Q&A With Antonio Reynoso On His Run For Brooklyn Borough President

The progressive capital of the country would get a progressive voice to speak for it, if he were to be elected.

Antonio Reynoso. (Photo via Reynoso’s office)

The list of candidates running for Brooklyn Borough President in 2021 is growing. The seat is currently held by Eric Adams, who is term-limited and is running for NYC Mayor.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso –who was born and raised in Williamsburg to parents who emigrated from the Dominican Republic— announced his run for the seat last year. Reynoso has been representing District 44—which includes Williamsburg, Bushwick & Ridgewood— since he was elected in 2013.  Reynoso is also term-limited and cannot run for reelection.

Reynoso has been racking up endorsements. Recently, he was endorsed by Progressive Women For Antonio, a group that includes Cynthia Nixon, Council Members Helen Rosenthal, and Margaret Chin; State Senator Jessica Ramos; Assemblymember-elect Marcela Mitaynes; City Council candidates Jennifer Gutiérrez and Sandy Nurse; and District Leader Shaquana Boykin. He was also endorsed by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and State Senator Julia Salazar. The Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Why did you decide to run now, especially during a pandemic?

Brooklyn gave me everything I have, and I want to give back to the borough. I am a public servant, and helping the most vulnerable among us is what inspires me to get up and do this work on a daily basis. Leadership and a commitment to our underserved communities have never been more important as we find ourselves grappling with the coronavirus pandemic. I am running now because I am committed to addressing the economic and health benefits of Brooklynites through a just recovery that lifts up all of us.

How have you spent the pandemic? What has it been like for you?

I’m in a very privileged position; I have a good job and healthcare. But my situation is not a reality for so many folks in my district and throughout Brooklyn.

The months since the pandemic began have been by far the most challenging of my career. So many of our neighbors have passed away from the virus, and many more have lost their livelihoods and healthcare due to the economic downturn. I’ve spent this time working to ensure folks are receiving the services they need, whether that’s access to food, housing, or health services, while also calling attention to the disparate impacts the pandemic has had on communities of color and proposing policy solutions to ensure those inequities don’t persist when this is over.

What do you think Brooklyn needs to recover from the impact of the coronavirus?

We have seen major changes in the borough due to the pandemic, some of which may be with us for the long-term. What has stood out the most to me is the reimagining of our public spaces.

When it became clear that indoor gatherings would not be possible for the foreseeable future, we started thinking about how we could create outdoor spaces to allow folks to recreate safely and support businesses that had previously required indoor gathering spaces. To that end, I authored the outdoor dining bill to give a lifeline to our restaurant community, allowing them to continue providing jobs and serving our neighborhoods.

When it comes to recovery, what we really need is a plan that addresses the many structural inequities in communities of color that caused Black and Brown folks to suffer the most from the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

You have been a Council Member for several years. Do you think you have made an impact in your district? How so?

Absolutely. I’m very proud of a number of accomplishments, but I’ll focus on two here.

A few years ago, I learned that the landlord of one of our most beloved senior/childcare centers was planning to sell the building, likely leading to the closure of the center. I simply couldn’t allow this critical center to close. I allocated a big chunk of my discretionary capital budget to purchase the building in partnership with the city.

After a lot of negotiating and sleepless nights, we were able to buy the building and continue providing services to the community. I also used this case to pressure the city to begin paying closer attention to privately-owned centers that could become victims of our predatory real estate market.

Another accomplishment I’m very proud of is the waste equity bill I passed in 2018. For decades, Williamsburg served as a dumping ground for the city’s trash, processing about 40% of the city’s waste. The trucks delivering that waste and their associated pollution led to higher levels of asthma in my district compared to the rest of the city. My bill capped the amount of waste coming into my district and guaranteed that no other district would ever receive more than 5% of the City’s waste.

When you look back on these past few years as Council Member, what stands out?

I think the past few years have been a bittersweet time in city government. We’ve made some real progress, but I also feel that we could have gone much further and have been held back by a lack of vision to do really transformational things.

