Votes on mayor’s housing plan and city budget await new Councilmember
Nearly an hour after polls had closed for the 17th Council District’s special election, people were ready for a party at Rafael Salamanca’s headquarters.
Supporters filled the small storefront space on East 163rd Street, plates of rice and cups of beer in hand, as Assemblyman Marcos Crespo stepped up to the microphone.
“Let me start by saying the worst kept secret in the city of New York – we won,” said Crespo, chair of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, to cheers from the audience.
Chants of “Rafael! Rafael!” soon began as the candidate entered from outside. After a few hugs and handshakes he joined elected officials up front to declare victory.
“I’m just excited,” said an emotional Salamanca, standing with his wife and stepson.
Along with a laundry list of endorsement recognitions he delivered a special thanks to Community Board 2, where he has been the district manager since 2010.
“You allowed me to take the reins in this community and move things forward and get things done,” he said.
Salamanca had intended to run for the seat in 2017, but accelerated his plans after former Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo’s sudden resignation in December. Based on unofficial election results he beat five other contenders with more than 39 percent of approximately 3,300 votes.
While the election was nonpartisan, Salamanca received big support from the Bronx Democratic County Committee and highlighted his party registration on handouts. The field was originally larger, until five other candidates were knocked off the ballot at a Feb. 8 Board of Elections hearing. Crespo defended the county party’s role in some of those ballot challenges.
“This happens in every election. There’s nothing new to that. There was no work behind that,” he told the Express. “Everybody has to follow the rules. Us included.”
After the victory speech, supporters said they backed Salamanca over other candidates because of his track record in the district.
“We’ve been working with him in the community for a long time,” said Melissa Lomba of tech training center StartUp Box. “He’s been very attentive to the needs of the Hunts Point residents.”
With major votes coming up on the city’s affordable housing plan and the annual budget process underway, Salamanca enters the City Council at a busy time.
Jessenia Aponte, Salamanca’s wife, felt relief and pride at his win, but recognized what lay ahead.
“It’s only going to be a lot of work from here,” she said.
Salamanca told the Express he was excited to represent the district where he grew up. His mother worked at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis healthcare center in Mott Haven and his father worked at the Hunts Point Produce Market.
“As a district manager, there were a lot of things that needed to get done and I really didn’t see that urgency,” he said of dealing with some city agencies. He said he plans to use his new role to hold agencies more accountable.
“You’re gonna get things done and if not I’m gonna call you out,” he said.
During his remaining time as district manager, Salamanca plans to follow up with the Department of Transportation about pending projects. He will be officially sworn in as the city’s 51st council member soon after voting results are certified by the Board of Elections. Thanks to a newly signed law, the job now pays $148,500 annually.
Salamanca pledged to follow up with residents by knocking on more doors – especially in NYCHA buildings – to start finding ways to address their concerns. He will now be serving a much larger population of constituents that will include Melrose, Soundview and East Tremont, but had special recognition for the neighborhood where his government career started.
“Hunts Point came out and voted today,” he said. “Thank you, thank you, Hunts Point.”