there side by side with him for his district,” she said.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer described Menchaca as a “man of great conviction,” and said the progressive agenda championed by de Blasio, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Menchaca, Public Advocate Letitia James and others “is helping us nationally get things done.”
Helping unemployment Americans get back on their feet, raising the minimum wage, reforming the nation’s immigration laws, and enhancing the rights of the LGBT community are issues “close to my heart” Schumer said, adding that he is looking forward to working on these issues in the senate.
The election of Menchaca has created a great deal of excitement in the district, according to civic and busines leaders. Mary Quinones, a vice president at Lutheran Medical Center, said hospital officials are looking forward to working with the new councilman. "We can't wait!" she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.