For example, I was able to pass the Right to Know Act, which brought a lot more transparency to interactions between police and the public. It was a very difficult bill to pass, and I believe it will make a huge difference for a lot of young men of color like myself who were unjustly searched for so many years. On the other hand, as a city, we have failed to address the systemic racial disparities in policing, and the outsized role policing has come to play in our city. I’ll be continuing to push for big, systemic change when I become Brooklyn Borough President.

You have been racking up endorsements.  Why does Brooklyn need someone like you to lead?

Brooklyn is the progressive capital of the country, and I know the borough is thirsty for someone to give voice to those positions. But it’s not just about talking the talk, I have a record of getting things done, and I believe folks are looking for someone who can meet them where they are, listen to their issues, and come up with solutions that deliver for them.

I also just love Brooklyn, from East New York to Sunset Park, to Coney Island, to Brooklyn Heights, it’s the greatest place on Earth. I think folks are looking for someone who really shows that Brooklyn patriotism and is a booster for the borough.

Our streets aren’t safe. How can we make them safer?

Our streets aren’t safe no matter how you’re choosing to travel on them. We need a bold and transformational vision for how we utilize street space in NYC. That begins by truly taking into account the needs of all road users. Whether you drive, take public transit, or bike, we all walk, and the amount of space dedicated to pedestrians must be expanded.

Additionally, we need to implement an infrastructure that protects pedestrians. We must invest in a truly interconnected and protected bike network to both keep cyclists safe and make it convenient to reach all parts of the city by bike.

Finally, as a growing city, we need to rethink our over-dependence on cars and our approach to enforcing safe driving. I believe we need to move toward camera-based enforcement systems to discourage dangerous driving.

The NYPD has shown an unwillingness to enforce traffic laws, and when they do, it is often racially discriminatory. I believe expanding red light, failure to yield, and speed cameras to the entire city would go a long way to calming our streets and making a safer environment for all road users.

Do we need more bike lanes? Do we need Citi Bikes?

Yes, we absolutely need more bike lanes. As I stated above, we need a fully interconnected bike network to make it safe and practical to bike to all areas of our city.

Citi Bikes are now an integral part of our public transit system and should be expanded to all areas of the City. However, I do believe Citi Bike needs to give a sharper focus to equity and prioritize communities of color that have not received the service as quickly as they should have.

What top three issues will you prioritize once elected, and why?

Number one is land-use reform. The Borough President plays a significant role in the land use process, and I plan to reorient the way we approach decisions on land use actions.

I want to develop a comprehensive plan for Brooklyn in partnership with communities that proactively outlines how the borough will grow over the coming years, where infrastructure is needed, and how to best grapple with the effects of climate change. The plan will also have racial equity and access to opportunity analysis to ensure that we’re moving forward equitably and addressing past injustices. I’ll be making land-use decisions based on how a given action complies with that plan.

I also want to reform our community boards (CB). The demographics of the CBs often do not accurately reflect the communities they serve and I want to implement a system for applicants to the board that ensures diverse representation. CBs also need more resources, and I plan to set up regular training on all the topic areas that come before the boards, in addition to things like how to use city data, so that board members have all the tools they need to make informed decisions.

Responding to climate change will be another big priority for me, as it really is the existential crisis of our time that affects every single one of us. I’ll be working in communities across the borough to deliver environmental justice, develop solutions for mitigating climate change, and advocate for infrastructure where we already see the impact, particularly along our waterfront communities.

How will you compare to the previous leadership?

I want to bring a lot of the work and ideas from my time as a legislator to Borough Hall. I’m an organizer at heart, and I want to be the top organizer for Brooklyn. I’m going to be out front on all the issues affecting Brooklynites, but with a lens toward each community’s unique needs. We are one borough, but the needs in Coney Island aren’t necessarily the needs in Park Slope. So I’ll be out in the neighborhoods listening all the time to ensure that Brooklynites see their priorities reflected in my work.

