City Council Candidate Manny Silva isn’t running for the City Council to carry on his former boss’s legacy, he said. Instead, he’s running to implement his own vision for the future of City Council District 31.
His platform, as he sees it, is a radical one. He refuses to take donations from real estate developers. He wants the public school curriculum to teach history through a social justice lens. He believes that automatically makes him an outsider from the city establishment.
But Silva’s efforts to paint himself as an outsider doesn’t change the fact that he served as the chief-of-staff to current Queens Borough President Donovan Richards who vacated his council seat in December, triggering the upcoming special election. Yet he is confident, he said, that his platform proves his activist bonafides independent of Richards while highlighting his City Council experience.
He wants voters to know he can walk and chew gum at the same time.
“I’m coming with a bold and independent vision and putting people first and politics second,” he said. “When you do something like that, you’re not going to make a ton of friends.”
He believes that politicians should hold themselves accountable, he said. He promised to build a physical and virtual “wall of accountability” if elected. His office will track the status of his campaign promises on the wall physically in his office and virtually online. Constituents can then check it like a scoreboard to see if he has followed through on his promises like hiring diverse staff with the roots in the area, for example.
Authenticity is central to how Silva views himself and his campaign. He will listen to constituents, he said, but he will not be swayed to act against his political convictions. The way he sees it, voters will respect elected officials who remain consistent.
“As long as you’re standing up for what you genuinely believe in, people are going to be alright with it,” he said.
Silva got his start in community activism and politics when he was hired by FEMA after Hurricane Sandy. He helped ensure that federal money was distributed to residents affected by the flooding. It was an eye opening experience because he was being paid to help people. The fact that it paid more than his previous jobs was an added plus.
“Why would I want to do anything else,” he said. “They’re gonna pay me more than minimum wage, and I was so excited.”
Silva’s experience handling the hurricane’s aftermath influenced his campaign priorities, he said. His biggest concern is ensuring that the infrastructure to protect against flooding gets enough resources. He said the city has not come up with a substantial plan to ward off future flooding disasters.
“The infrastructure throughout our entire district has not been addressed. There’s been a few projects coming but the city has not come up with a comprehensive plan and funded a comprehensive plan to ensure that our infrastructure is in the best condition it can be,” he said. “So we have a ton of flooding, like any other part of South Queens, and Southeast Queens. And we’re not seeing enough traction in that area.”
Silva said he also wants to focus on housing. He wants to increase access to housing vouchers for all homeless people in the area according to his campaign site. He also wants to ensure that any housing development guarantees space for all income levels in order to mitigate gentrification.
Transit is another top issue for him. His district is a transit desert, he said. It has only buses and one MTA train station, the A Train stop at Mott Avenue in Far Rockaway. Voters have not brought up the lack of bike lanes, he said, so instead he is focusing on electric car accessibility. While Silva thinks biking is good for the environment, he understands that cars are crucial due to the suburban nature of the district.
“I truly believe in doing everything we can to save our environment and combat climate change, but I do understand that we are a transit desert,” he said. “People do need cars.”
He is not taking money from special interests groups, he said, which he sees as a point of pride. Instead he will rely on donations from individuals, keeping in line with his community oriented campaign.
“I’m the only candidate who’s not taking money from real estate developers,” he said. “Which I believe doesn’t necessarily influence somebody, but is a conflict of interest.”
Silva said his ability to cater to the nuances of the district has gotten him endorsements from borough and neighborhood activist organizations such as the Queens United Independent Progressives (QUIP) and Rockaway Revolution. He promises to work with anyone if elected to the city council as long as it leads to one thing –– results
“I plan on going in there not to make friends but to get results,” he said. “I’m not here for accolades or titles. I’m here for the people.”