BY LINCOLN ANDERSON and HEATHER DUBIN | Councilmember Rosie Mendez is campaigning for re-election based on her track record of service over the past eight years.
She’s facing a challenge that she appears to be taking seriously from Pastor Richard Del Rio, who she accuses of being “a Republican masquerading as a Democrat.”
In several recent interviews, Mendez defended her record against Del Rio’s claims against her. Meanwhile, she charged that while Del Rio is attacking her, he has never held political office, and thus has no record to speak of.
Mendez questioned Del Rio’s knowledge of the New York City Housing Authority’s “infill plan” and the process. She said she attended meetings weeks after NYCHA announced a request for proposals [R.F.P.] last year, and that then Hurricane Sandy happened months later, shifting everyone’s focus toward dealing with the storm’s disastrous and drawn-out impact. Some NYCHA buildings were hit pretty hard during the storm, Mendez said, noting that certain buildings in Red Hook, Brooklyn, are still without working boilers.
“That the infill isn’t moving forward means the three of us representing the districts [Councilmembers Margaret Chin, Melissa Mark-Viverito and herself] were successful,” she said.
However, Mendez also asserted that the federal government has given its blessing to the controversial plan, and that it could proceed if the city wanted it to. But, due to the vehement opposition, the Bloomberg administration recently slowed down on the infill plan, and is now only requesting “expressions of interest,” rather than actual proposals from developers.
As an alternative revenue-raising measure for the cash-strapped authority, Mendez said, she supports rescinding a memorandum of understanding between NYCHA and the Police Department under which NYCHA must pay $75 million annually for police to patrol its developments. On the other hand, the infill plan was only expected to bring in $35 million to $50 million a year for the city.
As for the problem of rats in the Baruch bathhouse — which Del Rio blames her for allowing to fester — Mendez said rats are a stubborn problem in the district, in general. She is working with the Department of Sanitation and its Rodent Task Force to combat the problem with tactics like mint-scented garbage bags, special garbage cans and rat traps. Mendez said the Baruch bathhouse is empty and owned by the city’s Parks Department.
“Now, I’m concerned about the rats that are in playgrounds where the children are in,” she said.
Additionally, Mendez spoke at length about her vote on New York University’s 2031 plan. She explained she votes with her constituents in mind, and not always the way she feels on a given issue. In fact, almost all councilmembers say they generally vote with the “lead negotiator” on issues, which in this case was Margaret Chin, whose district contains the N.Y.U. South Village superblocks.
Mendez said the university’s massive project was scaled back, and that, in separate but parallel negotiations with N.Y.U., 200 to 300 affordable housing units at 505 LaGuardia Place — a Mitchell-Lama co-op with many long-term and senior tenants, on the southern superblock — were preserved.
“Many of my constituents were upset, but I’m not going to be apologetic for ultimately voting for something that also helped save and make permanent affordable housing,” she said.
“Alan was unable to get this,” Mendez said of Chin’s predecessor in the City Council, Alan Gerson, who actually lives in 505 LaGuardia. “Margaret Chin could get it.”
Also, Mendez added, it is preferable for N.Y.U. to build on its own superblocks than haphazardly at other sites throughout the area, as they find them.
“There would be sites throughout our three districts [Council Districts 1, 2 and 3] where they would be able to build — and build higher. Here they were able to build [some of the project] underground,” she said of the superblocks.
In terms of her attendance at City Council meetings, Mendez said she was present at 80 to 90 percent of the meetings for most of the past eight years.
“There was one year when my attendance was 78 percent,” she said. “My mother was hospitalized, and the speaker [City Council Speaker Christine Quinn] knew I had to leave and go to Puerto Rico. I’m sure my community understands in that given year I was there for my parents.” Another year she had knee surgery, which also contributed to absences.
“And that only takes into account official hearings,” Mendez noted. “It doesn’t count tenant meetings, block association meetings, garden association meetings, park events, school meetings.
“But more importantly, like — what has he done?” Mendez fired back at Del Rio. “CHARAS, Stanton St. Shul, St. Brigid’s, Con Edison — the pollutants, the expansion, the [stray voltage] accident that killed Jodie Lane — I’ve been there. He’s not been there. … He showed up for Sandy because he wanted to run.”
Del Rio is an active proponent of religious organizations using public schools for worship services when the schools are not in session. He currently holds church services at a public school in the East Village. Mendez said she strongly supports the U.S. Constitution, which mandates a very clear separation of church and state.
“That’s the issue he’s running on — church in schools,” she declared of Del Rio. “I haven’t seen him involved in anything but that issue. I’ve only seen him at City Hall on that issue.
“I let the Constitution be my guide,” she asserted. “And, in addition, as an out lesbian, I have issues with some of the organizations. They’re allowed to preach whatever they want to preach — I just don’t think they should be able to do it in a public place.
“I don’t go to church,” she added. “They don’t accept me [as a lesbian]. I used to go to St. Brigid’s.”
Asked about her personal beliefs, she said, “I was raised Catholic. I think I’m spiritual. I don’t embrace a certain religion right now. Spirituality comes in a number of different ways. The greatest part of spirituality is our humanity, particularly how we treat people in need.”
Although Del Rio aided the community after Sandy through relief efforts working with his church, Mendez touts her own record working with the area’s other local elected officials to restore services and help get people vital supplies.
“The only thing he ever did was Sandy,” Mendez stated. “He was telling people I wasn’t here [during Sandy] — a lot of lies. He made it sound like he was the only one here. I was walking up and down Avenue D with a bullhorn telling people to evacuate [before the storm].”
As for term limits, Mendez said she opposed overturning them legislatively, but that, in general, she doesn’t believe in them, except for certain powerful offices like the mayor and City Council speaker. This is why she is now running for a third term, despite having spoken out on the floor of the City Council in 2008 to oppose overturning term limits legislatively — even citing The Villager’s editorial on the subject when she did so.