Carlina Rivera has served as a Manhattan councilwoman since 2018.
This interview with Ms. Rivera was conducted by the editorial board of The New York Times on July 27.
Read the board’s endorsement for the Democratic congressional primary for New York’s 10th District here.
Kathleen Kingsbury: We’re just going to jump in. I hoped we could talk a little bit about — and I understand you have to reject the premise of this question — what you would be able to accomplish in a Republican-controlled Congress. And it’s good to be as specific as possible. But also, if there’s one big idea that you have that you’d pursue on a bipartisan basis.
I would love to focus on what we would actually get done, absolutely. I think I’m the type of person that’s been very effective and very collaborative. I think you are going to have many of us who want to end the Jim Crow relic of the filibuster. Are we walking into a Congress that’s going to allow that? Maybe not.
So, being rooted in realism, one of the things that I’m actually going to focus on: as tangible results as possible. So that will be serving on a great committee. I realize I’ll also be a junior congressperson, so I’ll have to serve sort of, you know, where they think my service would be best needed.
But I also know that we are going to be losing leadership just in N.Y.12 alone. Our chairship will be lost. And I feel the delegation is at its strongest when we have leadership amongst many committees. So I would love to have my New York congressional delegation help advocate for me to get a good committee. I’d love something like transportation and infrastructure.
We have the biggest subway system in the world that floods even with a little bit of rain. And we have a B.Q.E. that’s falling down. Again, energy and commerce would also be nice, because in there, there are discussions on climate and health care. And I do feel like, even though discussions over what we can do to address the effects of climate change haven’t been particularly successful, it’s going to be an important conversation going forward.
I also think, going in, something that I could focus on are earmarks, $9 billion recently for earmarks, about approximately 4,900, 5,000 earmarks, having someone — there’s no pun intended — with their ear to the ground I think is something that I’m especially good at. I know this district very, very well. I know the issues facing every neighborhood, and that is something that I will go in and fight for, to bring those resources back to my district.
And then the last thing I’ll say is, in terms of the infrastructure bill, I know that many people might say that money is already at the city and state level. My relationships and how I’ve come up through the community and through the ranks, they’re very strong. So working with people at every level of government to ensure that we know where those dollars and resources are going is something that I think I’ll be very effective at.
Mara Gay: Councilwoman, inflation is hitting Americans hard. But as you know, in this district, the primary driving factor for cost of living is housing. What would you do as a member of Congress to address the cost of housing in New York?
Well, housing is one of my signature issues. I am someone who I feel has maybe taken unpopular stances on housing, because I feel a few things are incredibly important. Stable housing is what has brought me right before you here today, growing up in Section 8 and having a roof over my head — again, something stable.
I think there are good pieces of legislation to explore in Congress. The Home[s] Act, looking at linking federal dollars to maybe how we can change some zoning laws that have been quite restrictive. I took a local position on that that I thought was important. And trying to bring housing to a transit-rich area, which hadn’t really been done in rezonings before. But bringing those federal dollars in building housing — because right now, our supply does not meet our demand — to me is one of the most important things that we should be doing as representatives.
And I’ll add to that something like the Green New Deal for public housing is something I’m also very passionate about, because just in the council, I represent the third highest concentration of public housing families. But there will also be even more developments and more families in N.Y.10 who will need representation — good, strong representation. And my story of my mom growing up in Farragut Houses and my dad growing up in Seward Park Extension, this is where I’ve spent the majority of my time. And this is certainly something that I’ll be looking to do.
Mara Gay: And what tough vote that you took on housing — could you name one for us, since you said it was something that you could get tough votes on?
Well, I’ll tell you, the SoHo, NoHo rezoning maybe didn’t make me the most popular, but I think it was the right thing to do. I’m glad that we saw it through. I’m someone that digs in deep, fights, negotiates and comes to a compromise. And I thought that ultimately, that was the right decision to make.
Mara Gay: You voted for it?
Mara Gay: For the record. Thanks.
Jyoti Thottam: Hi, Councilwoman. So, just moving big picture for a minute to the threats to our democracy, what do you think Democrats in Congress could do, should be doing, to protect democracy and secure voting rights, et cetera?
I think for many people — people are losing faith in their government. I think that that is maybe at an all-time high right now. I think how we restore people’s faith or trust in government is to deliver on the things that we’re fighting for.
And so that is, again, those tangible things that you can see. I also think — well, we must try to expand voting rights in every which way possible, clearly making sure that, again, those people that have been historically disenfranchised, whether it’s same-day registration, automatic registration, being engaged, civically engaged, with people and starting that very, very young. Civics and education, I think, is also really important. So fighting for that, while also understanding that I think we should be looking to achieve progress wherever and however possible. And that’s something that I’m looking forward to doing and working with my colleagues.