How do you differ from your opponents?

I’m a big policy wonk and an organizer, so not your typical politician. I have very clear policy priorities that I’ve articulated and want to focus on, and I believe I have a deep understanding of what Brooklynites are looking for in their next Borough President.

As I’ve said before, Brooklyn is the progressive capital of the country, and I’m the clear progressive in the race.

The Borough President doesn’t have a lot of formal authority and responsibility, so to really maximize the office, you need someone with the entrepreneurial energy to take on things that may not necessarily be in their formal purview, and I believe I’ve shown I have the energy to get up and do that on behalf of the borough daily.

Housing/homelessness and education are big issues in the borough. How will you address them?

Housing and homelessness are intricately tied, and you can’t address one without addressing the other. First and foremost, we need to keep people in the homes they’re in, so I will continue to advocate for every tenant in housing court to have access to a free attorney.

We need to build a lot more affordable housing, and that will be a major tenet of my comprehensive plan. Additionally, I will be pushing the next mayor to allocate more of the capital budget toward affordable housing.

I also believe we need to raise incomes so that the private housing market is accessible to more folks, and I will continue to push for increases to the minimum wage that reflect the actual cost of living in New York City.

On the education front, I want to use the Borough President’s capital budget to invest in our schools, particularly as it relates to technology, so that our kids are receiving the education they need to prepare them for the 21st-century job market. I am a big proponent of increasing the number of guidance counselors and social workers in our schools, and I’ll advocate for the funds to get that done as well.

Thoughts on policing?

Policing has expanded into far too many areas of our society, and I want to begin to scale that back. I believe we need to remove police from areas such as traffic enforcement, mental health crisis response, homeless outreach, and our schools.

I will also be working to hold officers with a history of abusive practices truly accountable. We invest far too much power and authority in our officers to tolerate even one bad apple.

Finally, I want to begin having a conversation about the things that actually keep us safe. What’s ironic is that typically the places where you see the most police are, in fact, the least safe places in our city. That’s because those are the areas that have the least stable housing, less access to healthcare and economic opportunity, and under-resourced schools. To truly improve public safety, we need to invest in people, not more police.

How do your past experiences make you fit for this position?

My lived experience is one that is shared by so many residents of our borough. My parents were both immigrants from the Dominican Republic and worked hard so that their kids could focus on school.

Yet even though they worked like hell to keep food on the table, it wasn’t enough to make ends meet, and so I know firsthand what section 8 vouchers, food stamps, and other public assistance mean to families like mine. I’ve experienced the difference government can make in people’s lives firsthand, and I will take those experiences with me to Borough Hall.

I also have a track record of achieving complicated and difficult progressive policy wins during my time in the Council, and I plan to use that experience to build on my record as the BP.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of my family. My parents worked so hard to give us a better life than they had, and they succeeded. The support they gave me allowed me to give back to the community that was so instrumental in my development as a person, and now I’m able to raise my own family here. I also have to give a big shoutout to my wife, who is my rock and has supported me every step of the way so that I could pursue public service.

What do you do in your free time?

Being a Council Member is a very busy job, so I try to spend as much of my free time with my family as I can. I also love riding my bike around the city, playing basketball, and practicing with my family band (I play the Tambora!).

What is your favorite part of Brooklyn?

It’s really hard to pick just one thing in this vibrant and diverse borough, but the Collado Grocery Store on Hewes and South 3rd Street holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in the Southside of Williamsburg, and I always knew this bodega would make me a sandwich for my class trips without asking for a dollar.

There was a sense of security in knowing my corner store was like family to me. They treated me with dignity even if I was ashamed that I was paying with food stamps. And I loved listening to the radio play merengue típico as the old men screamed at each other while playing dominoes out front. That’s the Brooklyn I know and love.

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Zainab Iqbal

Zainab is a staff reporter at Bklyner who sometimes writes poetry in her free time || zainab@bklyner.com

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