Speaking to a packed house at Tres Chivos Restaurant, 5717 5th Avenue in Sunset Park, Marcela Mitanyes launched her campaign to challenge Assembly Member Felix W Ortiz (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook) in the Democratic primary election next June 23.
In her campaign launch, Mitanyes put advocacy for local tenant rights at the forefront of her Democratic campaign to become the next Assemblywoman in District 51 and advocated for progressive real estate reforms.
“I want my platform to focus on the need to strengthen protection for all tenants,” Mitanyes said on Saturday. “Our home is our foundation, and we can’t grow unless that foundation is solid. We need to harness our collective power. To be bold, in protecting our waterfront from overdevelopment and increasing climate threat.”
Mitanyes highlighted her local history as a central motivation for her candidacy. She said that District 51 has been her home and that she moved her as the product of undocumented factory workers from Peru. She went to public school in the district and started a family here.
A little over a decade ago, however, she said that she, along with many of her neighbors, were harassed out of their rent-stabilized homes after living there for over 30 years. She became an organizer with the tenants’ advocacy group Neighbors Helping Neighbors where she found out that she wasn’t the only one.
“New York City has and continues to be in a deep housing crisis. The rules of the game were designed for landlords to win, and that made me mad. I found the courage to stand up and fight, and to win, we would need to band together to shift the tide of power,” she said.
Throughout the event, there was a celebratory air about her candidacy. Supporting speakers including Violeta Gomez-Uribe, Esteban Girón, and Leandra Requena spoke in both English and Spanish, which highlighted the grassroots populist push in the diverse district.
Girón particularly spoke about Mitanyes as a “fierce and fearless fighter” and “protector” who was ready to take on the “half-assed lukewarm Democrats already compromised by real estate money.” This has been an important criticism that many progressive candidates make of incumbent seats: the tainting effects of taking money from lobbyists in real estate.
Defeating Ortiz (D) is not going to be an easy seat to flip. He was voted into the seat in 1995 and currently serves as the Assistant Speaker of the New York State Assembly. He has served unimpeded for almost the entire time in office, without seeing a real challenger. In 2018 he won 98 percent of the vote in the district.
Mitanyes’ plan to overcome these long odds is to use old fashioned grassroots campaigning. At the end of her speech at Tres Chivos, she encouraged members of the community to come together, volunteer to canvass, and donate to her campaign.