Patrick Healy: Councilwoman, do you think that Democratic elected officials are out of step at all with Democratic voters on immigration, on L.G.B.T.Q. rights, on any issue out there? As you talk to voters and hear the conversation, how does that compare with how elected officials talk about some of these things?
I do feel there are almost two schools of Democrats. And there are very ideological representatives. And then there are sort of these individuals that are more kind of like old school, let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
I would say that what I think would make me a successful congresswoman is that I feel like I have my foot in both. I’m going to go for the big fights, the Green New Deal and the Medicare for All. But I’m also going to do my best to deliver as much as I can. I don’t think “incremental” is a bad word, but however and wherever possible we can achieve progress. And I’m excited because I’ll be going into the delegation with relationships with some of the reps that will be there. And I’ll be working hard to deliver.
Eleanor Randolph: So we have a couple of yes-or-no questions. And you’ve touched on one. But if you don’t mind, we’ll just go through them. One, would you favor expanding the Supreme Court?
Yes, I can expand it —
Mara Gay: One-word answers would be great.
Eleanor Randolph: What about ending the filibuster?
Eleanor Randolph: What about term limits for members of Congress?
Yes. Oh, wait a minute. Hold on. You said term limits for members of Congress?
Eleanor Randolph: Yes.
Eleanor Randolph: No. OK, what about an age limit for members of Congress?
Eleanor Randolph: And should President Biden run again?
Eleanor Randolph: OK. Thank you.
I was thinking about it. I just answer [inaudible].
Alex Kingsbury: I’d like to ask you about Ukraine. I’m wondering if there should be an upper limit on the amount of taxpayer dollars that we spend on that conflict, and if we should attach any sort of conditions to the money that we’re sending to Ukraine.
I have been unapologetic about my support for Ukraine. I represent Little Ukraine in the East Village. And that situation is felt abroad and here at home. I have tried in my capacity in the city to ensure that people understand that they have someone who knows this is a very comprehensive issue in terms of what people’s needs are and how we are open to accepting refugees and families that will be coming here because of that relationship between Ukrainians and New York City and in Ukraine. We are providing the appropriate amount of funding right now, and I do not see any conditions at the moment to attach to that.
Nick Fox: What do you think are the specific climate policies and plans that the Democrats should prioritize now?
Specific climate policies and plans. Before I ever decided to run for public office, I was in New York City for Hurricane Sandy. That was eight feet of water on Avenue C, where I have spent my life. This is an issue not for tomorrow. It is for today.
And I’m going to — hopefully, as the next congresswoman for New York 10 — represent low-lying communities that are the majority disproportionately Black, brown families that live in public housing. I feel we need a full-court press on climate. I realize that it is going to be incredibly difficult when environmental policies and protections are pulled from legislation, and there was an actual weakening of the E.P.A. I realize the challenges that are in front of us.
I do feel that where we should focus our federal resources is on resilient infrastructure and the creation of very good green jobs. That is something I think can be a bipartisan effort and that I can be effective in advocating for, because of the nature of the district that I’ll be representing and because of my personal and professional experience in addressing this issue.
Mara Gay: Thank you. What further action can Congress take on gun violence?
Gun violence is clearly — I think it’s a public health crisis. What we have seen happen in my district and even in my own community where I grew up, even previous to the SCOTUS decision, some of the strongest gun control laws in the country in New York State, still these guns were reaching our communities, and people are dying.
What I think we can do is a few things. One is try to move forward, even on some of what was just accomplished very, very recently by Congress. And utmost respect to how we were able to move that. But right now it is such an urgent crisis that I felt that it was overdue. But I’m glad that it happened.
What I’m seeing in my own district and in my time in the city is being able to identify what is working. So we have to invest: mental health programs, housing, education, work force development, ensuring that young people know that we are supporting them. And we also should be investing in programs that I’ve seen as the chair of the Committee on Hospitals in my last term, in programs like Stand Up to Violence, at Jacobi and Lincoln Hospital, that are using credible messengers and people from the community to go meet gun violence victims where they’re at in the emergency rooms and have really tough conversations about what is transpiring locally.
I think that is a successful program. It should be expanded, as well as comprehensive and complementary strategies to law enforcement, and trying to ensure that we are establishing what should be a mutually respectful relationship between community and police.
Mara Gay: And could you just name one action that you would take as a member of Congress on abortion rights, to protect abortion rights?
