Adolfo Abreu Hosts an All-Star Get Out The Vote Canvass in the Bronx

In the District 14 council race, voter alienation is the toughest opponent for the DSA-backed candidate.

Roman Broszkowski Jun 16, 2021

Despite energetic volunteers and the support of the who’s who of leftist New York legislators, Adolfo Abreu’s City Council campaign faces one serious hurdle before election day: voters’ distrust in the political system. 

Abreu —  a Bronx community organizer running for an open seat in District 14 — was joined Monday afternoon on West Townsend and University Avenue in the Bronx for a Get Out The Vote canvass by almost two dozen enthusiastic volunteers and Assembly Members Zohran Mamdani, Marcela Mitaynes, Amanda Septimo, as well as State Senators Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport.

After a short rally — mc’ed by Assembly member Mamdani — everyone in attendance dispersed to canvass previously identified supporters in the district. 

And while Abreu’s campaign — part of the DSA For the City slate — is confident that it has the votes necessary to emerge victorious in a crowded field, it is doing so against the backdrop of voter alienation.

Just around the corner from Abreu’s rally, locals Jose and Sofia enjoyed the warm, sunny weather while voicing their distrust of any city council campaigns. 

“The election is a piece of shit,” Sofia said. “No matter what, they’re never going to fix what’s going on in New York City.” 

Jose agreed.

“The problems are going to be the same,” he said. “I feel like it doesn’t matter who is in power; there won’t be change.”

And their opinions aren’t rare. Multiple voters that The Indypendent interviewed in Abreu’s district expressed a fundamental disinterest in any candidate for city council. 

One man, who gave his name as Boogie, described the election as ” a bunch of bullshit.” 

“I hear a lot of bullshit,” he said. ” Even if I voted, my vote isn’t going to mean anything to [politicians].” 

Nearby, Dani — a young mother with her infant daughter — also voiced her reluctance to vote.

“I was thinking about [voting],” she said. “[But] I just feel as though being a minority — not only as a mother, but racially — I didn’t think that it would help me as a person.” 

None of these attitudes were directed at Abreu. As a longtime Bronx resident and prominent community organizer with Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, Abreu has a loyal base of support. Instead these views are emblematic of a problem progressives have frequently run into: even if progressive candidates speak to a community’s issues, voters no longer have faith in politics to meet their needs. 

Abreu’s campaign has recognized the issue and geared much of the race around trying to convince abandoned voters that — unlike other candidates — Abreu can represent their interests. 

“Adolfo has said that the biggest opponent isn’t the other candidates, but is, in fact, the disenfranchisement of the voters in this district,” said Cori Marquis, a DSA volunteer working on the Abreu campaign. “And it makes a lot of sense. It’s a community that has been underserved and overlooked for a long time. [But] in conversations with voters, it is clear that they desperately want and need an advocate — not for them, but with them — and Adolfo is that person.”

Turnout has historically been low in this district. From 2009-2017, an average of about 6,200 voters turned out for the Democratic primary, or less than 10% of eligible voters. That also means campaigns don’t need to sway too many voters one way or the other — every additional vote will have an outsized impact.

And although Abreu’s campaign has their work cut out for them, their message is also one of hope. Abreu repeatedly refers to the Bronx as a place of community innovations that he says he’ll formalize as a city councilor. 

A section titled “Our Bronx” on Abreu’s website begins with, “although the Bronx has been largely known to the world for its negative statistics, those of us who grew up here know it’s a borough of resilience, creativity, and innovation. In the face of abandonment and disinvestment, we have organized tenant associations, exposed racist redlining practices, and won investments in our neighborhoods.”

Abreu’s campaign has geared much of the race around trying to convince abandoned voters that — unlike other candidates — Abreu can represent their interests.

Many of Abreu’s platform planks allude to the Bronx’s history of marginalization and community-driven solutions. Abreu champions participatory budgeting, collective tenant ownership, and local legislative assemblies.

But Abreu’s real campaign focus is housing justice. The former tenant organizer referenced the burning of the Bronx and how that legacy necessitates dramatic housing fixes.

“For the last five decades, I don’t think the Bronx has fully recovered from the burnings,” he told The Indypendent. “We still in this borough, and particularly in this district, prior to the pandemic had the highest eviction rates, had the highest rates in terms of heat and hot water complaints. For us and our people here, we’ve been organizing a lot to get repairs and make sure that people can stay in their homes. But we know that we need a different vision — a vision of social housing where our community members can own their own housing … which is how we’re going to stabilize and let people stay in their homes. “

For Abreu’s supporters, it is this recognition of the Bronx’s current and historical issues — a recognition rooted in Abreu’s lived identity — that excites them about his campaign.

“[Adolfo] is an incredible human being,” said Crystal Reyes — a campaign volunteer and longtime friend of Abreu. “I’m really here because … seeing someone I grew up with coming into the space and wanting to [run for office]—  it’s really important to me  to make sure that we have people who look like us, who think like us, and who are thinking about us be in office.” 

Disclaimer: the author of this piece is a DSA member, although part of a chapter from another state and has not been involved in the DSA For the City campaign in any capacity.

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