Democratic Socialists Of America (DSA) darling State Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East New York) has now been on the taxpayer’s dime for nearly a year and has yet to open a district office, Kings County Politics has learned.
The truth-challenged freshman lawmaker and her staff have cited financial constraints, Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance, and bureaucracy within the State Senate as challenges they’re facing.
“Whenever we find spaces — and we’ve found a lot — they have not met the pretty strict requirements, budget-wise and otherwise, of the Senate. In every scenario, I’m a legislator – I’m not able to directly negotiate with a landlord. They negotiate directly with the state, and it typically is a long process. A lot of new incumbents have been dealing with this; the bureaucracy of it is frustrating,” Salazar explained.
The Senator’s circumstances are no different than her peers. State Senator Jessica Ramos (D-Jackson Heights), whose district neighbors Salazar’s, has had an office located in her district since she was elected. Each Senator is allocated $40,000 a year for office space, which is about $3,330 a month. According to Business Insider, the average rent in Bushwick, a central location in Salazar’s district, is $3000 a month.
“It’s actually ironic that we can’t find space, given the package of legislative reforms on residential housing the Senator is putting forward,” said Carolina Rodriguez, spokesperson for the Senate Majority Conference. “It’s difficult to find terms that are acceptable to the Senate and the landlord. Senator Salazar’s staff has submitted several office spaces for approval, unfortunately, the Senate has had to refuse them because they were not within Senate regulations and financial constraints.”
“I think our challenges speak to the cost of commercial space in the district. I have the same budget allocation for rent on the district office as senators in places where the rent isn’t as high,” added Salazar.
There are more expensive districts than Salazar’s, though. Challenges indicated by the senator and her team are common obstacles all people run into while obtaining space in New York.
Another neighboring district, for example, is that of freshman State Sen. Zellnor Myrie (D-Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Gowanus, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, South Slope, Sunset Park) who lists a Flatbush district office on his official state senate website and two satellite offices – shared with City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca in Sunset Park and City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel in Brownsville.
But Salazar’s official Senate website only lists 250 Broadway in Manhattan as a temporary office.
“One of the requirements that a lot of spaces don’t meet that presents another challenge is that they aren’t ADA compliant. It could be something as seemingly small as having a small step in the entry or the bathroom that will make them say it’s not ADA compliant. There’s the cost of construction, and sometimes that’s a barrier to a deal with the state,” said Salazar.
What could be seen as an ironic problem for Salazar, given that housing and tenant rights are two of her focuses, it is more likely an indication of her inability to collaborate with others on her team and move issues.
“It’s difficult because I recognize that the limitations on the legislator’s ability to directly negotiate with a landlord is basically an anti-corruption measure that’s in place for a very good reason,” said the Senator, “but it would be ideal for there to be more resources dedicated to legislators so we can find an office as quickly as possible because this situation isn’t actually unique to our office.”
Given the circumstances, Salazar’s team is conducting outreach in innovative ways.
“We have a designated space at 250 Broadway which we work out of every day. Additionally, we have mobile office hours. Our constituent outreach staff holds hours at two libraries in the district, in Bushwick and Cypress Hills. We always post our mobile office hours, and we have four geographically-based organizers so that they’re able to meet constituent’s needs and try to turn a really challenging situation into the opportunity to be as accessible as possible to everyone,” said Salazar.
As a result, members of Salazar’s team frequent the district; while the Senator herself appears to prefer high-minded politics to dealing with fundamental issues in the neighborhoods of her constituency.
But Salazar promised to front-burner the issue of finding a district office. “There’s a need to give dedicated attention to the issue,” she said.