At the end of January, Rafael Espinal suddenly resigned as Councilmember representing the 37th district, which serves Cypress Hills, Bushwick, Brownsville, Ocean Hill and East New York, before finishing his limited term ending in December of 2021. A special election for Espinal’s seat will be held on April 28, 2020, the same day as New York’s presidential election primary. The winner of this special election will only serve through the end of 2020 when a primary and general election will determine who will finish out Espinal’s term through 2021.
Darma Diaz, 51, a Williamsburg native who now lives in Cypress Hills is of Puerto Rican descent. She serves as the New York State Committee Woman and Female District Leader of 54th Assembly Leader, alongside her colleague Eric Dilan. Diaz also serves as Vice-Chair for the North Brooklyn YMCA and is currently the director of housing services for Queens-based nonprofit Overcoming Love Ministries. From 2002 to 2008, she worked as an aide to former Assemblyman Darryl Towns.
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, who was recently elected leader of Kings County Democratic County Committee backed Diaz in an interview with City & State NY saying she supports Diaz “both personally and as a county leader” and described Diaz as “very active in her community” and someone who has “proven skills.” Ms. Bichotte has not yet responded to requests for comment.
Diaz’s 54th Assembly District and Espinal’s 37th Council District overlap, meaning that constituents in the 37th District may already be familiar with Diaz. The Democrats in eastern Bushwick, Cypress Hills, parts of East New York have elected Diaz before in 2016 and again in 2018. Diaz sits on the 44-member executive committee that unanimously elected Bichotte to be the Democrats Brooklyn boss.
Rafael Espinal, now the Executive Director of the Freelancers’ Union, confirmed he will be supporting City Council Diaz in a statement to Bklyner.
“[Diaz] has spent decades living and fighting in the frontlines of our community addressing housing, social and economic justice issues affecting the people who live here,” Espinal told us. “[Diaz is] an independent and fierce organizer that connects with the district’s constituency on a personal level.”
Diaz has 194 donors as of February 21, who have contributed close to $16,000 to her campaign. Among Diaz’s endorsements are state senator Persaud, assemblymembers Walker, Bichotte, and Dilan, and councilmembers Cornegy, Samuels, Brennan, Treger, and Espinal, she told us.
We spoke to Darma Diaz about her race.
Diaz credits her couple decades of experience in assisting people to find affordable and appropriate housing as “the cornerstone of [her] career foundation as well as college and career readiness for our youth. That all begins in elementary schools and programs that provide the children with opportunities not afforded at home or that can be enhanced at home needs to come from their daily learning institutions.”
“There are policies currently in place that need to be revisited because the times and our society’s circumstances have changed when it comes to providing for our homeless. I am one who looks to fix what needs to be fixed and to positively affect people as quickly as possible so that they can feel less burdened in their lives.”
Diaz is for responsible development.
Her approach is based on “listening and learning because housing development can’t be solely about building a building.” For Diaz, it’s “about building a contribution to the neighborhood, one that works within the existing structure and sense of community rather than one that looks to supplant the local culture and economy. I stand for building communities, not promoting gentrification for a quick profit.”
Beyond housing, Diaz wants to preserve and enhance Highland Park, “one of the city’s largest and best public spaces, [..] encourage local job development and entrepreneurship, [..] and I want to do everything I can as a council member to keep crime low, work closely with law enforcement in true police-community partnership to promote a safe and prosperous area.”
As councilmember she would “prefer to advocate and unite rather than aggravate and agitate,” Diaz says, and to focus her time to “do the work that creates the laws that impact the people swiftly and for their betterment.”