There’s a high-profile job open for Bushwick residents — but you have to knock on a lot of doors to get it.
Bushwick Assemblyman Darryl Towns resigned three months ago to take a commissioner’s position in the Cuomo administration, but Governor Cuomo still hasn’t called a special election for this fall to fill the seat.
That hasn’t stopped neighborhood leaders from declaring interest in running for the position. So far, there are four candidates to replace Towns, including his own sister, in the district that includes a southern section of Bushwick, a northeastern part of Bed-Stuy, and a large part of East New York.
This week, we’re introducing you to Rafael Espinal, Council Member Erik Dilan’s chief of staff and a lifelong Bushwick and Cypress Hills resident, who is seeking the Democratic nomination.
1. Why did you decide to run for State Assembly?
I think it’s a great opportunity to serve the members of my community on a different level. My first year working at Council Member Erik Dilan’s office, I experienced firsthand the difference one can make in an individual’s life. There are situations where all it takes is a phone call or a letter to the appropriate person to solve an issue. A constituent, on the other hand, may receive the run-around for weeks or even months. The issue can be as complicated as having their child transferred to another school to as simple as filling a pothole. I want to ensure that the needs of the communities I represent are addressed promptly.
2. Where did you grow up and go to school?
I was born in Woodhull Hospital in Bed-Stuy and raised in Cypress Hills. My parents have owned a house there for almost 40 years now. I grew up with five siblings, the eldest being the only female in the family. I attended P.S. 108, I.S. 302, and Franklin K Lane High School in Cypress Hills. Afterwards I attended Queens College and earned a bachelors degree in English.
My mom has been a union worker since I was a child and they helped her obtain medical insurance for my entire family and even gave one of my younger brothers a college scholarship. My dad began working in sweatshops in the Williamsburg-Bushwick area and worked his way up from there. On the weekends he was a professional photographer and would cover different events across the city. They both split the bills. My dad would cover the mortgage and utilities, my mom would pay for groceries and laundry. Since we all have a tight bond and were taught to help each other around the house it made it a lot easier for them.
3. What platform will you run on? And what goals and committee memberships do you hope to have?
Growing up in the district I always felt that there weren’t enough educational programs easily available to residents in the community of all ages. We still have that issue. A few years ago, I worked for an Adult Literacy program at St. Rita’s Church in East New York. The program provided GED and literacy classes to over one hundred constituents from the area.
I’m looking to bring more of those resources back into the district. It’s a way to empower our community. They’ll receive the tools needed to get more opportunities and better paying jobs. I will also look to find a way to implement more arts programs into our public schools. There is a lot of talent in our schools and most of our kids are never able to tap into it because the schools don’t provide enough arts programs during school hours. The future of our community starts with them.
I’m also looking to work on enhancing infrastructure across the district. We need better housing, roads, and recreational spaces. Also homeowners are being hit hard with property taxes. Property taxes create an environment that is unfair to both owners and tenants. My parents’ monthly mortgage payment has gone up a few hundred dollars in the past two years. As a tenant, I am sure that’s a big factor in why our “rent is too damn high.”
I would love to sit on the Education, Transportation and Housing committees.
4. What kind of support do you anticipate or have been promised from the county Democratic Party?
As of now we haven’t had that conversation. I’m sure that they will be supportive in every way they can and that they will provide me with the necessary tools to win the race.
5. What are your qualifications and what kind of work have you done with the councilman that has prepared you for public office?
Four years ago I began working for the council member as his community liaison. I faced a handful of constituents on a day-to-day basis. It helped me familiarize myself with the issues surrounding the 37th Council District, which encompasses most of the 54th Assembly District. I also learned how to easily navigate through city, state and federal agencies. I have built many contacts along the way that were vital to solving most of the constituents’ issues. I believe getting a clear message across promptly is vital if you’re looking to get things done in government.
6. What are your constituents’ (and the district’s) most significant needs and how will you address them?
I hear a lot about issues with drugs and crime in the neighborhood, housing, and the conditions of our roads and public transportation. Being that I’m a lifelong constituent of the district and agree with my neighbors, I look forward to tackling all of these issues on a case-by-case basis.
I have great working relationships with police precincts and will make them aware of constituents’ concerns, so that they may be more proactive battling crime.
When it comes to our streets, three of our major roads are a mess. The conditions of Fulton Street, Broadway, and Bushwick Avenue would be addressed immediately and I would work to have them fully repaved.
I believe the 54th Assembly district is in a great position to receive the services it needs to assist both homeowners and tenants. With Council Member Erik Dilan as the Housing chair in the City Council and the Current Assembly Member moving on the Department of Housing and Community Renewal, it will be a lot less challenging for me to get the district’s housing concerns across on a state and city level.