Lifelong Lower East Side resident Carlina Rivera is a frontrunner to be a City Council member representing District 2, where her current boss Rosie Mendez is on the way out. She’s racked up at least $176,000 in fundraising and she received praise and promises of votes when she attended an anti-Starbucks rally in the East Village last month. If Rivera wins the primary election on September 12, she’ll continue her campaign to represent the East Village, Gramercy Park, Kips Bay, Lower East Side, Murray Hill and Rose Hill. We met with her at Alphabet City’s Ninth Street Espresso to talk about her campaign, local issues, and her sheroes.
I love the authenticity of the neighborhood. I think that it is very community oriented, you feel like you have a network of support. What keeps me here is the diversity. Yeah, the demographics have changed, for sure, and things have definitely changed. I think that has a lot to do with gentrification. What keeps me here is trying to not just preserve what makes such an amazing neighborhood, but fighting for more resources for the families that are struggling to maintain.
We have a lot of locally owned businesses, but a lot of them are bars and restaurants. We’ve become a nightlife hub and that’s really hard because there are people that have really deep roots here and have their lives here and so it’s [about] trying to find a balance between commerce and community and addressing the lack of retail diversity.
I think also just being able to have a neighborhood where young professionals can come and live and thrive. I feel like we’ve lost some of the balance of long term residents who can feel like they can further invest in their own communities.
I support that. When I was on the community board, that was something that we discussed during my tenure there. I’d love to look at a number of things to help small businesses. That includes a new, refreshed version of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, working with other elects in other levels of government, looking at the way property taxes are passed on to small businesses and then also really trying to give small businesses the technical support and the information they need when it comes to city bureaucracies.
You mentioned nightlife. Would you support the repeal of the Cabaret Law?
I think we have to repeal. We’re in a different time. We have to be culturally sensitive as to how people view dancing, view celebration, view what nightlife really means. But always, always, always, the resident’s quality of life comes first.
Investing in our public education system in a way that brings balance is also a way to really integrate our classrooms and make sure they’re diverse. Housing, housing, housing. Because if you don’t feel good about where you’re living, that’s pretty basic. Housing, healthcare, food and education. It typically comes back to that.
We want to bring the Second Avenue subway all the way down to, I believe the last stop would be Hanover Square. That’s going to take a lot of pushing. It’s really expensive, but I think it’s worth it. And the state has to recommit MTA funds.
I was raised by a single mom and she raised me and my sister. She would bring me to the meetings, all the meetings that she went to. I’d go to the precinct community council meetings, I’d go to the community board meetings… We had a pretty active tenants association because we had a great tenant leader, who’s no longer with us, but we named the street for her. Her name was Marie Christopher. I don’t think I’ve always known that I was going to be at this level in terms of a position, but I always knew that I’d be involved.
We have to make sure that we’re not allowing NYPD in any way to become ICE enforcement. And we have to make sure that we’re funding immigrant legal services, that they have access to whatever it is that they need. And that we also have these programs that are going to enable them to learn English, to be on a pathway to citizenship. We have to make sure that they have access to that while also not fearing for their lives. While allowing their children to go to school and enjoy a free education, which we have to make sure is quality for every single neighborhood. I’ll stand by that.
You were recently named one of the Sheroes of New York. What does that title mean to you?
I’m making sure that women and young women can look to me as someone who’s running a great campaign and trying to remain positive in the face of adversity. So being included as one of these Sheroes, which is a bipartisan effort, that means a lot to me because I want to be someone who works with everyone.
My mom, of course. Marie Christopher and Beyonce. There’s a lot of great women leaders here. There’s Cathy Dang, the executive director of CAAAV. My old boss, two of them, Rosie Mendez, Damaris Reyes. A lot of these women, like Sonia Sotomayor, who are first in their class in so many ways. Shirley Chisholm, to take on the system like that.
It’s a really interesting race because out of 51 seats in the city council, there are only 13 women, five of them are not returning to the council mostly due to term limits like Rosie Mendez, she’s term limited. That leaves eight, assuming we get reelected. That’s what we start with. Even if all the women who are running in an open seat win, we’re still at a pretty embarrassing number. And the other possibility is that in 2018 there could be no Latina city council person. While we do have a very diverse body, I do feel like a Latina perspective is important. Having said that, just making sure we have women on that council is so, so important to me. We should be at least half.
This interview has been edited and condensed.