It’s likely you’ve heard about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s NY14 primary triumph last month over 19-year incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley of the notorious New York Democratic machine, but there’s another election coming up on September 13th that mustn’t be overlooked. That is the state Senate’s 18th District primary in North Brooklyn, and Julia Salazar, another Latina democratic socialist and community organizer, is on the Democratic ticket.
Her grass-roots organizing is relentless, her message is clear, and her opponent, 16-year incumbent Martin Dilan has few accomplishments to show in the speedily gentrifying district that includes parts of Bushwick, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Cypress Hills, City Line, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Brownsville.
An American citizen, Salazar settled with her family as a baby in South Florida where her American mother raised her and her brother after moving between the U.S. and Colombia, the home country of Salazar’s father. In 2009, Salazar moved to New York to attend Columbia University, where she managed 30-hour work weeks on top of her studies to pay rent and cover living expenses. Her activism and class consciousness began in Harlem after a winter without heat when she and her neighbors decided to confront their negligent landlord. Salazar led a rent strike, which after three months helped the tenants win concessions in housing court. However, only a few months later, the landlord pushed Salazar out with a rent hike.
“We won because we fought collectively,” she told The Intercept, “and that was amazing. But it also made clear that if you want to change a systemic problem — and landlord negligence is absolutely a systemic problem — then you need a systemic solution. And that comes from policy.”
Salazar may not be as charismatic as Ocasio-Cortez, who endorsed her candidacy, but her policy upholds the principles of her membership in and endorsement from the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (NYC-DSA), which, along with Justice Democrats, an American progressive political action committee, helped propel Ocasio-Cortez to victory.
At the center of her platform is universal rent control. In the midst of a housing crisis, Salazar proposes several policies to make housing affordable for North Brooklynites:
1) Ending vacancy decontrol, often called “eviction bonus,” which regulates rent hikes by setting the rent of vacant units at market level. This policy incentivizes landlords to harass tenants and push for eviction so they can raise the rent.
2) Ending preferential rents and limiting MCI-induced rent increases, or a permanent increase in rent for rent-stabilized/controlled tenants, which encourages gentrification.
3) State financing of affordable housing for working-class residents.
4) Combatting upzonings, or changing the zoning of a residential area for commercial use, which advances the displacement of low-income residents.
5) Expanding rent stabilization to all New York apartments to fight evictions.
Dilan’s legacy, however, looms over North Brooklyn.
As a city council member in 1994, he voted in favor of vacancy decontrol. He told The Intercept that he regrets that decision, arguing “At the time, in Bushwick and Cypress Hills, rents were around $300 or $400 a month. We did not see Manhattan prices. There was virtually no comparison.” However, Dilan failed to sponsor legislation to revoke vacancy decontrol as a state Senator between 2009-2010 when the Democrats held a rare majority over Republicans. Since then, Dilan co-sponsored bills twice to repeal vacancy decontrol but lacked majority Democratic control necessary to pass them.
In 2010, during a vote for two bills that sought to close loopholes for landlords to hike rents on regulated units, Dilan left his seat at roll call, aiding in their defeat. Tenant advocate Michael McKee claims Dilan had to be convinced to leave during roll call rather than vote against the bills as he initially intended. Dilan denies abstaining from the vote and draws attention to his support for other pro-tenant legislation such as the Loft Law, which protects tenants who are illegally living in commercial or factory buildings.
One of the moral strengths of Salazar’s campaign is that she only accepts small donations, rejecting corporate money like Ocasio-Cortez. Dilan, however, has accepted over $200,000 in campaign donations from the real estate sector since he entered politics. His donors include the Rent Stabilization Association (of which Donald Trump was an honorary director) and Real Estate Board of New York, which are both notoriously anti-tenant lobby groups.
Salazar’s housing policy is bolstered by her views on immigration, healthcare, and the MTA. In an era of unprecedented threats to the livelihood of immigrants in the U.S., Salazar supports the passage of the Liberty Act and DREAM Act, a ban on ICE in NYC courtrooms, legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses, as well as voting rights at the state and municipal level. Salazar calls for healthcare to be treated as a human right, supporting numerous policies to expand care to all New Yorkers.
Finally, to address the disastrous MTA, she demands the expansion of transit service through funding the MTA capital program, freezing the ever-increasing transit fares, ensuring reliable transit during the L train shutdown for North Brooklynites, and making all stations accessible for the disabled and the elderly.
Earlier this month, Dilan touted a groundless smear against Salazar, filing a lawsuit in the Brooklyn state Supreme Court falsely claiming she failed to be a resident of New York for five straight years in order to run for office. The lawsuit also claims Salazar lacks the minimum required signatures for her candidacy. Salazar’s lawyer said the claim was “utterly baseless.”
On Thursday, during a press conference with Cynthia Nixon, endorser of Salazar and progressive Democratic gubernatorial candidate, to promote fully funding public schools, Salazar’s speech was disrupted by demonstrators, allegedly sent by Dilan , to defame her as a previously registered Republican.
Growing up in a conservative family, Salazar naturally embraced their Republican support at a young age. However, after moving to New York City, it is clear that her views have become dramatically more progressive–even radical–at least for the Democratic Party.
In response to the demonstration and smear campaign by Dilan, Salazar wrote on her website, “But the people of North Brooklyn won’t be distracted; I won’t be distracted. We know what matters to us and to our communities, and it’s not what I thought about politics when I was 18. I’m going to keep talking to voters across the 18th District about the issues that matter to us: affordable housing, good transit, universal healthcare and excellent schools. We don’t have time for games and personal attacks; the problems facing our community are too important.”
Whether you reside in the 18th District or not, don’t sleep on Julia Salazar.
Note: A correction was made at 12:49pm, 9/14/18 to reflect Julia Salazar’s true background story. Contrary to what she implied to the mainstream media, it was revealed that she is not a Colombian immigrant, but rather she was born in the United States.