Council candidate looks to tap into Assembly experience

Robert J. Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez has some key endorsements among Democrats—but not all

In his second bid for a seat on the New York City Council, Robert J. Rodriguez hopes Mott Haven and East Harlem voters will consider his accomplishments after seven years in the State Assembly. That experience, he says, will help him guide the 8th Council District through growing pains.

Rodriguez was born and raised in East Harlem, the son of late Councilman Robert Rodriguez Sr., who represented the district from 1978 to 1982. He graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School in Concourse Village.

Primaries are scheduled for Sept. 12; the general election for Nov. 7.

The candidate’s resume includes service as chair of Manhattan Community Board 11 in East Harlem, and of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone. He made an unsuccessful run for the Council in 2008, then successfully ran a year later to represent East Harlem and Randall’s Island in the 68th Assembly District.

The need for affordable housing is critical, he said, noting parallels between the South Bronx, where residents are nervous about being priced out of their homes, and his native East Harlem, where gentrification is already in full swing. Developers should be mandated to keep rents on city-owned property at 30-to-60 percent of the Area Median Income, he said.

“You have to really make that the line in the sand in pushing for affordability,” he said during an interview with The Herald in July. The candidate insisted he would order monitoring to ensure that developers comply with the city policy of setting aside half of all new apartments for area residents in the lottery process. “We saw instances where we didn’t meet our 50 percent preference in East Harlem.”

Although new housing must be accounted for, the two halves of the district are living “the tale of two rivers,” he said, stressing that Bronxites should have the same public access to their waterfront as Manhattanites do to theirs. (A watchdog group published a scorecard in June that gave Mott Haven some of the lowest scores in the city for waterfront access and cleanliness.) However, he cautioned, the parks department is an erratic partner. “They take too long. I think it takes, first and foremost, a commitment from the city. If we can do the Highline, we can do this.”

As chair of an infrastructure subcommittee in the Assembly, Rodriguez found that the city is planning poorly in areas where development is afoot—a lesson Mott Haven should learn from. “Years from now, you’re overcrowded.” Last year, he sponsored “Move NY,” legislation aimed at boosting public transit and cutting traffic on tunnels and bridges through congestion-pricing. That would “help alleviate the responsibility of the taxpayer,” while “addressing the growing concerns of fixing, modernizing, and expanding New York’s transit networks.”

Residents are right to complain about the abundance of methadone clinics in the district, he said. “There needs to be a real evaluation about parity amongst different communities, and right now it’s not equally dispersed.”

If elected, he will be representing the city’s densest concentrations of public housing, so leveraging his relationships within both the City Council and the Assembly would be key. “Having served in both areas, I have an understanding for that dynamic,” he says.

Although County Committee Chairman Marcos Crespo has endorsed Rodriguez, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. are backing her deputy chief of staff Diana Ayala for the seat, as is Councilman Rafael Salamanca of the neighboring 17th District. Split support among influential party members is rare in Bronx elections, but the candidate insists he doesn’t put much weight on the endorsement schism.

“I don’t think there’s that big a rift,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t agree politically and I expect those disagreements to be short term.”

To date, Rodriguez has accumulated just over $134,000, with the largest contributions coming in the form of $4,950 each from a hedge fund and a Florida-based low-income housing developer.

Other candidates in the Democratic primary, along with Ayala, include Tamika Mapp, Edward Gibbs and Israel Martinez. Daby Carreras is running uncontested as a Republican, and Linda Ortiz is on the Conservative party ticket.

The story has been corrected. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is endorsing Diana Ayala, not Rodriguez.