Proving the rumor only two-third’s true, Councilwoman Diana Reyna, who is seeking a third term, showed up.
Her opponents, Gerald Esposito, the district manager of Community Board 1, and Maritza Davila, a community activist, skipped the event, which was hosted by Churches United for Fair Housing.
In a district- which is comprised of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bushwick and Ridgewood- where Puerto Rican Flags wave from the street lamps, and Spanish is spoken more than English, the bilingual debate was supposed to familiarize the 100 community residents in attendance with the candidates running for September’s primary election.
Rob Solano, the executive director of Churches United, said he organized the debate for that specific reason.
“I go to church every Sunday, and people ask me, ‘Who are you going to vote for?’” Solano said. “So I told them, ‘Come Monday and find out for yourself.’”
Solano admitted he was disappointed and angry with the absent candidates, as were the residents who attended, ready with questions on affordable housing, education and crime in a district experiencing a spike in crime and gang-related violence.
El Diario La Prensa reporter Carmen Alacron, who helped moderate the debate, said “showing up is not enough, and not showing up is not enough either.” She continued, “We’re going to email the questions [to the absent candidates]. So, either way, they will be answered.”
José Gonzalez, a percussion teacher in the Bronx and resident of Williamsburg, expressed disappointment Esposito and Davila failed to appear.
“We need to start expecting more,” said Gonzalez, who is especially concerned about city efforts to improve education results. “Higher Regent scores are not enough,” he said. “What about after high school? What about college?”
Speaking to the crowd that stayed behind for a question and answer session, Reyna said that graduation rates are up 13 percent, reading scores are up 30 percent and math is up 50 percent.
She also mentioned that each school in the district (Williamsburg, Bushwick, Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens) has received funding for at least one new computer. “We are trying to bring schools up to the 21st century,” Reyna said.
Speaking on crime Reyna said, “we have to work with police officers to ensure safety.” She said the community also needs to become more involved with gang violence education and parent/police cooperation programs.
To help fight crime, Reyna said it is crucial her constituents feel connected to City Hall, so their voices can be heard. She said if re-elected it would be her responsibility to “represent [residents’] interests, values and needs and make sure there is a connection between the community and City Hall.”
When reached by phone the day after the debate, Davila said she was not able to attend because of a prior commitment.
“Although debates are very good, the work gets done on foot, and that’s where I am focused,” Davila said. “Knocking on doors and grassroots organizing for the peoples’ needs.”
Davila, a longtime advocate for safer neighborhoods, said parts of the district remain unsafe.
“In the Bushwick community, we have a wonderful working relationship with the police. Block residents have great communications with NYPD,” said Davila. “That’s not happening in Williamsburg,” she added, “and we need to do a lot of more.”
Esposito did not return phone calls for comment.
A Churches United officer said the community would take note of the missing candidates. “We, as a Latino community, need to feel respected and need to feel important,” the officer said. “We tend to vote for who showed up.”