Carlos Menchaca, Column

Commentary: Sunny’s, City Council and BQX, by George Fiala

Sunny’s raises $65,000 and is still looking for more
According to their website, and a story that aired on WPIX-TV, Sunny’s much publicized campaign to raise $65,000 to help the bar purchase the building from Sunny’s family has succeeded.
Tone Johannsen, who married to bar owner Sunny Balzano, has raised money from a number of events including an art auction. The bar has also rented its interior and exterior to various movie and television production companies over the years, including the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, which is set in the early 20th century.

According to Johannsen still needs to raise more money. She is currently looking for the public to pony up an additional $20,000 to pay for some structural repairs to the two Conover Street buildings, which date to 1890s.

A Realty Collective Facebook ad informed us that Johannsen sold another property she inherited from Sunny – a non-habited building at 33 Dikeman Street. According to the website Realtor.com, the building sold on April 6, 2017 for $900,000.

Council Race
District 39’s city council race currently features five challengers to incumbent Carlos Menchaca. Sara Gonzalez, the two termer who Menchaca unseated four years ago, is back and has raised almost $50,000 – much of it from the Chinese community in Sunset Park, as well as real estate interests. Her nascent campaign at this point seems to be about raising her war chest, as she has been relatively quiet in the district.

The other four challengers are thus far mostly self-funded, according to their latest filings. Menchaca has been holding a series of fundraising house parties, some with the help of his good friend, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.

Delvis Valdes has been the most visible contender. He is a lawyer and owns rental properties in Sunset Park. He opened up a local campaign office across from the Red Hook Houses on Lorraine Street, and treated the neighborhood to a sumptuous feast upon its opening. He has also been active in Wally Bazemore’s new civic group “The Society of Red Hook,” and was a present at their recent Red Hook ballfield protest.

Javier Nieves held the Assembly seat for one term before being defeated by Felix Ortiz in 1994. He has run for office sporadically over the years.

Carmen Hulbert is a retired Associated Press journalist and union organizer for the NMG-CWA. She was a Bernie Sanders delegate in the last presidential cycle. She is running because she believes that the community needs a city council leader “that will stand up for the community against developers and special interests.”

Chris Q. Miao is a real estate attorney, adjunct professor at Baruch and Queens Colleges, and a freelance writer. He has served as a volunteer for the Hotel Chinese Association of USA. In addition to a large Hispanic population, Sunset Park also includes Brooklyn’s largest Chinatown.

Felix Ortiz finally entered the race, just in time for petitioning, and we will be looking at his campaign donation reports closely to see who he might favor in representing the interests of Red Hook and Sunset Park.

We are hoping for some vigorous issue oriented debates, and would love to sponsor one or two. If any candidate is interested, write me at George@Redhookstar.com

This was Coffey Park trolley stop, across from Visitation Church

Brooklyn Queens Connector
Most of Red Hook has no interest in this “trolley car for the wealthy” scheme, as was evident in a recent meeting of the Red Hook Civic Association, as well as a meeting of the Village of Red Hook, attended by trolley opponent Eddie Bautista.

The Friends of the Red Hook Connector, a “volunteer” organization funded by real estate developers looking to build on the Brooklyn Queens waterfront, has been engaged in a vigorous public relations campaign to drum up support. This is despite a leaked memo written for the mayor outlining some major obstacles to the streetcar, including a financing scheme. According to this memo – even in an ideal scenario – the BQX would not be functional until at least 2025.

Nonetheless, the Friends group has placed a series of op-eds in The Daily News and other local publications by business people and residents explaining how the streetcar is essential for businesses and the poor. They even went so far as to send us a letter, purportedly from a Red Hook resident, which is printed in our letters section.

The mayor has thus far been unsuccessful at portraying the Brooklyn Queens Connector as something vital for the average New Yorker. It remains evident that if any money is to be spent on improving transportation, express buses would do a better job for far less money.

But the real estate industry is so intent on adding glitz to their sales machinery that Jed Walentas, developer of the Domino Sugar project in Williamsburg, has even offered to pay for some of it.

Good for him and his fellow condo builders, but not so good for the small businesses and homeowners who would surely be priced out of all the new high-rise neighborhoods to be created along the waterfront route.

5 Comments

  1. I was an early supporter of Carlos Menchaca in his first run for the Council seat in the 38th. My daughter, independent of me, hosted his first house party and was a member of his Committee to fill Vacancies on his filing. Through the last four years I have been a supporter, a friend but eventually an outspoken critic.

    I saw Carlos as an inspiring answer to the neglect of the former Councilmember Sara Gonzalez. I saw energy and a person who would use social media to keep the community aware, informed and involved. But within days of his election the opposite was obvious. In a friendly meeting he ignored a request to work with the community to get a law passed to correct the problem with fake charity clothing bins on our sidewalks and worse he ignored a request to help push a bill from the previous Council to license street vendors in a Sunset Park District. The proposal called for about 400 street vendor licenses and provided health care and a variety of support benefits to the vendors and in addition to brick and mortar store staff (these benefits included the families of both and our plan had co-sponsors who were willing to provide these services in the area of housing, education, language skills, immigration, legal services, etc) Carlos was aware of this plan moving forward and supported it when he was working for the Borough President. He only lost interest after becoming our Councilmember.

