2021 Elections: Who’s running for City Council in the 13th District?

As New York City prepares for one of its largest election cycles in recent memory, there is one city council race that will directly impact the northwest Bronx’s District 13, which encompases the neighborhoods of Allerton, City Island, Country Club, Edgewater Park, Ferry Point, Locust Point, Morris Park, Pelham Bay, Pelham Gardens, Pelham Parkway, Schuylerville, Silver Beach, Spencer Estates, Throggs Neck, Van Nest, Waterbury LaSalle, Westchester Square, and Zerega.

There are three candidates poised to replace Councilman Mark Gjonaj, Jr. who has recently announced he will not seek re-election. That trio who will be running in the Tuesday, June 22 primary are: Marjorie Velázquez, Monique Johnson, and John Perez.

The Bronx Times asked each candidate a few questions to get to know them. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Marjorie Velázquez

Why are you running?

Our neighborhood needs a fighter who’ll help us recover from the pandemic and bring the Bronx back stronger. That’s what I’ll do as your next City Councilmember. I’ve spent years fighting for our community—as Municipal Services Chair for Community Board 10 and as a Democratic District Leader. And as an accountant, I’ll make sure our tax dollars get spent on things our families need, like strengthening our schools, enhancing public safety, improving transportation, and protecting our quality of life.

Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in?

I grew up in the Bronx and attended PS 106 and IS 127 then St. Catharine’s Academy before enrolling in NYU where I studied Accounting and Finance. As an accountant, I managed multi-million dollar budgets before I was involved in a series of accidents that left me temporarily disabled. During that dark time in my life, I found purpose in being of service to my community.

What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

The needs of the Bronx have been long ignored. Our public housing does not adequately serve the needs of its residents. Public schools are not equipped to provide our children the bright future they deserve. Public transportations limited options and accessibility are inadequate for our community. The small businesses which make our community so special have been hit hard by the economic downturn. On the City Council, I will act quickly to support legislation that invests in our community.

What will you do differently than the incumbent?

My perspective as a lifelong resident and first generation Puerto Rican is not unique to my neighborhood so it is important for it to be represented in City Hall. I know that I am different from traditional leadership because I am intertwined with my community on a deep grass roots  level. I know what is needed and where it is needed when it comes to rebuilding our community.

What’s your political experience?

I’m a member of Bronx Community Board 10, and serve on the Executive Board as Municipal Services Committee chair. I serve as Municipal Service Chair for Community Board 10, which has allowed me to truly understand what my community needs most. Since I was elected Democratic District leader in 2014, I’ve been successful in ensuring that the City actually delivers services to the community. I am also an executive board member of the Chippewa Democratic Club in the 82nd Assembly District. During the pandemic, I expanded my community work and helped to organize a mutual aid group that assists local residents through weekly food deliveries, PPE drives, testing sites and spreading awareness about the vaccine rollout.

What endorsements do you have?

Former Council Member Jimmy Vacca, Congressman Ritchie Torres, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., State Senator Jamaal Bailey, State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, State Senator Jessica Ramos, Member Diana Ayala, Council Member Justin Brannan, Council Member Costa Constantinides, Council Member Danny Dromm, Council Member Ben Kallos, Council Member Keith Powers, Council Member Carlina Rivera, Council Council Member Helen Rosenthal, Assembly Member Khaleel Anderson, Assembly Member Kenny Burgos, Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, Assembly Member Karines Reyes, 1199SIEU, Road to Justice, Central Labor Council, Unite Here Local 100, NYIC Action, CWA 1180, NYSNA, HTC, CWA 1, Smart Local 28, DC37, Tenants PAC, Downtown Women For Change, Working Families Party, Bronx Democratic Party, Jim Owles Democratic Club.

Monique Johnson

Courtesy of Monique Johnson

Why are you running?

I’ve been serving my community for many years, working with people to help fix their problems. During that time, when there have been issues I couldn’t solve on my own, I’ve called my councilman for help. Now, I’m running to be the help. Our communities need safety. We need clean streets and schools that help our children grow to be responsible citizens. We need to feel secure when we close our doors at night. I care about the quality of our lives in this community and I’m running to preserve them.

