Less than two years ago, State Senator Julia Salazar was considered the insurgent candidate. A 27-year-old Democratic Socialist, she challenged Brooklyn’s Democratic establishment and won.
Heading into this year’s June 23rd primary, Salazar is the incumbent, mired in what’s been an acrimonious race between her and Bushwick local, Andy Marte. Both have slung allegations of campaign finance abuse at each other, and Salazar has criticized Marte for sponsoring COVID-19 antibody testing at a NYCHA development without approval from the city.
Greenpointers spoke with Senator Salazar to hear her thoughts on occupying the unfamiliar role of incumbent, the push to remedy housing insecurity in Salazar’s district and her position on police reform city and statewide.
To voters who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself and explain why you’re running for State Senate?
I am the current State Senator for the 18th district. I was first elected in 2018 and I became the youngest woman in the history of New York State to be elected to the State Senate.
How does it feel to be an incumbent when the narrative of your campaign two years ago was one of insurgency?
Because we changed the election date in order to synchronize the state primary with the presidential primary, it’s actually been less than two years since the last election. It’s been an abbreviated period. That makes it particularly strange to already be running again for State Senate.
I am a Democratic Socialist. I am on the left of the Democratic conference in the State Senate. I am still committed to pushing for the most progressive policies and pushing for transformative change and challenging the status quo. In all those ways, I still feel like an insurgent candidate, despite being an incumbent.
There have been daily protests throughout the city against the NYPD and police brutality. Do you believe in defunding the city police?
I believe that currently the NYPD’s budget and that of many police departments across the country are inflated. We need to be thinking critically about how much public funds are given to law enforcement and then how those funds are being used.
We’ve seen in recent weeks the militarization of police departments, including the NYPD, the brutal tactics used to suppress protests, including nonviolent protests. I would fully support decreasing the NYPD budget and then using those funds in the city budget for education, for example, to hire more counselors, to reduce the number of police officers, especially in schools that predominantly have a black and brown student body.
As far as quantifying it, I’ve heard from several Council Members, a lot of them are saying a minimum of a $1 billion reduction in the budget. I fully support that. Some of them are discussing more significant cuts depending on the details. I think at minimum the city needs to reduce the NYPD budget by at least $1 billion and then transfer that accordingly to more community alternatives.
At the state level, would you push for legislation to defund the state police and state law enforcement?
We haven’t been having rigorous conversations about this at the state level, mainly because of the way police departments are generally funded, but I would be very keen to examine what state resources are currently being allocated to law enforcement. I also want to ensure that any state or municipal resources that are currently given to law enforcement are not being used to collaborate with federal immigration enforcement.
District 18 spans parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Cypress Hills, and East New York. What do you think is the most pressing problem in Greenpoint and Williamsburg?
I would say housing insecurity is the biggest problem. The fact that we have tens of thousands people experiencing homelessness, including a lot of young people, is totally unacceptable in a society in which we have the resources to ensure that there’s’ permanent housing for every family. That’s something that’s having a specific impact in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. In 2019, it was really important that we passed additional protections for rent regulated tenants, but we know that families in Greenpoint and Williamsburg are increasingly rent burdened.
Additionally, we see a lot of the Latino community move further east or move out of the city entirely due to lack of affordability. I think for us to really address that urgent issue we need to change the formula for what is considered affordable housing, create and subsidize more deeply affordable housing and codify additional protections for those who have very little or virtually no protections as renters.
What policy position of Andy Marte’s do you disagree with the most?
I’ll let my opponent speak for himself on his positions, but what I am alarmed by is that it appears he is not taking the pandemic and the current public health crisis as seriously as I think it needs to be taken.
To reiterate my own position, in Brooklyn, we’ve seen nearly 5,000 deaths from COVID-19. Our State Senate district includes three of the zip codes that have been most disportionately impacted. We know that the impact of the virus has been severe in black and brown communities. There should be systemic changes in policy, not least of which is fighting for single-payer health insurance, and making sure that we’re addressing the inequity to access healthcare regardless of immigration status, employment status. My support for the New York Health Act is key.
It’s my understanding that he’s received support from anti-vaxxers, people who don’t believe in vaccinating their kids. That’s alarming to me, especially during a public health crisis. I think we need to be thinking about not just our own personal preferences when it comes to healthcare but thinking about our neighbors and public health in general.
Is there anything else you’d like to communicate to voters?
I’ve been pushing for the State Senate to reconvene as soon as possible. The work that my office has been doing to provide direct material assistance to people who are struggling to buy groceries, to afford to sustain themselves throughout the pandemic, has been critical. I also must make sure that we are passing policy to address this at a systemic level.
I introduced a bill called the Relief for All bill, which seeks to provide a solution to the current housing crisis and what we can expect to be an enduring economic crisis as a result of the pandemic. That includes not only rent relief and forgiveness of rent payments for those who have lost any income through the pandemic but also the burden of mortgage payments, assistance to nonprofit affordable housing providers and to HDFCs as well.
I want to mention I am the chair of the Women’s Issues Committee in the State Senate. I’m fighting for policies that empower women and address systemic inequality and gender bias and discrimination. I am also on the Environmental Conservation Committee, the Housing Committee, the Elections Committee, the Social Services Committee,and the Children and Families Committee.