Randy Abreu Wants to Represent the Bronx on the New York City Council and Unseat Fernando Cabrera
Correction: This piece originally identified the date of the primary incorrectly as being on September 13th, 2017, but has been updated with the correct date being September 12th. In addition, we’ve updated this piece to reflect that one of the candidates in the race, Justin Sanchez, has suspended his campaign.
Randy Abreu is running to represent the borough of the Bronx, District 14, on the New York City Council. He is one of two candidates (we reached out to both) challenging incumbent Fernando Cabrera for the Democratic nomination. Abreu accepted Progressive Army‘s request for an interview.
From the Bronx to Washington and Back
Abreu is a first-generation American, born to Dominican immigrants. “I’m born and raised here in the Bronx and I’ve been a part of our community my entire life. My parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic and built their lives here, one step at a time” he told Progressive Army.
After getting his law degree, Abreu worked in Washington D.C. “I worked for the House Judiciary Committee, and defended Planned Parenthood at a time when extremist Republicans were trying to take it down,” he said. Abreu also worked at the Department of Energy under the Obama administration, “where I worked to advance President Obama’s clean energy agenda, which promoted market growth and workplace development.”
On returning to the Bronx, Abreu explained, “I care about our community, and want to continue my career in public service right here. There’s nothing more important than fighting for, and protecting, the residents of the Bronx, and I’m committed to doing that every day.”
Using his law degree, Abreu says he advises those in the community. “As an attorney, I advise immigrants in the Bronx about the current climate, and how they can continue to work hard for their families while being less afraid of being deported.” Referring to the heightened anxiety due to anti-immigration policy, he told us that, “The fears and struggles the residents of the Bronx face are real, very real, and with my experience in government, and as an attorney, I know I can be an effective City Councilman.”
New York City Council and District 14
Speaking of the New York City Council, Abreu says it “carries with it several important responsibilities” that impact the lives of New Yorkers. “From passing and enacting a budget, to protecting tenants’ rights, fighting for better wages, ensuring our children receive the best education they possibly can, and so much more,” he said, in describing what is expected of Council members.
Abreu singled out two “critical roles” that Council members have: Dealing with the budget and zoning proposals.
On the budget and the City Council’s voting on matters of funding, Abreu said that “It is important to me to make sure that the City’s budget is allocated equitably with a lens toward empowering District 14 residents to obtain control over the vast amount of wealth and ownership we have in NYC.” He went further stating that “As City Councilman, I plan to fight to improve our schools every day, by obtaining additional funding for Bronx public schools, bringing in vocational education to give all kids a chance for good paying jobs and careers.” Abreu also said he wants to “make sure the hard working people of the Bronx have jobs. I’m going to stand up for small businesses, institute local hiring requirements for local city-funded projects, and move the Kingsbridge Armory project forward.”
Kingsbridge Armory is a large building that is over a hundred years old and has been sitting largely vacant for years. A plan to turn the building, which spans nearly three city blocks, into an enormous ice center was announced in August of 2012. The Kingsbridge National Ice Center project has run into a number of snares over the past five years and it remains unclear when construction and remodeling will start, although the latest hope is by the end of 2017.
On the second role of a City Council member that he listed, zoning proposals, Abreu pointed to Jerome Avenue, one of the longest roads in the Bronx. “In District 14, we are currently undergoing a rezoning proposal along Jerome Avenue. The DeBlasio Administration’s proposals are likely to accelerate our displacement.” Abreu predicted. He pledged that “As Council Member, I will call for the community’s proposals to be enacted into the rezoning project.
What proposals does he have in mind? Abreu’s list includes “a Certificate of No Harassment law for landlords, access to legal representation for tenants facing discrimination and eviction proceedings, and deeper levels of affordability in the ‘affordable’ housing units that will be constructed.” He also told us he plans to “work to implement the rent freeze for rent-regulated tenants, increase funding for NYCHA [The New York City Housing Authority], and ensure that all housing built on city owned land is 100% affordable for Bronx residents.” Furthermore, Abreu said he intends “to continue my work defending immigrants by working to solidify our City’s ‘Sanctuary City’ status.”
Acknowledging the challenges and scope of the issues he’s promising to take on, Abreu says, “There’s so much we have to work on and fight for, and I’m going to have a lot on my plate. Our community needs someone who is going to stand up and fight.”
