City Councilmember Rafael Espinal (D-Brownsville, Bushwick, Cypress Hills, East New York, City Line, Ocean Hill) resigned from the city council on Saturday effective immediately after being named the named as the next executive director of the 500,000-member Freelancers Union.
Espinal, who is stepping down after serving in the city council for a little over six years, was largely responsible for helping pass the Freelance Isn’t Free Act and the repeal of the city’s “cabaret law.”
“A lot of us are lame ducks,” Espinal told reporters on Sunday, with 34 out of 50 other Council members facing the 2021 end of their tenures due to term limits. “There’s a lot of movement happening politically overall and I saw this as an opportunity to continue the good work that I’ve been doing on the Council.”
A native of Brooklyn and the son of Dominican immigrants who were union workers as well as freelancers, Espinal was elected to his City Council post in 2013, after serving two years in the New York State Assembly. He is a graduate of Queens College and served as an adult literacy teacher and served as chief of staff for former City Council Member and current Assemblymember Erik Dilan in the city council before running for elective office.
Espinal’s legislative accomplishments on the city council include negotiating a $250 million comprehensive rezoning plan for the East New York portion of his district, and for leading the repeal of New York’s Cabaret Law—which had been used to target black-owned clubs, gay bars, and underground establishments since the Prohibition Era—and the establishment of the city’s new Office of Nightlife.
“There’s no bigger honor than serving as a City Council member and the only regret I have is that I will not be able to continue to do that,” Espinal told reporters. “But I feel very confident and comfortable that I’ve performed my duties to the best of my ability and delivered historic investments that my community has never seen in the past.”
Freelancers Union was founded in 1995 by Sara Horowitz and quickly became the preeminent political voice for this diverse and growing workforce. Espinal’s immediate tasks will also include bringing freelancers of all types into the conversation about proposed worker classification legislation in various states.
“Whether it be to supplement their income or gain more flexibility, independent work is the way of the future as more and more people are embracing freelancing. Under my leadership, Freelancers Union will continue to lead the way in building a new system of benefits and protections for independent workers,” Espinal said.
Espinal’s resignation means Mayor Bill de Blasio must call a special election to fill the vacancy within 80 days from Sunday.
Sources say an early candidate for the seat is female Democratic District Leader Darma V. Diaz.