Brooklyn Councilmember Rafael Espinal announced on Sunday his resignation from office to join the Freelancers Union, a New York non-profit, serving the independent workforce. Espinal was the Councilmember representing the 37th district, which serves Cypress Hills, Bushwick, Brownsville, Ocean Hill and East New York.
In his letter to the New York City Council, Espinal wrote about his time served, but did not explain where he was going next or reason for departure, before he finished his limited term ending December 2021.
“Please take this letter as formal notice of resignation from the New York City Council as Council Member of the 37th Council District. My resignation will be effective immediately,” Espinal wrote. “For the past 6 years as a City Council Member and 12 years as a public servant, it has been an honor to serve my friends, family, and neighbors in the Cypress Hills, Bushwick, Brownsville, Ocean Hill and East New York community.”
Last year, Espinal competed in the public advocate special election after Letitia James resigned to become the new state attorney general, but lost to Jumaane Williams. And in mid-January, Espinal dropped out of the race for Brooklyn borough president. He told us the new position was one of many reasons he dropped out of the race, but also said he looked back at the Public Advocate race and wasn’t ready to campaign again for the next two years.
Espinal will be resigning and wrapping up his position as Councilmember this week, but his office will stay open and support the community until a special election takes place 80 days after his departure. He will begin his new position as Executive Director of the Freelancers Union in early March.
“For me it made sense for many reasons. The personal reason is I come from a family of freelancers,” Espinal told Bklyner about his decision. “It has aligned with my career in government, it’s a natural transition.”
In his political career, Espinal played a role in passing the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, a local law that went in effect in 2017. The law establishes and enhances protections for freelance workers, specifically the right to a written contract, timely and full payment, and protection from retaliation.
“I gave it a lot of thought, for me personally, there has been no greater honor than to serve my district and go to city hall, and serving my communities,” he continued. “The reality is the excitement and thought of it, I thought it made sense for someone who finds passion in advocating for people who don’t have a voice in government.”
His departure came as a surprise to some staffers, “We are all very unsure of what is happening and our futures. We have no idea about the resignation letter,” a staffer told amNewYork Metro on the condition of anonymity. “I literally found out that he’s going to the Freelancers Union today, on Twitter. So I don’t know… I barely know anything.”
However, Espinal told us he spoke to them last week, about a role “with a very respected organization” that he admired. On Friday, he reported back to them with his timeline and how quickly things were moving.
In his new position, Espinal wants to advocate for the independent workforce, and create services for cutting costs and connecting freelancers with resources, like the Freelancers Hub in Brooklyn, a free space for coworking that supports the self-employed.
Hanan Kolko, Board Chair of the Freelancers Union, who started back 2001, is a concerned labor lawyer who volunteers his time at the union. He said freelancers are 35% of the US workforce, with 57 million self-employed people across the nation. Kolko is working toward fair treatment of freelancers, so they can have benefits and protections that traditional employees have.
Kolko speaks highly of Espinal, that his work as councilmember reflected the mission of the union, and has addressed many of their own concerns.
“He kind of knows how to get things done and will focus on the needs of freelancers,” Kolko told Bklyner. “He will be an advocate for freelancers in public, be a visible, intelligent, and articulate voice.”
“Rafael is a guy who can communicate brilliantly and we were impressed by that,” Kolko continued. “If you spend 15 minutes in a room with Espinal you will come across impressed at his ability to communicate and understand an issue and articulate it in an appealing way.”
Kolko said Espinal will be working on expanding benefits and rights for freelancers, building on the union’s past successes, and increasing political engagement, and amplifying their voices in political and policy debates.
In a bittersweet chain of reactions, Brooklyn pols send off Espinal in good faith and thank him for his service.
Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, tweeted about Espinal’s departure, “I will miss my brother @RLEspinal in the @NYCCouncil. His work fighting for Holocaust survivors in New York City is something I will always be grateful for, as a son of survivors. Wishing you all the best of luck in your next adventure, Raf! Onwards to great things.”
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams tweeted, “Brooklyn’s a better place because of @RLEspinal’s energetic leadership. He’s been thoughtful on so many issues, including his creative thinking to save our environment and our work to grow our future in urban agriculture. I’m excited for his next chapter.”