BY HEATHER DUBIN | A jubilant crowd celebrated City Councilmember Rosie Mendez’s easy defeat of Pastor Richard Del Rio in the Council District 2 Democratic primary at Angelina’s Cafe, on Avenue A at E. Third St., on Tuesday evening.
The two-term councilmember kept her seat from challenger Del Rio by garnering 81 percent of the vote to his 19 percent. About 100 people gathered at the East Village cafe to express their support for Mendez, enjoy dinner and toast their candidate, who noted this was a rough campaign.
The official results have not been released by the Board of Elections, yet Mendez is the clear winner.
After a long day, Mendez paused at her victory party for a lengthy sit-down interview. She had been on the go since 7 a.m., and had visited more than 25 sites in her district, which covers the East Village, part of the Lower East Side, Union Square, Gramercy and the Kips Bay neighborhoods.
Before the interview began, Mendez pointed out her middle school English teacher from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who sat across from her.
“She’s the one who validated everything I knew,” Mendez said. “I was being discriminated against because I was a girl.” Her teacher told her that was not right, and Mendez found a mentor who has been around ever since. In addition to her former teacher, community activists, campaign volunteers and local friends surrounded Mendez on Tuesday night.
Mendez thought the voter turnout on Tuesday was pretty slow, but she received positive responses from her constituents. She did run into two of what she called “your average disgruntled voter.” However, considering the number of people she met, the two did not bother Mendez.
She admitted to not being nervous, and had faith in the work she has accomplished in District 2.
“This is what democracy is about,” Mendez said.
Her approach is direct and pragmatic; she had a job to do, and now that it is done, she informed the voters of her successes.
Mendez did reveal that she was nervous for other candidates, and pegged herself as a worrier. She and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who lost her bid at a chance to be the Democratic mayoral nominee, have known each other for 26 years, when they first met doing housing advocacy work. Mendez shared text messages between the two from earlier that day expressing their mutual respect and admiration for each other.
While attentive to the interview, Mendez followed Quinn’s race with a close eye when it flashed on the flat-screen television. Mendez believes that as mayor, Quinn would have fought hard to preserve rent-stabilized and public housing.
“We can’t afford to lose anymore,” she said. Mendez hopes to continue housing preservation in her third-term, which she said is always an issue in her district.
With eight years of experience behind her, Mendez wants to move forward with lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy last October. She had entered flooded New York City Housing Authority buildings, and relied on nonprofit groups, tenant associations and block associations to help assist residents.
“Where we were most effective was where those groups were organized,” she said.
Mendez wants to continue working with these groups, and to compile comprehensive lists of residents in local NYCHA housing.
“When we strengthen our community, you strengthen people,” she said.
After Sandy struck, Mendez recalled attending meetings and waiting for deliveries of supplies that took days to come. Her district also experienced an almost weeklong blackout as the weather turned cold.
Mendez remembered Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, at a meeting at City Hall, asking Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer about the blackout: “What’s the big deal?” Mendez was furious, and she said people had to physically hold her back.
To be better prepared, Mendez has been actively working with the local Long-Term Recovery Group that was formed after Sandy. Mendez thinks collaboration and a coordinated effort will be the key to helping the district in the future.
“My job is demanding, but I really love my job,” she said. Mendez looks forward to working harder than she has before, and wants to focus on creating more schools. She has used capital dollars to improve schools, and wants a mayor who will focus on education.
“Bloomberg called himself the ‘education mayor’; he fell short,” she said.
During the interview, Mendez’s campaign workers gave her updates on her race. She beat Del Rio 2 to 1 at the polling site where his church, Abounding Grace Ministries, meets, P.S. / M.S. 34, at E. 12th St. and Avenue D. Mendez also found out she was ahead at several other sites.
“It feels good,” she said.
Mendez was grateful to everyone who volunteered their time and support, and trusted her that she could be their voice.
When asked about plans following her third term, Mendez, a lawyer, said she is going to concentrate on her job the next four years.
“I don’t know what the possibilities are, but if something would come along that I might be good at, I would consider running for something else,” she said. Mendez also said she could be an activist since there are different ways of making changes.
According to Mendez, her activism began at age 6 when she protested that her brother was allowed to play outside in his Sunday suit, but she had to continue to wear her dress.
The mood at Del Rio’s post-election party at Cafe Royale, on Avenue C near E. 10th St., was decidedly more somber. In a quick interview before he gave his concession speech, Del Rio was upbeat about his run.
“I’m feeling good. I gave it everything, and I had a great team,” he said. “The people have spoken.”
Arlene Del Rio, his wife, felt they put up a good fight and tried hard to win.
“He had a lot of good ideas,” she said of her husband. “I’d like to see if we can work with Rosie.”
Del Rio thanked his volunteers in his speech, and acknowledged he was a political outsider, but was grateful for his family and staff. He was positive about his campaign experience, and enjoyed meeting people in the district.
“This is not over,” he vowed. “I’ve become so much smarter.”
Del Rio will return to his full-time pastor job, and plans to continue working with the community in Council District 2. After congratulating Mendez in a phone call, he told her he was available to help.
“I feel we can bring something to the table,” he said.