An end to "dynastic politics" in the Bronx will encourage many local minority voters to cast a ballot for the first time, according to council candidate Marcos Sierra.
Sierra, a native of the Bronx, is running for a council seat in New York City's 11st council district. The district includes several areas with high concentrations of Latino voters, including Norwood, Bedford Park and Van Cortlandt Village, as well as Riverdale, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in all of New York City.
While nearly 40% of the 11th district is comprised of Latinos - and nearly 20% African Americans - it has traditionally been represented on the city council by candidates from Riverdale, which is nearly 70% white and largely considered an affluent enclave.
In an interview with LPO, Sierra said that a major part of his campaign is addressing the inequities in the district. As an example, he noted that during the Covid-19 pandemic, Riverdale received funding to open three brand new parks, while the other six neighborhoods received none.
"That's probably one of the strongest reasons why I decided to run for the seat in a majority minority district," he said. "The district deserves someone who understands their daily struggles and has experienced them firsthand and isn't beholden to any political establishments or developers."
Currently, Sierra said that many voters in the area feel frustrated by a feeling of not being represented. The current councilman for the area, Eric Dinowitz, is from Riverdale. He took over from the previous councilman, Andrew Cohen, in a special election earlier this year after Cohen took on a position as a judge in the Bronx branch of the New York Supreme Court.
"The same names keep repeating themselves and winning office," he said. "It gets to a point where you have voter apathy, and in the Bronx that's because of these dynastic politics. There's a notion of handing down the seat to the next heir apparent in line. I've experienced this myself. No matter how many times you go out to vote, you still get the same result. That creates an apathetic environment.
Affluent politicians, he added, are often able to garner significant financial support from their constituents, as well as developers and other special interest groups.
"That ensures that the status quo is maintained," he said. "But at the end of the day it's about going out, talking to people, and educating them about their right to vote, coming from someone who understands their daily lived experiences and their struggles. That's the key."
His main challenge, he added, is going up against the "political machine" of well-financed candidates from areas such as Riverdale.
Sierra believes, however, that a grassroots approach focused on speaking directly to Latino, African American voters and other minorities can overcome this obstacle.
"Let's say you have someone from Riverdale who has never experienced food insecurity, job insecurity, or housing insecurity," he said. "What do they know about the importance of getting real affordable housing in a district where 75% are people are renters? It's critical that we have real affordable housing."
Another major issue for him, he added, is balancing the need for public safety with a need to reform the New York Police Department, which he said operates "very differently" in minority communities than they do in communities such as Riverdale.
"There's not been a word from our current council member or any previous council members regarding the gun violence that plagues the neighborhoods outside of Riverdale," he said. "However, when there is an assault on property in Riverdale, there is an immediate and visceral response from the sitting elected official."
"We need to address this in a way that is not traditional. We need less police officers, interacting in situations where they are not required," he said. "At the same time, we need the NYPD. There are bad actors out here in the world. But they cannot be allowed to operate with impunity, or qualified immunity."
Sierra said that while he believes that police practices should be reformed and policies like violence-intervention and social groups should be used to help address the root causes of crime, he believes there is an important role for the NYPD.
He added that he has been among the victims of gun-crime in the Bronx - and he credits an NYPD officer for saving his life.
"I'm here now because there was an officer in the park that day that made sure that I didn't bleed out," he said. "I'm thankful for that every day."
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