Tell us about yourself, i.e. what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in?

I’ve been the leader of the Residents Association at Throgs Neck Houses since 1992. From there, I’ve worked to improve quality of life not just for residents, but the community as a whole. Neighbors know me from events against violence and drugs. During the pandemic, I have opened my office to serve food and for prayer every day. Recently, when neighbors lost their homes to fire, our community stepped up to help find a place for the family to stay, and to give food, clothes, and toys for young children. We don’t turn people away for more than 25-years.

What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

The pandemic has revealed how vulnerable our communities are, especially when the federal government (Trump) wasn’t interested in dealing with problems on the national level. At all times, we have to stick together to fight for our fair share of funding and resources. When elected, I’ll be a councilwoman focused on bringing jobs back to our community, bringing us out of this pandemic and keeping our streets and schools safe and clean. This district is naturally beautiful and different from the rest of the city. It should stay that way.

What will you do differently than the incumbent?

Just by being elected, I will bring great change to the way our district is represented. But that’s not enough for me. I want to change the way our city is represented. The City Council spends a lot of time working on things that don’t seem to actually help people living in the Bronx. All I will do is work to help our people, whether the rest of the Council likes it or not.

What’s your political experience?

Over the years, I’ve been honored by Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, former Councilman Jimmy Vacca, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, former Congressman Joseph Crowley, and former Senator Jeff Klein, besides being honored by PSA #8 and speaking to graduating classes of NYPD officers and Assistant District Attorneys. Some might call working with those current and former leaders “political experience” but I call it serving the community. I don’t care about politics and in-fighting. I care about honesty, compassion and service and that’s the experience I’ll bring to this job.

What endorsements do you have?

My opponent has been running for this office for five years. I’ve been running for about five days. Wait and see, baby!

John Perez

Courtesy of John Perez

Why are you running?

Primary reasons, I can do a better job. I am running for office to challenge a dysfunctional system that preys upon the hard-working people of our city and expect more for less. As a single father raising a young daughter, I support civil service and am a strong advocate against sexual assault and harassment.

Tell us about yourself, what you do for a living, your relationship to the district, and which neighborhood you live in?

I have spent 18-years of honorable and distinguished military service, including 10-years as a United States Army Ambassador.  My relationship in the district goes as far as 1975, I attended P.S 14 on Bruckner Boulevard and Crosby Avenue from the 3rd grade to 5th grade, I was in P.S 14 when I first learned and proudly recited the pledge of allegiance every morning and where I competed in the annual Bronx wide sports competition at Pelham Park winning two gold medals for individual 50-meter race and team relay baton race during my 5th year.

What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

Community Level Vision: My platform is centered on education by developing future leaders.

The biggest challenge we are facing in the 13th Council district is preserving the heavy populated veterans’ communities, our patriotism, culture, and history that are deep rooted.

My goal is to give the Bronx its first high school military academy. Such academies like Wentworth, Hargrave, Carson Long, New York Military Academies often brag about their 100 percent college acceptance rate with an average of 1500’s SAT score give us a fairly good idea of what we can be.

Also, Job Security. I call on creating trade schools that will certify and license individuals in masonry, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and similar trades to build a better tomorrow.

What will you do differently than the incumbent?

Collectively freeze any re-zoning that will allow affordable housing until such plans include and are approved for an increase in public transportation, residential private parking, sanitation, FDNY services, and more importantly police assignments.

Also Provide a year-round community engagement mobile unit to focus on assisting and resolving simple to complicated issues that may become more of a problem if not attended within a certain time.

What is your political experience?

Council aide to Councilmember David Rosado, Co-Founder of We stay/ Nos Quedamos currently known as N.Q and 10 year as a Domestic Ambassador to the United States Army and contract negotiator. Also 95B/31B military police, I am a Brigade Level Training Officer and Commander.

What endorsements do you have?

I have not reached out to any group, union, or organization for support, I strongly believe that an elected position must be gained on merits.

The only caveat is that I do appear on the circulating petition along with Bronx Borough President and front runner Dr. Fernando Cabrera.

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