City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. will run for borough president of the Bronx, hoping to occupy the seat of Ruben Diaz Jr., who will vacate the position after 11 years. Salamanca, who was elected to represent the council’s 17th District in a special election in 2016, says his experience as Chair of the council’s Committee on Land Use will help the Bronx emerge from multiple crises brought about by the pandemic.
“We are in a crisis. All of the growth and improvement we’ve seen under the current Borough President is at risk right now,” said Salamanca in a press release announcing his candidacy. “We’re all in pain; I lost my dad in April to COVID-19 like so many others, and on top of that we see the job loss, the housing crisis, the small businesses closing, and our health system on the verge of getting overwhelmed again.
Salamanca took a swipe at Mayor Bill de Blasio, with whom he has had a rocky relationship during his time in elected office, saying that “leaders at all levels — from Washington down to the City-level — have failed” Bronx families, who have “needlessly suffered.”
Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, Salamanca listed staggering highs in homelessness and housing insecurity; a recession; food insecurity; economic inequity; and “overdue reforms to our criminal justice system” as issues in need of immediate attention from borough leadership.
The race is shaping up to be a crowded one. So far two Bronx Council members, Fernando Cabrera and Vanessa Gibson, and an Assembly member, Nathalia Fernandez, have announced their candidacy for the June 2021 election. Another, lesser known name, Victor Gutierrez, is also running.
Salamanca, who grew up in subsidized housing in West Farms and served as district manager of Community Board 2 in Longwood between 2010 and 2016, pointed to his record on affordable housing as an advantage he will bring. That includes allocations of over $100 million in capital investments for social programming and affordable housing for the lowest-income rungs, and for the homeless and seniors.
Salamanca’s professional roots lie in health care. He served on the boards of the Community Healthcare Network and the Hunts Point Economic Development Corporation. Before being elected district manager of Board 2, he chaired its committee on health.
Salamanca has long been a proponent of strong law enforcement, serving as president of the 41st Precinct Community Council and spearheading community efforts to drive the Hunts Point peninsula’s notorious strip clubs out of the neighborhood when he headed Community Board 2.
But although Salamanca has stood behind community groups who oppose the building of a new jail in Mott Haven, in one of the South Bronx’s most contentious issues, he has occasionally come into conflict with others who alleged he sold them out on affordable housing.
The election is scheduled to take place in June 2021.