As a member of Congress to protect abortion rights. Well, we have to end the filibuster to codify Roe. I would say we should work to expand access to medication abortion. I’ve passed that bill. I think it could be an example, a model, for other places across the country, and we should be providing funding to provide those services.
Especially, we’ve done that here in New York, establishing the nation’s first abortion access fund, which has become a model already for other cities. I think that that should continue in terms of funding to places, especially those states that are adjacent to and nearby the states with outright restrictions or bans.
[Abortion activists believe that New York’s abortion access fund marked the first time cities directed money to abortions specifically.]
Mara Gay: Thank you.
Kathleen Kingsbury: What should Congress do to address the increasing threat of domestic terrorism?
Well, I feel we have a very sort of unique opportunity right now to put members of Congress in who understand that domestic terrorism, white supremacy, are issues right now that are destroying our communities. And we have to have a very, very serious conversation at every level of government, explore legislation, and really try to address that there are many things that I think are fueling domestic terrorism and white supremacy, antisemitism, gun violence, hateful and bigoted rhetoric, and using our platforms to really also speak out against a lot of the things that are transpiring in our communities that are divisive and that are violent.
Mara Gay: We have a lightning round, a little pop quiz for you.
Mara Gay: How does Plan B work?
Plan B is, you could actually buy it over the counter when you walk into the CVS.
Mara Gay: How does the medication work in the body?
The Plan B?
Mara Gay: Mm-hmm.
Orally? It, it …
Mara Gay: What does it do?
It expends the pregnancy — I mean, I’m sorry. I’m thinking of medication abortion. Let me clear that. Plan B is a preventive medicine that you take within three to five days of having sex. You take it orally, and it prevents … it prevents the pregnancy.
Mara Gay: It prevents ovulation.
Mara Gay: Do you own a gun?
Mara Gay: Have you ever shot a gun?
Mara Gay: Please name the average member of Congress the best you can.
Please name the what?
Mara Gay: The average — I’m sorry. Excuse me. Sorry. What is the average age of a member of Congress?
Ooh, that’s a great question. I think it’s fairly high, maybe in the 60s?
Mara Gay: Fifty-eight. What about for senators?
I was going to say 61. Say that again, sorry.
Mara Gay: Sorry. For senators?
For senators — 59?
Mara Gay: Sixty-four. Sorry. Now back to what I was misreading. Please name a member of Congress, dead or living, whom you most admire and may emulate yourself after, if elected to serve.
Dead or living? I’m very pleased to [inaudible] Nydia Velázquez. I also think [Pramila] Jayapal is someone I’m very much looking forward to working with.
Mara Gay: Thank you. And what is your favorite restaurant in the district?
My favorite restaurant in the district is El Castillo de Jagua, which is on Rivington Street.
Mara Gay: Thank you.
I have a lot of favorite restaurants. I hate this question. I grew up in New York City. Oh my gosh.
It is just like the most outstanding, diverse buffet of cuisine and food. And the pizza alone, right? The pizza alone. Anyway, I really love going out to eat. But you’ve got to keep it healthy. I’m also a farmer’s market person, and I really believe in funding our local farmers and farmer’s market.
And maybe we’re not going to get into regulating big agriculture and regenerative farming. But I just think we have such a great city. Going out to eat, arts and culture, nightlife. I want to be the candidate for the people that love New York City.
Mara Gay: Your objection is noted.
Kathleen Kingsbury: In the council, you’ve pushed hard for deep cuts to the N.Y.P.D. Do you support the defund movement? And what do you say to voters who are concerned about public safety right now?
Public safety is actually a topic that does come up very, very frequently on the streets when I’m talking to voters. I believe that we need to have these sort of complementary strategies to law enforcement. And what I mean by that is I do believe that the safest communities are the ones that are invested in.
And so I can tell you, as someone who is from New York — though I want to build a future for anyone coming to this city, a future that people can see themselves in — but being from New York, I can tell you that the East Village is very different from the West Village and that Park Slope is very different from Sunset Park.
The resources there, the presence of police, and I feel that sort of relationship can sometimes fall a little different. And so for me, I believe that we need equitable funding to all of our agencies and that we really have to fund what I call the four basics, first and foremost, which are housing, education, health care and food. That is what I convey over and over again to people.
And as an elected official, I do my very best to have good relationships with my local precincts and try to work as respectfully and as collaboratively as possible.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Jyoti?
Nick Fox: Yeah, you’ve spoken out —
Jyoti Thottam: Nick, yeah, go ahead.
Nick Fox: Spoken out extensively on the need to support public housing. The region doesn’t have enough housing supply in general. What can Congress do to help? And do you think, like others in this race, that the residential tower at 130 Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan should be 100 percent affordable?
