Mexican-American leaders feel Menchaca’s win over incumbent Brooklyn Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez gives their community a long-sought foothold in local politics.
Sunset Park played host to history on Tuesday as a young political upstart vanquished an entrenched incumbent City Councilwoman.
But this primary victory marked much more than the arrival of Carlos Menchaca; it also signified the beginning of the long journey on which Mexican Americans have embarked — to gain a foothold on the city’s political landscape.
“I’m so excited to be making history tonight,” said Menchaca, who celebrated his 33rd birthday hours after he scored the only victory of any challenger in the city who sought to unseat a sitting Council member.
Menchaca’s victory party in Saint Jacobi Evangelical Lutheran Church wasn’t the biggest or the most expensive, but no one in New York City had more fun that evening than he, along with the committed legion of volunteers who accomplished an electoral upset few thought possible.
Not only were they celebrating Menchaca’s convincing victory over party-backed, 8-year incumbent Sara Gonzalez. The upset reverberated beyondRed Hook, Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, the communities he seeks to represent in the Council.
With his primary victory on Tuesday, Menchaca managed to extend the boundaries of multiple horizons.
The El Paso, Tex., native would be the first Mexican American elected to the New York City Council, and also the first openly gay Council member from Brooklyn.
“Listen, I was raised by a single mother and she taught me to fight for what I believe and to be strong,” said the young trailblazer, exuding energy and self-confidence. “This is what I’ll do at the Council.”
With his victory, the young, progressive politician has already left his mark on the city’s electoral landscape.
“I am visible, vocal,” he said when asked what makes him different from his vanquished opponent, who had a poor attendance record and introduced only four bills since 2011.
“I have a track record of being present,” he added. “I will bring the voice of the immigrant community to City Hall. I will work not only for Mexican immigrants, but for all immigrants.”
Joel Magallán, the executive director of Asociación Tepeyac, the city’s most important Mexican community group, said the victory marked Mexicans’ arrival on New York City’s political scene.
“We have been working for 16 years and there are Tepeyac former members in every barrio,” said Magallán, one of the founders of the Mexican Committee of New Yorkers in support of Menchaca.
“Now they came out, together with current Tepeyac members, to campaign for Carlos as active citizens, people who are well developed in community work. Now we are seeing the result of years of Tepeyac’s leadership education courses.”
Menchaca had never before run for office, but by no means is he politically inexperienced. He was a former aide to Council Speaker and defeated mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
Gonzalez may have been the candidate backed by the party machine but Menchaca, a beat-the-pavement type of campaigner, had the support of hundreds of volunteers who had always felt ignored by the powers that be.
He was also able to gain the backing of powerful unions such as 1199 and 32BJ, community groups like Make the Road New York and well-known power brokers like Rep. Nydia Velázquez.
“Nydia opened the doors for me but was very clear I had to do the work, to inspire people, to persuade them to go out and vote,” said Menchaca, who spent many Mondays and Fridays — the days Velázquez was in town — standing with her outside subway stations, talking to people, distributing campaign leaflets and letting voters know that he, Menchaca, was different.
“This was bound to happen sooner or later,” Magallán said of the victory. “We estimate there are between 100,000 and 150,000 Mexican Americans in New York that can vote, around 5,000 of them in Menchaca’s district.
“Carlos opened the door, and the volunteers are already looking beyond this election. We think we can win in next year’s election, too.”
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