You might know Rafael Espinal as the City Council Member from Brooklyn who repealed the “no dancing” Cabaret Law and established the Office of Nightlife. Maybe you’ve heard about his work to reduce the plastic pollution in our oceans and parks by banning plastic straws. Or maybe you’ve met him around Brooklyn, where he can often be seen talking to local people about how to make our city a better place to live.
Now he’s running for a citywide position – Public Advocate – in a special election on February 26. It’s expected to be a close race, so every vote counts.
The Public Advocate’s job is to hold the Mayor and City Council accountable, to investigate problems, and propose solutions. They are also next in line to the Mayor.
“Democracy doesn’t just happen at election time,” Rafael says, “it’s the Public Advocate’s job to make sure the City government is always working for the people and to be the people’s voice in City Hall.”
“As a City Council Member, I’ve been able to get a lot done for our communities, whether that’s leading the charge to protect our green spaces and community gardens or introducing the legislation to make New York a sanctuary city. Now I’m ready to step up for all New Yorkers to make sure the City government is delivering for everyone,” he says.
With 17 candidates on the ballot, Rafael’s stands out as the only candidate with experience in both the City Council and the State Assembly. That means he understands how the system works, so he can make it work better for everyone.
“I grew up in East New York,” he says, “one of the most disinvested neighborhoods in the city. I’ve seen what happens when neighborhoods get ignored, and I’ve seen the positive things that can happen when politicians actually listen to the people and empower them to fight for what they need. When my district came up for rezoning, I put the community in the driver’s seat to push back against the mayor’s proposals. Together we achieved over $250 million of investment in affordable housing, a new school, and a new community center.”
Environmental issues are one of Rafael’s passions. As Public Advocate he has committed to establishing a dedicated team to get the city on track to meet its environmental goals.
“We’ve got some good goals already around cleaner air, reducing waste to landfill, and fixing our stormwater system, but the problem is we’re not going to achieve them unless we change what we’re doing. And on climate change, we’re simply not moving fast enough to reduce carbon emissions,” he says. “As Public Advocate, I won’t just be the advocate for all New Yorkers, I’ll also be the advocate for the environment that sustains us.”
Like many of us, the more Rafael learned about climate change, the more he was motivated to take action. And he looked to other cities and countries for inspiration, something he has done throughout his career in public office.
“When I saw the pressures out nightlife community was facing, I looked at how other cities were dealing with that. In Europe they have Night Mayors and I thought, we should have one in New York too! It’s the same with environmental issues. We’re all facing climate change together as one world. We need to learn from each other about the best ways to reduce pollution.”
So, with years of experience in the State Assembly and on the City Council, is it time Brooklyn supports one of its most popular local elected officials to fight for the whole city?
“I’ll always be a Brooklyn boy, but as I’ve campaigned across the whole city I’ve seen that the same problems Brooklyn is facing are happening everywhere. There are empty storefronts because small businesses are being shut down by rising rents, right across the city. The MTA isn’t working well, wherever you are. I plan to have offices in every borough so I can help all New Yorkers and advocate for everyone, but at the end of the week you’ll probably always find me back in Brooklyn, eating pizza at Roberta’s,” he laughs.
The special election for Public Advocate is on Tuesday, February 26.
This article was paid for by Espinal for NYC.