Some call that 5 World Trade Center. So, all right, so there’s two questions there. One is, what do we think Congress can do? Yes, I’ve spoken extensively on public housing, because I feel it is that important. Just in New York City, it is a $40 billion challenge that is not even looking at the rest of the public housing across the country. I’m speaking exclusively to New York City.
I also know that, again, we do not have enough supply to meet the demand. And right now, when you need 5,000 there — the average median rent is $5,000 — you need a six-figure job to keep up with monthly expenses. That is becoming increasingly difficult for people to be able to see their future in New York City.
What we can do, I mentioned a few pieces of legislation that I thought were important. I mentioned the Green New Deal for public housing. I mentioned the Home Act. There is also another piece of legislation called Yes in My Backyard.
There are a few pieces there that I feel, in terms of linking — some things that we should explore — linking federal resources to perhaps looking at how we make zoning less restrictive. In the case of 5 World Trade or Liberty Street, what they’re describing right now is that everyone wants 100 percent affordable housing everywhere. I feel mixed-income housing — and again, affordable housing has different levels, and so we need low and moderate and middle.
I think that is really, really important to have that integration, and it’s also had proven outcomes for people who live in these mixed communities. To put $500 million into one tower for 900 — for lottery units that we’re not even sure how deep the [area median income] will be, to me, could be a decision that is not reflective of being equitable at where we’re putting resources to build affordable housing.
Mara Gay: Thank you. Let’s talk about your path to victory a little bit. It’s obviously an exceptionally crowded race. The two-part question was, what is your path to victory? And the second part of the question is, what will be the determining factor in who emerges victorious in this primary? Is it a union? Is it a ground game? Is it how much money you have in the bank? What is it?
I think to win this race — and I feel like I am uniquely positioned to do it because of my roots, because of the relationships that I have, and that people know me in the community, and they know me in this district — to win, you certainly need to be funded, and you need a good ground game. So you need a combination.
For me, having the validators that I do have is the coalition I’m building in terms of supporters, including an early endorsement from Nydia Velázquez, was really important. Over 45 percent of her old district is in the new N.Y.10. And people know her. She’s a fighter. And so having that was critical.
Having good support, whether it’s council members, labor, I think just for me, I have community leaders, P.T.A. presidents, disability advocates, and NYCHA tenant association leaders, district leaders, state committee people. I think that group of people — who understand the issues, who know who I am, who know my drive — that is what’s going to get me to the finish line. Ultimately, I would say it is having a fully funded campaign and a good ground game. And I think I’m the only candidate that has both.
Mara Gay: Thank you.
Patrick Healy: You live in Manhattan, but the majority of voters in the district live in Brooklyn. Why are you the best person to represent this district?
Well, I’ve had all my most, I would say, my most important memories and milestones in this district. So my mom grew up in Brooklyn. My dad grew up in the L.E.S. And I like to say I’m the best of both boroughs.
And I grew up going to the matinee at Cobble Hill. It was $2 on Sunday. It was like the best memory with me, my mom and my sister. I grew up bowling at Melody Lanes in Sunset Park, and I am the kid that grew up swimming in Carmine Pool and Ham Fish and playing ball at the Cage.
So, for me, this district was built for me. It was made for me. And I think the responses that I’m getting from the people that live there are a testament to that.
Kathleen Kingsbury: Great. I think we’re all —
Thank you so much.
Jyoti Thottam: We have a couple of minutes.
Jyoti Thottam: I just have one question. You’ve mentioned a lot of legislation you’ve sponsored —
Jyoti Thottam: Or that you’ve supported. Can you just name one that’s actually been passed and implemented, that has helped people in this district? Just one.
Jyoti Thottam: The one you’re most proud of.
Can I name three? Please, I’ll be so fast.
Kathleen Kingsbury: We have four minutes.
OK, OK. OK, so, all right. So one of the first bills I passed was to regulate illegal hotels, which were taking on Airbnb when they were — it’s pretty much removing units from the affordable housing stock. That has actually been enforced, and the mayor just did a press conference just a couple of weeks ago on how the Office of Special Enforcement was actually putting it into action, and it was working. One other bill I’d like to mention is my first bill, which is actually to codify sexual harassment as a form of discrimination. That was incredibly important.
And the last bill I’ll mention was the most recent, which was to make medication abortion available at city-run health clinics. And just one bonus is bicycle — to actually provide a detour when there is on-site street work or construction — to provide a detour for bicycle lanes. I feel like that was really important, because if we’re trying to promote greener infrastructure and prioritize pedestrians and cyclists, that and my bill to make Open Streets a permanent program, I thought, were significant.
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