Update August 18, 2022: This article has been edited to include references to the new State Senate district, the 59th. Because of another round of redistricting, Gonzalez and the other candidates are now running in the 59th district, not the 17th.
Kristen Gonzalez, an Elmhurst native and tech worker, announced her candidacy for the newly created State Senate District 59, of which Greenpoint is a part. Gonzalez is the first person to announce their candidacy for the office. Greenpoint is currently represented by State Senators Julia Salazar and Brian Kavanagh.
While the recent state-level redistricting means that Julia Salazar will keep her chunk of Greenpoint, Kavanagh will lose Greenpoint, meaning our neighborhood will be under new political representation in 2023.
Though she previously considered a run for City Council, Gonzalez ultimately landed on running for State Senate.
“When you pick an office, and what are the policies in your priority platform, it has to be specific to that office,” Gonzalez told Greenpointers in a recent interview, “I think for example sometimes we see rhetoric on a city level [about] transportation, but actually the MTA is controlled on a state level. If you care about the MTA, you also need to look at who’s at your state-level leadership. So for me, it doesn’t make sense to bounce around a lot…it’s about being intentional.”
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Who are you, and what is your relationship with this district?
I am through and through a daughter of western Queens. I was born and raised here. I was raised by my mom. She came from Puerto Rico with her family in the 1960s. They were pushed off their farm as part of US imperialism. I watched her really struggle to provide a better life for me. When I was very young, my father who was from Colombia passed away, and I think that experience for her and me, really pushed her to emphasize the value of education…She was the one who actually helped me find a scholarship to a prep school on the Upper East Side. So from K-5 I was in neighborhood public school but from 6-12 I lived my life between two entirely different worlds.
We have a tale of two New Yorks. Every morning on the train at like 6 a.m, I’d be at the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Station with my backpack and the last thing I would see was a line of immigrant workers who were waiting for a free breakfast from the local Catholic charity, and the first thing I would see when I popped up on E. 86th Street was a long line of businessmen waiting in line at Starbucks, with their suits and ties and briefcases. I didn’t understand it when I was in 6th grade, why I was going from a school where our gym was an emptied-out classroom, and then to another school where our gym was an entirely separate building and complex. And I started asking why at a very young age, so I got really politically involved in high school.
When I was in college, I continued to be politically involved. I was a first-generation low-income student. I organized on campus, and it really pushed me into a path of public service. I worked in the Obama administration, and in Chuck Schumer’s office, but what my time in government taught me was that the answer to my “why” was really that these systems, the inequality and injustice that we see today, are by design, and the people who designed them are entirely determined to keep them that way, which is why we have a New York for the rich and a New York for working-class families like my own where we can work seven days a week and still be one disaster away from losing everything.
I returned from DC and transitioned over into working in tech, like part of 1% of Latinas. I started doing a lot of organizing. I joined my community board, I helped start the community land trust – I was on the founding board as secretary. I worked with DSA’s tech action – we just launched an Internet for All campaign and mutual aid efforts on top of that, so for me, running for office is an extension of these projects, not only of what I know based on personal experience, but an extension of my political and organizing experience.
You identify as a Democratic socialist. Can you talk about what that means to you and, how can the group organize so that the word “socialism” is accessible to everyone?
In Greenpoint, we have a lot of Eastern European immigrants for whom “socialism” has an inherently negative connotation.
That’s totally fair, and I think that we are still doing that legwork as democratic socialists, to really help build a class consciousness. Ultimately, what we’re fighting for with DSA priorities is the ability for working-class families to live a dignified life. We believe that everyone should have access to baseline rights and resources. That includes things like housing as a human right. We live in a city where rents are skyrocketing and consistently pushing people out of their homes. Now more than ever after years of pandemic, how can we possibly still be arguing as to whether or not people have the right to live in their homes! A Green New Deal, we acknowledge that we’re out of time in needing to act on climate – we want to secure a green future, and that the people who are most hurt by climate crises are those who are most vulnerable, marginalized, working-class Black and brown communities.
Same with healthcare and having food security. People do oftentimes focus on a label, but when you really focus on the values and what we’re fighting for – I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks who definitely would not identify as a DSA member, but once they hear about our platform, and things like public safety and wanting to increase mental health resources, they actually do very much agree with the baseline of the platform.
And what being a Democratic socialist means to me, it’s about developing public power and accountability – democratically run things. I mentioned the land trust – how can we have a stake in owning and operating our own things, and investments in public schools, in our public green infrastructure, public housing, and it really is about care – how do we expand the social safety net? How do we do so in a way that pushes back on these systems?
The key to changing these systems for me wasn’t Washington DC. It wasn’t in City Hall or Morningside Heights. The key to changing these systems is right here with working-class communities of Queens, building a multi-racial working-class movement in which we push back on capitalist, racist, sexist systems that exploit us. Capitalism is dependent on all of those things intersecting.
A little winter chill can’t stop us! I’ll be out talking to voters no matter how cold it is, but I can’t do it alone! sign up to volunteer with us & let’s win this fight together— Kristen Gonzalez (@Gonzalez4NY) February 15, 2022
You have a day off, but you have to spend it all in the district. Where are you going, and what are you eating?
I am in Long Island City, so usually [on] a day off, I’m running errands, making sure I’m doing my laundry, cleaning the house, and doing all that fun stuff, but it starts with taking my dog to the dog park. I like walking along the waterfront and taking him to play with the other doggies. I love grabbing coffee; there are a few really good coffee shops around here. One that just opened is called No Stress Coffee, and it’s run by a young Asian woman who’s incredible and a boss. She opened up during a pandemic on a block that was kind of quiet, and because of her coffee shop, the block has picked up, and she’s brought life to it!
There are a few carts, so it depends what route I’m taking but Abuela’s Empanadas – having a little cheese empanada on the way to the park, and then coming back. I’m usually walking around, perusing different snacks. There’s a lot of good Chinese bread places – Bake Culture is really good.
Any last thoughts you want readers to know about you?
The thing I want people to know is one, that we should be excited about this new district, two, that our campaign is being intentional about turning out representation in all corners, building community and coalition, and the third thing is an invitation to get involved and be a part of that!
Ultimately we are all being affected by these same issues of things like gentrification and climate, and we are better when we are together!