For the last decade, City Council candidate Nancy Martinez has been a staple in the Far Rockaway small business community. Though she never saw herself as a politician, Martinez, the owner of a successful vocational training school, is running to represent City Council District 31. It was her friends and fellow business owners who urged her to do it.
“A lot of the merchants and small business owners asked me to run, and a lot of the hispanic community asked me to run,” Martinez said. “They feel they have been left behind for years in the community.”
The district, which covers Averne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens, was previously held by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards. Richards vacated the seat in December after being elected Borough President, triggering the special election. There are nine candidates vying for his former seat in the February 23 special election, which will be the second election in the city’s history to use ranked choice voting.
If elected to the council to represent District 31 later this month, Martinez said she would be the first Latina elected to the office.
Since founding her school in 2010, Martinez has committed herself to developing small businesses in Far Rockaway, she said. Through her work as chair of the Rockaway East Merchant’s Association, Martinez secured both a business development grant from the city valued at $1.5 million, and another $900,000 from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office.
In addition to securing funding for businesses, Martinez said she hopes to set up a Business Improvement District (BID) in Far Rockaway, which she says has never been done.
Martinez is not a single-issue candidate, however. She’s concerned about handicapped access to the subway, she said, as well as reforming the NYPD. Two issues which are intrinsically linked for her.
An NYPD police cruiser hit and paralyzed Martinez’s brother, Manuel, back in 1998. It was what Martinez describes as a case of mistaken identity. The experience made her believe more should be done to hold police accountable.
Now left with a constant reminder of her brother’s near-fatal interaction with police, Martinez has developed complex feelings about the role of police in the city.
“I experienced on a daily basis the hurt that my young brother went through, but that does not mean that I hate every officer,” Martinez said. “There has to be reform, we have to fix it, but we cannot let the country get in a state of crime rate that is going on now.”
Martinez’s brother was awarded nearly $5.5 million in a personal injury case against the city, but it doesn’t change the long lasting effects of his encounter with police. Manuel has difficulty accessing places like the subway, something Martinez hopes to fix if elected.
Only served by a single elevated subway line in Far Rockaway, Martinez and her brother have had to fight broken elevators, and inaccessible stations to use the public transit lines.
It would take the infrastructure improvements after the 2012 Superstorm Sandy disaster before Far Rockaway residents would have access to basic tools in the subway like elevators, Martinez said.
“I had to ask people to lift my brother up the stairs. So I’ve felt it many times,” she said.
It’s these experiences with her brother and his injuries which motivated her to both start her business and run for office, Martinez said.
It was from this experience with her brother, and the need to find specialized care for him, that motivated her to train other healthcare workers. By her count, she has trained thousands of new healthcare staff in Southeast Queens.
“That’s really what motivates me,” Martinez said. “When you experience this, it’s a whole different game.”