So far in his career, Denny Salas has been somewhat of a jack of all trades. He’s worked in finance, on Capitol Hill, as a lobbyist, and most recently as a development director for a school in the Bronx. What he’s been able to accomplish and the opportunities that have been available to him throughout his life, he says, are thanks to his parents who immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. His father worked as a dishwasher and his mother as a seamstress before they moved to New England, where they slowly were able to climb the socioeconomic ladder through increased education. Salas says he’s now running for Council to make it possible for families in District 1 to achieve the same American Dream his family has. Here’s our Q&A with Salas:
Why are you running for City Council in District 1?
The catalyst for me was George Floyd’s murder. We’ve seen it happen before a number of other instances. And if you’re a person of color, it kind of leaves you to retreat times to kind of just stay within yourself. But for me, it felt different. I felt like this time I needed to actually do something about not just the injustices that are occurring, particularly around Black and brown people, but initially what it actually represented. And for me, it represented kind of a lack of opportunity for a number of New Yorkers and Americans in general, to actually achieve the American dream. I started looking at it analytically: all of the different problems that really are around you, like housing, education, the economy, and then I started researching it and then I wrote my policy platform.
One of the central issues in every race this year is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic – if you’re elected, what kind of policies would you pursue to help workers, families and small businesses get back on their feet?
You want to create the environment for businesses to succeed. How do you do that? One idea is the formation of superblocks. This was created in Barcelona in 2016, where they relegated car traffic to the major through ways and closed off on the rest of the streets for pedestrian traffic. We have five years of data to look at, and what they saw is one, increased foot traffic lead to increase this activity. So all these small businesses were able to hire more people also pay higher wages. Two, we had immediate health benefits, where you’re not sucking up car fumes the entire time. And three, you actually saw an increase in green space, all these three started getting transformed into actual public parks where they literally started planting trees and create these green lawns and everything else.
Another thing I call for is commercial rent stabilization, which is something that we did during World War II, when we were in an economic recession like we’re currently experiencing. So, what I call for is that if you are a commercial space that’s 10,000 square feet or less, and if you’re retail and professional services, then there’s going to be a commercial rent stabilization for you, but it’s also going to be dependent on your annual revenues as well.
Over the course of the year there’s been an uptick in gun violence and other sorts of violent crime, but at the same time there remains a call to reform the NYPD – how you negotiate those two needs of keeping the city safe while reforming policing?
I’ve never called for defunding police because it’s just a slogan for me. It’s not something that made sense. Additionally, I think we’ve gotten so used to trying to approach any issue in a zero sum basis where all of a sudden we see that in order for us to fix a problem we need to take away from something. Absolutely there needs to be accountability. We could require officers to pay liability insurance. The last accounting that I’ve seen is that in New York City, taxpayers paid out nearly over a billion dollars to resolve nearly 14,000 claims against them. And the one thing we could do is to require NYPD to carry liability insurance with the city paying premiums, and that itself would actually save the city about $500 to $700 million. I also call for making sure that officers wear tamper proof body cams, so we can record every single interaction that every officer has with a civilian population, but make sure that they’re tamper proof as well as make sure that they’re released.
Howard Hughes Corporation’s proposal to build a 324-foot tower within the South Street Seaport Historic District has divided neighbors downtown. Is that a project you support, why or why not?
I do support it. I wish it was more affordable housing and I wish it was taller. I think that some of the complaints were made disingenuous because some of these complaints were basically saying that this building was gonna block their views from their apartments. And like I get it, you want to be you in New York City and you want something like that, but that shouldn’t restrict the actual responsibility that the city has to its other residents, which means that we do need to build to actually solve this housing crisis that we’re facing. And there’s sacrifices to be made all around for everybody.
What’s something not related to your platform that you want voters to know about you?
So I really like street art, and the one things that [my wife and I] would do prior to COVID is that we would when we travel internationally, the first thing we would do is book our street art tour. And the reason why we do that is because when you go through street art you actually learn the history of it, it’s actually telling you the story of the working class people within the city. It’s almost that underbelly that’s really hidden.
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