    This did not break our working relationship, but it was confusing to us. But through the coming months we saw that Carlos was not prepared for the job he “won”. His own fellow Councilmembers ousted him from leadership of the Borough caucus when he failed to call meetings and cost Brooklyn its fair share of budgeted items and jobs.

    To this day, he has not created an information network – aside from a few tweets now and then – he operates in the dark, in silence.

    Without calling a single community meeting and without the sharing of info with the community he suddenly changed his position on giving away our waterfront for the next 39 years. There was NO “conversation” with the community. For over a generation after he is gone from elected office the people of Sunset Park will have lost their “voice” to challenge decisions the Mayor makes on our waterfront through EDC. He voted away his (and the Council’s) power to call hearings on waterfront leases. The Sunset Park waterfront is the only waterfront in NYC under this “Master Lease” arrangement. And his response was, he came back with concessions from EDC. But they were the same concessions given previously to Sara Gonzalez.

    But Carlos is still widely popular with some segments of the district. And it is easy to understand. Carlos stands very firmly on human rights and immigration issues that all of us progressive individuals believe in. There is no doubt that he truly supports the rights of immigrants and of the LBGTQ community. I agree with his stand 100%. But his support amounts to words, and to signing on to the bills of other Councilmembers. His support does not translate into action. So when he stands up on behalf of Muslims, it does NOT filter down to action in Sunset – even simple actions of creating events and programs for our diverse community. His words are empty.

    Carlos is a huge supporter of Participatory Budgeting – where local residents get to have a voice in the spending of a million or two in capital projects. But his PB initiative is terribly flawed. It pits one needy group against another, one school against another. And in the end it puts the issues to a vote without informing the voters clearly on the issues. In the first phase the number one winner was $600,000 to give to NYPD to install cameras in the community. People didn’t know what they were voting for but when told it was to fight crime it beat out replacing the 100 year old toilets in PS 172 (Carlos later directed money to that – thus undermining the PB process but doing right). The $600,000 was a terrible waste of money. NYPD does NOT pay full dollar for these cameras. They get federal homeland security money for that – I believe the feds provide 3 of every 4 dollars for them. Even worse, there was no movement on getting these cameras installed until I filed several FOIL requests. And here we are 4 years later and still NO cameras and no talk of them. Carlos ignored the fact that we have such cameras on 5th Avenue and they have never been used to solve a crime. In addition he could have asked NYPD to include a regulation sharing the camera feed with the public – and ignored that chance.

    This is the problem with Carlos – he loves attention and he loves applause but he doesn’t do the hard work to see that things are done right and he never follows through. Recently he made the parents at PS 169 “work” in the PB effort to try to win funding for needed safety exit doors. I believe the item lost and he again funded it separately.

    We need a whole conversation on this PB issue citywide – we need to be sure that we are not being tricked into providing our own “explanation” as to why the City is not doing timely, needed school repairs or street work. Carlos in this last round by accident had folks voting to pave streets that were not even in the 38th District – if it had won we would have been paving the streets of another Councilmember.

    Just last year, Carlos stood on the Sunset waterfront next to the Mayor and applauded when the Mayor announced he was getting 55,000 giant tractor trailers off the streets. He failed to understand that the Mayor was saying he was getting these trucks off the streets of Newark NJ and bringing them to Sunset Park at 39th St & 2nd Avenue! When I brought this to the attention of his Chief of Staff (his 5th or 6th in 3 years) he doubted my words -and then became silent when I provided links to the speech & the background info.

    Carlos provides a list of hundreds of bills that he has submitted or passed – but in reality he has as few as Sara Gonzalez. All but three or four of his bills are really not local bills and none to my knowledge originated in Sunset Park. His crowning success was the Municipal ID. During his City Hall hearing I actually cried with pride that he was my Councilmember. But later I found out, the bill was a gift to him by the Speaker and he did nothing more than issue a “blank check” for the Mayor to fill out. Carlos spent months “working” on the bill – but his work was doing interviews and taking bows. In the end, once the bill passed, the Mayor’s Office filled in all the working details of the Muni ID which took many more months. The Mayor didn’t even allow Carlos to attend the bill signing.

    A small issue, but big to Sunset is that our park – Sunset Park – was the only park in all of Brooklyn that was not allowed to have free movie nights or concerts. We had a total zero tolerance. Carlos refused to work to change this, but once we the people did, he was the first to use the lifting of the ban and file for a permit.

