Former health worker administrator Helen Hines aims to unseat incumbent
After she was disqualified from the February 2016 special election for the 17th District City Council seat on a technicality, Helen Hines promised herself she wouldn’t let a second chance slip away. Six months later she got a second chance, and lost again, getting 37 percent of the vote to Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr.’s 63 percent. Now she hopes the third time is the charm.
Hines, 66, hopes to pull off the upset, as Salamanca’s only opponent in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary for that same Council seat. The district includes Hunts Point, Longwood, Melrose and Bronx neighborhoods to the north.
Over the past few months, she has been knocking on doors, asking people how she can improve their lives, if elected.
“The entire 17th is very diverse, and I believe that I can bring us together,” said the Soundview resident. “I want our kids to learn from each other, and I want the adults to sit on the park bench and have a conversation and not turn their back on each other.”
The North Carolina native moved to the city in 1970 and found work as an organizer for health care workers at Lenox Hill Hospital. She says she learned about activism and politics from her peers over the years, and from fighting for workers’ rights out in the field.
While raising three daughters, Hines earned an MA in labor relations. She retired in 2015 after 27 years with the health care workers union, but stays active by volunteering on the 43rd Precinct Community Council and as vice president of the NAACP’s Bronx chapter.
Hines is running her shoestring campaign straight out of her cozy Morrison Avenue apartment, where files are bursting out of cardboard boxes and charts cover the walls. Bringing more funding to public schools is an objective she says she is passionate about. Reducing class size, expanding extracurricular activities, and broadening the range of school subjects to include music, art and technology are priorities.
“I want (children) to have better technology – computers and tablets,” she said. “I want science. If they’re two years old and they can code, let them code.”
Hines, who calls herself an avid reader, says she would persuade the teachers union to make current affairs a stronger part of the curriculum and expand the STEM Summer Enrichment Programs, to tap into students’ spirit of innovation in science, technology, engineering and math.
Although she doesn’t yet have a plan to protect residents from gentrification across the fast-changing district, she says she would fight for more affordable housing, and call for the creation of a computer center where residents could learn about issues and access resources.
The candidate says that although she doesn’t have plans in place yet for many of the area’s issues, she is researching them all, adding that her organizing background will help her succeed. For instance, she says she would use that savvy to push City Hall to go to bat for beleaguered residents of public housing. While making the rounds on Cauldwell Avenue recently, she encountered an elderly NYCHA tenant who told her that The Housing Authority shrugged off her urgent plea to replace the broken front door of her apartment. She said she made a few phone calls to NYCHA on the woman’s behalf, and two days later the tenant had a new door.
“She said, “baby, you’re giving me hope,’” Hines recalled. “There are just so many people out there that need so much help. All they need is direction.”
Seniors should feel safe, Hines said, but not at the expense of going outdoors and staying active. She says she will push for more activities and services, as well as safe and affordable housing; and transportation and personal care services for them, without qualifying limits.
In the field Hines is most familiar with, health care, she says she would increase access to quality care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, create good-paying health care jobs, train and re-train unemployed residents to prepare them for growth industries, and create initiatives to build trust between the community and police in high-crime areas like Melrose.
So far, Hines has a total of $8,870 left in her campaign treasure chest, after receiving $33,772 in public funds and $8,224 in contributions, and spending $8,354 on the campaign, according to the NYC Campaign Finance Board. Salamanca, Jr. has amassed $214,500, and still has $185,644 after expenditures.