State Senator Julia Salazar is often described politically as being left of the center; she’s a Democratic Socialist and a self-identified “Marxist.”
It’s no wonder then that her challenger, Andy Marte, has painted himself a “realist” in his bid to unseat Salazar after her first term in office. Following months of bitter campaigning, including allegations of campaign finance abuse, Marte hopes to persuade moderate Democrats in the 18th District to replace a young, left-of-center incumbent with a young, close-to-center insurgent.
Greenpointers spoke with Marte before Tuesday’s democratic primary elections about his more restrained approach to police reform, his take on mass vaccination campaigns and his ideas for creating more jobs in North Brooklyn.
To voters who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
I was born and raised in New York and went to elementary school all the way through high school in Bushwick. I ended up at 14 years old stumbling into local Bushwick politics as an intern for the local Assembly Member, Vito Lopez. From there, when I graduated high school, I ended up at Georgetown University.
When I graduated from Georgetown, I started working on my teacher certification. I was a substitute teacher for some time. I worked at RiseBoro, which is a social services agency in Bushwick, doing affordable housing with them. I also some time after that was a consultant for a substance abuse program in the neighborhood that also works with HIV people. My father passed away from HIV when I was young, so that was something I was very passionate about.
Before I ran for office, I wanted to understand the three most important things to people, which were housing, healthcare and education.
Why are you running for State Senate?
I’m running for State Senate because the current State Senator that we have has zero experience in almost anything. There’s a leadership vacuum in our community, specifically with the State Senate seat. No one sees her at any meetings. It’s very easy to talk about philosophical and theoretical jargon, but not actually do anything concrete.
I have a sociology background, so I understand the importance of some of the social programs that we have. But I think when you take that to an extreme of supporting Marxism and supporting Vladimir Lenin, you’re adding a whole different aspect to your politics that is not beneficial to the people that I grew up with in North Brooklyn.
There have been daily protests throughout the city against the NYPD and police brutality. Do you believe in defunding the city police? If so, how much money would you slash from its budget?
I have not seen the police’s budget. I would love to take a look at it before we determine whether we should be removing money from them. We do live in the financial capital of the world, so we do need a police force that’s capable of protecting us.
I’ve been in the police precinct advocating that they treat people nicer, but it wasn’t until I started going to the police council meetings that I started building a relationship with the precinct and the police officers, so that they can understand that we’re people. It’s very easy for a police officer to arrest somebody, but if they know these people, then it’s a different relationship.
As someone that has also studied politics in school and on the streets, there’s been African-American men that have been getting killed every year. There’s a presidential election and all of sudden the police are being attacked. It’s a very interesting dynamic. Some of that has to do with the influences of this Communist conversation that’s coming into our community.
Would you consider slashing the state police’s budget?
I think it’s the same situation, Most of the state police are on tolls, on highways. I’m not in favor of the militarization of the police force. But we do live in pretty much the center of the world. This is New York City. There’s a target on our back, countrywide and worldwide. For us to not take that into consideration, we’d be putting ourselves in a very complicated situation.
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?
Right now, the most pressing problem is jobs. The coronavirus showed how easily we can wipe out the economy in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, particularly the restaurant and bar industry.
I’ve always been in favor of having manufacturing. I actually had a conversation with a few people about the green industry. For some reason, green jobs are not considered manufacturing. I know there’s a lot of individuals that live in Greenpoint that are loft tenants, artists, people that make stuff. That should be another thing that we consider manufacturing in order to protect these individuals for tax purposes, for jobs.
We need to get creative and create other jobs. The beauty about Greenpoint and Williamsburg is we have some of the most educated people in New York that live there. I’m pretty sure that they have tons of ideas about how to do this.
What specific policy proposal or position of Senator Salazar’s do you disagree with the most?
She’s deemed me the anti-vaxxer candidate. I’ve never taken a position against vaccines. What I have taken a position against was the mandate that HPV vaccines are given to students. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. I’m not sure why we need to have nine-year-old kids vaccinated. If there is a health crisis that’s going on like the coronavirus, that’s one situation. Having an industry fund money towards elected officials so that they can make money off of it, that’s a whole different situation. That’s what happened with the senator’s support of HPV vaccines.
The bigger conversation there was should we allow philosophical or religious exemptions for vaccines. For some reason, in politics and in government and in policy making, we’re very reactive instead of being proactive. I tend to be a holistic type of person. My idea is to always teach people to eat healthy and live healthy lives from the get go, so we don’t have to be in a situation where there’s an outbreak of diseases.
Is there anything else you’d like to communicate to voters?
I would urge voters to ask questions, to reach out to me directly. I think my opponent has been very good at painting a picture of me that’s untrue. I’m pretty responsive. You can hit me up on Instagram, Facebook, email, and I respond personally to everyone’s questions. Get to know me.
Politics is not a pageant. Politics is about going to meetings. It’s about meeting people. It’s about being there for people when they need you the most. I’m being called the conservative. I consider myself a realist. The reality is that there are communities that are being ignored.
It’s not about being on Twitter and Instagram and attacking. It’s about being there for people when they need you. I think that once people get to know that about me, that I’m going to be there, that’s going to be a huge decider in this election.