Alexa Avilés, the DSA-backed candidate for city council in Sunset Park-Red Hook, recently gained a powerful ally in AOC—and a deep-pocketed foe called Common Sense NYC, a political action committee funded by Hudson Yards developer Steve Ross and cosmetics heir Ron Lauder. From the left’s perspective, Avilés is clearly doing something right.
Raised near Jamaica Avenue in Brooklyn’s East New York, Avilés has lived in Sunset Park for nearly two decades. She and her husband Frankie (a gas leak inspector for National Grid and a member of the Transport Workers Union) live near Green-Wood cemetery with their two adolescent daughters. Avilés is currently the program director of the progressive Scherman Foundation and a member of Community Board 7.
Indypendent: What’s your view of Carlos Menchaca’s two terms in office?
Alexa Avilés: Carlos came into office as a progressive in a wave election in 2013, beating an incumbent (Sara Gonzalez). He was the first Mexican-American elected to public office in New York City and the first openly gay, Latino councilmember. As Chair of the Immigration Committee in the City Council, the IDNYC program was a major accomplishment. He made some tough votes, like when he voted against last year’s budget, or against the mayor’s borough-based jails plan, or of course when he finally came out in opposition to the Industry City rezoning late last summer.
But voting the right way sometimes isn’t enough. Our next councilmember needs to set up an office that is consistently responsive to residents’ needs. We are running a movement campaign because I believe we need an organizer in office in the city council who will remain accountable to the voters and the movements in our district well after election day.
What’s the main focus of your campaign?
The seeds of Avilés’s politics were planted by her mom who believed in Puerto Rican Independence and Black Liberation.
Our message has been the same all along. We’re fighting for our lives here—even prior to when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Our community, our schools and our essential services have been defunded and devalued for decades. We need a People’s Budget that puts working people’s needs first and not those of the wealthy. Because of my experience as a parent leader at my daughters’ schools, we’ve centered education justice in this campaign. Most of the New York City budget goes to schools, but year after year we’ve seen cuts to school funding. Even folks who aren’t parents get that. The central message of this campaign has always been: enough is enough. We are tired of our communities being the first to face cuts while the rich get richer and the NYPD gets tanks.
How will you combine your Boricua pride while also appealing to the many other Latinx, Asian, Black and white voters in the district?
Pride is all about loving yourself and celebrating what makes us who we are. That’s true from Boricua pride to LGBTQ+ pride. Identity has power because it is often one of the first ways we get exposed to politics. For me, my mom was a fierce believer in Puerto Rican independence. There is a history of struggle among our people, of being brutally repressed by the U.S. empire, that our flag, our traditions, music, culture and way of life became a symbol of our resistance, which has lasted for over a century. That history influences my own understanding of politics, not just internationally but locally. While my identity and experience informs who I am and my politics it also is part of my collective consciousness and understanding our futures are connected. We share struggles and share a vision for what we want for our children, families and neighbors—a community and a society where everyone can thrive.
What I love about New York City, and this is especially true in our district, is that you can walk a few blocks and be transported to another world. Brooklyn Chinatown along 8th Avenue is the busiest street in the entire borough, but you may not know it if you’ve never visited. Our community is so vibrant and diverse, and that’s what makes me a proud New Yorker.
How did you become involved with the DSA?
I was introduced to DSA through their support for Bernie Sanders, but I really started looking into becoming a member in 2019. NYC-DSA has an incredibly detailed platform that I dove into and realized how much my beliefs really aligned. The seeds of my politics were planted by my mom who believed in Puerto Rican Independence and Black Liberation, and so socialism and centering people over profit was already part of political ideology. In 2019, my then 13-year-old daughter was also deeply interrogating political ideologies and economic systems, and was asking me really hard questions. She made the clear case that in the end racial capitalism would continue to perpetuate inequities and it is that system that we must dismantle.
I started meeting with members and reading a lot. I loved how the organization provides so much space for learning and dialogue. I was aware that I was a bit older than many of the members and living a different lifestyle as a mom with two kids but that just meant the conversations with some of our comrades were a little different. It is a democratic organization and as such there is space for everyone. As a proudly endorsed NYC-DSA campaign for city council, we are hoping to grow this movement by bringing in more families like mine who are all fighting to build a better future for their children, families and communities.
Why are DSA candidates so much better at the ground game (i.e. direct voter contact) than other campaigns?
DSA campaigns are rooted in a movement with members who are actively organizing every single day. DSA is truly people-powered and you see that in the campaign’s ground game: you see it in the growing branches and in the working groups that run issue-based campaigns. It’s also there in the energy and commitment that members bring during an election—and after it is done.
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