‘Homegrown’ progressive vies for open New York House seat, facing de Blasio and several others

NEW YORK — Carlina Rivera is pitching herself as a home-grown congressional candidate who understands the needs of New Yorkers — and is hoping to win over the voters of a newly drawn district spanning lower Manhattan and Brooklyn that is already attracting a field of nearly 10 candidates.

But Rivera, a City Council member who plans to announce her own candidacy Wednesday, faces many obstacles.

While she doesn’t have the baggage of former Mayor Bill de Blasio, who announced his bid for the new 10th Congressional District last month, she also doesn’t have his near-universal name recognition. What’s more, Rivera hails from lower Manhattan and hasn’t appeared on the ballot in some of the most civically active neighborhoods within the district, which de Blasio represented for eight years in the Council.

While she grew up in the district — unlike fellow hopeful Rep. Mondaire Jones, whose nearest office is more than 20 miles away — she now lives eight blocks north of its boundaries. And she has just begun to fundraise, whereas Jones already has $2.9 million in the bank as of the most recent filing.

Despite her leftward political leanings, several coveted progressive endorsements have already been snatched up by Jones and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou — though Team Rivera believes she is well-positioned to receive the official backing of Rep. Nydia Velázquez, an influential figure in Brooklyn and progressive politics. Rivera is also rolling out support on Wednesday from a number of community leaders and eight Council members including Alexa Avilés — a democratic socialist who represents blocs of Latino voters in Sunset Park and Red Hook who will be key for Rivera’s coalition — and former Council Member Margaret Chin who served in a neighboring district that includes Chinatown and lies within Niou’s Assembly seat.

Regardless of the obstacles before her, Rivera is confident her legislative record and biography will appeal to voters.

In an interview at an Avenue C Puerto Rican restaurant near her native Lower East Side, Rivera emphasized some of her Council work that she said has national importance. Rivera chaired the Council’s Committee on Hospitals during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, helped establish an abortion access fund and was involved with negotiating approval of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, a major infrastructure plan funded by the de Blasio administration and the federal government to protect lower Manhattan from future floods. She also emphasized her experience growing up in publicly subsidized housing and being raised by a single mother who works for the civilian division of the NYPD.

“People want someone who’s going to be able to have those conversations about a national agenda — codify Roe, take on gun control, expand voting rights and end the filibuster — but they also want the person who understands what it’s like to lay your head down at night in an NYCHA apartment that has been neglected for decades,” she said, referring to the New York City Housing Authority.

She pointedly declined to criticize any of her opponents in the rare, incumbent-free race in which small voting blocs hold extra value and new competitors are continually entering the fray.

Dan Goldman, former lead counsel for House Democrats during the first impeachment of Donald Trump, announced his bid Wednesday. Former Congress member Elizabeth Holtzman and social scientist Elizabeth Kim are also running, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon is considering a bid.

Rivera, who previously served on her local community board, resoundingly won her last two Council races. But little more than half of that district lies within the 10th congressional seat. And those neighborhoods reported lower turnout than the areas in Brooklyn where she will be competing for the first time.

A POLITICO analysis of the 2018 Democratic primary for governor — the last year New Yorkers voted in a midterm election — showed that parts of Rivera’s lower Manhattan district, including Chinatown and the Lower East Side, voted in far fewer numbers than Park Slope and Cobble Hill. Not only did those Brooklyn areas lead turnout in the newly drawn congressional seat, they are consistently among the highest-performing districts across the city, election returns and data from the CUNY’s Center for Urban Research show. They are also the home turf of competitors, including de Blasio and Simon.

Voters there have historically favored left-of-center Democrats, though they were split between progressive lawyer Maya Wiley and centrist candidate Kathryn Garcia in the mayoral primary last year.

Rivera — who attracted support from progressives in her ultimately unsuccessful bid to become Council speaker last year based on positions like voting against the NYPD budget in 2020 — believes she can compete for ideologically left-leaning New Yorkers in these areas, noting that their politics overlap areas of her district that went for Wiley and Garcia.

A strategy memo from her campaign notes these vote-rich areas will be highly competitive and will likely be split among several candidates. Rivera is planning to pair the support she picks up there with a coalition that includes her current constituents, people living in economically diverse neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Latino voters, given her status as the only Latina in the running.

Her team believes her experience in the Council will give her a leg up in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park, according to the memo. But much of the neighborhood is politically conservative, having supported former President Donald Trump in 2020, and the competition for the votes is steep: de Blasio, for example, has been cultivating that community for decades.

“I’m a homegrown candidate, and I have a fierce commitment to supporting my community,” Rivera said. “I think I’ve been an effective legislator: Someone who has been able to work very collegially, someone who has been able to work on bipartisan issues in the Council, and someone who is really going to be able to go in there with relationships with the congressional delegation and make sure we bring back resources to New York City.”

Congressional races in the state were upended last month when a special master released new maps to replace lines drawn by state Democrats that were found by the state Court of Appeals to be gerrymandered. The new configuration has pitted some longtime incumbents, such as Reps. Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, against each other but has created an open seat in the 10th District, which political observers noted creates a uniquely open field.

“Of the way-too-many candidates running, there is no natural fit for the district,” said Matt Wing, communications adviser for Uber and previously spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and then-Council Member de Blasio. “The best path for Carlina is to quickly raise enough money to be competitive with better-funded candidates like Jones and Goldman, find one core issue or value to define her candidacy around, so she stands out in the crowd, and talk about nothing else.”