    And finally, when NYC DOT instituted a new traffic pattern for 4th Ave, the community knew something was wrong. With some amount of effort we found out a lot was wrong. The new pattern led to more accidents that in the past – accidents so serious that a police report was done (most folks try to avoid filing on minor fender benders to avoid insurance costs). But even more, the plan ignored the hundreds of people biking on 4th each day. When we proposed a protected bike lane Carlos and I were not on talking terms and he had his volunteer “traffic” staffer turn down my requests over and over – all my facts and data were rejected. Only after 3 years of effort when we were winning and DOT had to give in, did Carlos change his position – and when he did he made it sound like this was HIS project from day one. He not only was opposed but he put hurdle after hurdle in our way. It is just sad that when the community wants to be involved, the elected official makes their volunteer effort a laborious task.

    I can go on for hours with details and am more than willing to have a discussion on this with anyone – and will gladly provide the thousands of emails that back up each of these issues and more.

    • gbrook@pipeline.com

      Carlos is not perfect, but here in Red Hook he has fought a number of battles that has helped protect our community against outside encroachment. These battles include the fight against a nursing home locating on a quiet residential block in a flood zone, a fight to keep a vital daycare facility operating, getting EDC to locate the new ferry terminal in a site that the neighborhood preferred, and together with his mentor Nydia Velazquez, secured a ton of FEMA money for the local public housing development. These are some of the bigger things – he makes his presence felt in a lot of other ways.

      For sure he pisses people off – many in Red Hook don’t seem to understand that Sunset Park is a much bigger part of the district and he has many more obligations there. Oh, and by the way, he has also pissed off other politicians by not always playing the political ‘game.’ The reason he was not invited to the Municipal ID signing is because he confronted EDC at a committee hearing and didn’t allow them carte blanche at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. I suggest you look at the tape of that hearing – you might be impressed at how much of his homework he did, and how he didn’t let EDC steamroll a community the way the usually think they can do.

      He is far from perfect – but of all the local politicians I observe, he is the best.

      I’d love to meet you sometime – I have heard much about you.

      George

  2. @giordano
    I tend to agree with George. Carlos is not perfect but he is much much better than his predecessors! And it is undeniable that the District has improved. I live in Red Hook (don’t hate us) but have family in Sunset that have lived there for generations so know what I’m talking about. Judging from your passionate, and at times personal, comment it appears that you have a beef with the guy perhaps because he did not do what you wanted him to and/ or feel that he owed you something. You do not sound realistic, some of your points are just based upon unfounded projections or are outright misleading. For example, when did Carlos give away the waterfront, it’s only part of it that they leased from my understanding, the container terminal. And in reference to the 4th Avenue bike lane – this project was originally proposed years ago, modified (no bike lane) and changed back again recently as part of Vision Zero, with some pushing from Lander’s district and Cycling groups. Carlos is a biker, I very much doubt he ever opposed this!
    To recap, most of the issues that you brought up are either beyond his control, had to be negotiated and therefore they reached a compromise, or you portray them in a subjective manner to say the least. A couple of other times he probably messed up (the vendors thing is a good example if true), but nobody is perfect and perhaps he had other priorities that needs to be considered as well. Also, I am sure that while some constituents might have shared your opinion in some of those instances one could as easily turn around and find just about the same amount of people or even more that agree with Carlos. And of course, a vast majority that don’t really care all that much…One thing that we definitely see eye to eye on is communication, he could have done a better job at that. But from that to blatantly saying that he operated in the dark could not be further from the truth.

    Last but not least, it seems that you care, work in government or have enough time on your hands to look into these issues. I propose that if you want things to get done your way you run for office and give it a go! Who knows maybe you’d be much better than him, or not!

  3. Wow interesting how crowded the field got. After Carlos Menchaca unseated Sarah Gonzalez he opened the floodgates. I am in Greenwood Heights now but know Sunset and Red Hook pretty well and it’s not surprising that newcomers, regular middle class professionals aka “gentrifiers”, are becoming more politically prominent and back candidates such as Menchaca. The Chinese population is next they haven’t been that vocal in the past…For now Menchaca has the advantage and will probably get re-elected. I would not define him as stellar, he’s alright. I work for a city agency and know that it’s a tough job some people don’t know what they are talking about. I do not care for the political gossip the person above is ranting about, the fact that he/she was on “no speaking terms” with the councilman whatever that means already says a lot about emotional maturity and perspective on things. Some good progress has been attained under Menchaca’s watch, directly or indirectly, that is a fact. New schools will be built, the latest one announced as recently as yesterday. Traffic is slightly better, our streets are safer and cleaner, we will get the Made in NY campus…I haven’t made up my mind yet for the primary. I am interested in hearing more about what Chris Miao has to say that is in fact how I found this article =). In terms of the BQX, I think that it’s an interesting project my biggest concern is cost and how we will ALL pay for it. KPMG is running an audit that I believe will be published at the end of the year. And I also know that Deputy Mayor Glen and Mayor de Blasio are seriously looking into this as a viable project if they find a way around the infrastructure issues. Currently experts are evaluating projects in other cities in Europe and Asia in particular to find answers. We’ll see what happens with that one.

    • gbrook@pipeline.com

      Nobody who spent lots of money for Red Hook property wants the trolley. The people who want it are the poorer residents in public housing who have been sold a bill of goods by the administration and the Red Hook Initiative. And of course the future developers of the waterfront.