Life and Activism
“In 2016, I was a proud delegate for Bernie Sanders at the [Democratic National] convention”, Abreu said. “As a progressive, [Sanders] is someone I look up to, whose ideals align with my own. I look to him and what he did just one year ago, and I think I channel some of that and bring it to what we’re trying to do here,” he explained.
Discussing his activism, Abreu described having been “a part of several movements dating back to my days in college.” He said he “attended and led protests in favor of stronger consent laws on college campuses”, and, “While attending law school in San Diego, I participated in the local Occupy Wall Street movement.” Back home in New York City, Abreu says he has participated “in movements against government corruption and movements in favor of marriage equality.” He also told us he participated in the Women’s March in Washington D.C. following President Trump’s inauguration.
Sizing Up the Opposition
When asked to draw a distinction between himself and the other candidates in the race, Abreu said:
I’ve been a progressive Democrat my entire life, and I have the morals and the values our community needs. I’m in this for the people of the Bronx, not for my own personal interests. I know how to get the job done, and I’m in tune with Bronx residents. It’s important that we move the Kingsbridge Armory project forward, not only to benefit our community in the short term by creating jobs, but also in the long term with an amazing center for residents to use. It’s critical that we bring more healthcare facilities to our district to increase access to necessary healthcare services for all. There is so much that needs to be done that just isn’t getting done. I’m going to deliver on the promises I’ve made to my Community.
Asked about current seat holder Councilman Fernando Cabrera, Abreu told us, “The incumbent candidate was a Republican just a few years ago, and still holds extremist views, and still practices these extreme Republican views and activities on a daily basis.”
According to Norwood News, Cabrera was registered as a Republican until August 2008. Originally from the Bronx, he lived in Westchester until moving back in the summer of 2008 and unseating former Democratic Councilwoman Maria Baez in 2009. Cabrera got his master’s degree from Liberty University, known for its conservatism.
On why he originally registered as a Republican, Norwood News reported that Cabrera said, “I was a teenager and I just chose a party. I just chose one! I was not politically savvy; they just gave me a card and I voted.”
In September 2014, The Observer reported that hedge fund manager Sean Fieler, who gave money to Republican candidates Rob Astorino and John Cahill, also gave $6,500 to Cabrera. The Observer also reported that Cabrera appeared on the Family Research Council’s radio show. The Family Research Council was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Cabrera is also on record (and video) praising Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ and abortion laws.
Continuing, Abreu said of Cabrera, “He’s lying to the people of the Bronx, and he’s hurting them by supporting anti-abortion clinics that deceive women, he stopped the Kingsbridge Armory project from going forward because he couldn’t get the developer to give his own non-profit $100,000 per year.”
In 2011 Cabrera voted no on a bill that sought to regulate anti-abortion clinics. He explained his opposition stating, “The real matter before us fundamentally is free speech regardless of whether or not you are pro-life or pro-choice…It is unprecedented in the history of the City Council to impose upon nonprofit organizations to post a sign that requires them to state what they do not do.”
Regarding the Kingsbridge Armory, based on reporting by The New York Times in 2013, among the things that Cabrera asked for in exchange for his support of the Ice Center, was $100,000 annually for 99 years to be paid by the developer to Community Action Unlimited, an organization connected to him. Though others were, this demand was not granted.
A video was recently posted online by Walker Bragman in which Cabrera said it’s harder being rich than it is being poor. He suggested the rich have reached their position because of their ability to handle more pressure and responsibility. When he was subsequently questioned by Bragman about his comments, he suggested they were being taken out of context.
Asked about his thoughts on the videos, Abreu said:
I think his comment stands for itself. For someone who is personally wealthy, it is shocking to me that he would tell members of our community that they don’t live hard lives, that they don’t work hard, that they don’t have the capabilities to prosper and be successful. It’s terrible.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Fernando Cabrera has said (or even done) something so out of touch, demoralizing, terrible, demeaning, or just plain questionable, since he’s been in the public eye. It’s beyond disappointing and disturbing to see time and time again, and I think the residents of the Bronx are sick of it, too.
The primary election for the District 14 City Council seat will be held on Tuesday, September 12th, 2017. Abreu is hoping to beat incumbent Cabrera, as well as challenger Felix Perdomo. Another candidate who had also been in the race, Justin Sanchez, suspended his campaign on July 17th. In New York, you must be a registered Democrat to vote in the primary. Votes can be cast in person or by mail. Mailed ballots must be at the Bronx Board of Elections by 9 pm Eastern time on election day.
You can find out more about Randy Abreu on his site.