New York is holding another primary today, Tuesday, and City Council member Carlina Rivera is one of 12 Democratic candidates running for New York’s 10th congressional district.
“It’s tough because it’s a second primary and many people are a little confused by the redistricting process. But they’re paying attention. They’re awake, and we’re excited for Election Day,” Rivera told Latino Rebels.
Earlier this year, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s Democratic-drawn congressional map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The decision pushed primaries for Congress and the state Senate to August.
New York’s newly drawn 10th district includes lower Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. Before, the 10th included the west side of Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn.
Under the new map, the west and east Sides of Manhattan were combined into 12th district. Upper West Sider and the 10th district’s Democratic incumbent, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, is facing off with longtime Democratic colleague Rep. Carolyn Maloney for the 12th district seat, leaving the 10th wide open.
Rivera, 38, announced her campaign in June and received endorsements from Democratic New York Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Adriano Espaillat.
Raised by a single mother from Puerto Rico, Rivera grew up in Section 8 housing on the Lower East Side. She learned how to organize from her neighbors when her building became at risk of losing its Section 8 contract renewal. Rivera credits Marie Christopher, then-president of her building’s tenant association, for demonstrating how to mobilize people.
“She was the one that would tell my mom, ‘Let’s go. We’re going to a meeting. This is what’s going on.’ So that was really just a time where I knew that relationships and cultivating them were really important in the spirit of collaboration as well,” Rivera said.
Long before she endorsed Rivera, Velázquez —who began her political career as a New York City Council member in 1984— attended one of the tenant association meetings held at Rivera’s building when Rivera was still a teenager. Rivera had swept the floor just moments before Velázquez arrived at her building’s basement for the meeting.
“She came in and she gave us such a speech, and she was there for us,” Rivera recalled. “I have to say, to have her endorsement and to have had it early, and to have been with her this morning campaigning multiple locations, really has been a full circle moment for me. Not everyone gets to grow up seeing themselves reflected at this higher level, especially in politics, in a system that’s not really built for people from humble beginnings.”
“These are relationships that I think are really going to be useful going into Congress,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s interest in politics was cemented after organizing to prevent her building from losing its affordable housing status. She joined Manhattan’s Community Board 3 and served as the legislative director for former New York City Council member Rosie Méndez.
Rivera joined New York’s City Council in 2018. Within her first year, she codified sexual harassment as a form of discrimination in the policy statement of the New York City Human Rights Law. Rivera’s work has focused on reproductive justice and affordable housing.
“I’m a lifelong New Yorker. I want to go in and set the urban agenda, and I know that NY-10 has the capability to be a leader on issues related to abortion access,” Rivera said.
New York City became the first city in the country to fund abortion services in 2019. Rivera and former city council member Margaret Chin, then co-chairs of the council’s Women’s Caucus, pushed for the funding.
“Republicans have been organizing for 50 years since Roe, and now we’re in this position where it’s going to take a lot of work to restore rights to millions of Americans,” Rivera said.
Rivera sponsored several measures in the NYC Abortion Rights Act that passed earlier this month. Amongst them was a bill that would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide abortion medication for free at its health clinics.
Another issue close to Rivera’s heart is affordable housing.
“The city is becoming more and more unaffordable,” Rivera said. “Its whole promise was to be a place where you could come here and take care of your family and follow your dreams, and right now, the average median rent in Manhattan is $5000. So there’s a lot of work that has to be done and supporting families that are here, and so I’m hoping to take that fight to Washington.”
When Rivera isn’t campaigning or handling her responsibilities as a city council member, she enjoys riding her bike around the city.
“I’m a cyclist. I love riding my bike. I’m trying to make New York one of the most pedestrian and cyclist-friendly cities in America,” she said.
In 2019, Rivera passed Intro 1163, a bill that requires construction sites blocking bike lanes to provide alternative lanes for cyclists.
“I want to create a more livable city, and I’ve been working towards it, “Rivera said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been a real honor.”
The polls close at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday. New Yorkers can find their polling place by entering their address on the State Board of Elections website.
Chantal Vaca is a summer correspondent for Futuro Media based in New York City and a graduate of the Columbia University School of Journalism. Twitter: @VacaChantal