Rafael Salamanca announces City Council run

Joe Hirsch

Rafael Salamanca

Community Board 2’s district manager enters race

Rafael Salamanca remembers his boyhood in the 1990s, when his parents required him to go door to door to the homes of his Longwood neighbors to see if he could lend anyone a hand.

Now 35, Salamanca says those early days instilled in him a sense of community that continues to drive him.

Salamanca, who has served as district manager of Community Board 2 since 2010, said he is looking to continue to serve the South Bronx in a new role, announcing he will run for the vacant city council seat held by Maria del Carmen Arroyo from 2005 until her resignation on Dec. 31. Arroyo’s resignation comes two years before the end of her third term. The incumbent explained that she is needed at home, to help take care of her daughter, who suffered injuries while serving in the Marine Corps, and two grandchildren.

On Jan. 6, City and State reported Arroyo has accepted a position earning $220,00 annually as vice president of administration at the Acacia Network, a Bronx-based social service organization that provides transitional housing for the homeless and treatment for drug users.

On Jan. 4, Mayor de Blasio announced a special election to be held on Feb. 23 to fill Arroyo’s 17th council district seat, representing Hunts Point, Melrose, Longwood and Morrisania. Because the special election is non-partisan, candidates are required to name their own party lines. Salamanca is calling his line Community First.

Salamanca joins a crowded field of candidates that includes Arroyo’s chief of staff, Joann Otero, whom Salamanca defeated in the Board 2 vote for a new district manager in 2010; Mott Haven entrepreneur and community activist Julio Pabon; Rep. Jose E. Serrano’s district supervisor, Amanda Septimo; city administrator Anthony Sanchez; Reverend J. Loren Russell of Crotona Park; and Helen Foreman-Hines, a political project director of SEIU 1199. the health care workers union and a member of Bronx Community Board 9.

A former administrator with Urban Health Plan, Salamanca chaired Board 2’s health committee for five years before the board voted him district manager in June 2010. A lifelong Longwood resident, he says his five and a half years as district manager have helped him appreciate community boards’ role helping residents pressure government for the services and policies they need.

“When I started, I went to visit every nonprofit and elected official to ask ‘what are you doing for the community, and what can the community do for you?’” he recalled during an interview in December.

“I understand the importance of everything going through the first line,” he said.

Serving on the city council would be a logical next step in serving the area, said Salamanca, who lives with his wife, 17 month old son and a teenage stepson in Longwood. He pointed out that his commitment to public service is evidenced by the fact that, if elected, he would be required to give up the job security he enjoys as district manager. His current salary is $119,427. Council members make a base salary of $112,500 along with bonuses for committee assignments, and are expected to vote on a raise this year.

“I feel I should work at a different level of government to give the community what it needs,” he said.

Dr. Ian Amritt, who has chaired Board 2 since 2011, said he is not surprised his longtime colleague would surrender his secure city position to run for office.

“He has what makes the difference in a leader. He’s altruistically committed to serve,” said Amritt. “People are naturally drawn to him. I have seen him grow into a respected leader since the time we hired him.”

Salamanca’s ability to “keep commercial and residential sectors evenly balanced” shows his versatility and his fairness, Amritt said, adding that “trying to underline one thing he has done would be an understatement because he has done so many things.”

During his tenure as district manager, Salamanca spearheaded the formation of three new committees to tackle quality-of-life problems in Hunts Point and Longwood: environmental degradation, hunger and strip clubs. As the result of steady pressure the board levied on the State Liquor Authority to shut jiggle joints where violent crime was commonplace, all four of those clubs have closed. He is also volunteer president of the 41st Precinct Community Council, where cops and residents meet monthly to discuss public safety concerns.

Affordable housing is another critical issue facing local residents, Salamanca says. New housing should be built for low- and medium-income tenants, as the mayor has said his administration will focus on doing, but the city must also revise its affordable housing income guidelines to help keep professionals from leaving.

During Salamanca’s tenure, Board 2 has sometimes clashed with city agencies. In 2013, the board sharply criticized representatives from the Dept. of Homeless Services when the agency was slow evacuating residents of a transitional housing residence on Intervale Ave. after an unsupervised child set fire to a mattress in the lobby. The board has been critical of the city’s policy of paying landlords handsomely to convert residences into transitional housing for the homeless, often forcing out longtime tenants in the process, while failing to provide maintenance and adequate security.

“Gentrification can also be landlords benefiting by kicking out tenants,” he said.

But once families are placed in local cluster site housing, he added, the city should ensure they can opt to remain in the neighborhood, rather than moving them around.

“How can we work collectively with these shelters? We should be able to strategize to get homeless families to live closer to home,” he said.

Improving the condition of classrooms in public schools is another issue Salamanca said he will fight for if elected, but he emphasized he doesn’t oppose charter schools. He said he was startled to see how horrendous conditions are for the students, noting as an example that during a recent visit to a Longwood public school, he saw a marker board had been drilled directly onto a chalkboard in one classroom. If the DOE can’t properly maintain public schools, he said, a nonprofit should be established to do the job.

“I am for both kinds of schooling but the environment has got to be the same,” he said.

Bronx County Democratic Committee Chair Marcos Crespo announced his party is endorsing Salamanca.

“Our Council Member needs to be a strong leader who can fight passionately for  residents to help create more jobs, a leader who will work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for his/her neighbors, a leader with a proven record of getting things done,” Crespo said in a press release. “I have no doubt that Rafael Salamanca Jr. is that leader that we need in the 17th City Council district.”

For the duration of the campaign, Salamanca will be on leave from his duties as district manager, leaving the board in the hands of its committee chairs.

The story was updated on Jan. 6 to include Bronx County Democratic Committee Chair Marcos Crespo’s statement endorsing Salamanca. 

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