In 2017, 27-year-old Amanda Farias tried to topple popular career politician Ruben Diaz Sr. for a seat on the City Council in the 18th District. Although she lost that primary race, Farias wasn’t ready to quit.
In 2021, the chips fell in her favor.
Diaz Sr. declined to run and Farias seized on the opportunity. Even though Diaz Sr., and his son, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. backed Community Board 9 District Manager William Rivera in an eight-person Democratic primary, it was Farias — by less than a 1% margin — who was victorious on June 22.
As the Democratic nominee, Farias will now face Republican Lamont Paul in November.
The 18th District is based on the eastern shoreline of the South Bronx, covering Parkchester, Castle Hill, Soundview, Clason Point and Soundview Park.
“It feels good to beat the establishment,” she told the Bronx Times. “I think a lot of people forget that just because [Diaz Sr.] wasn’t seeking reelection that this wasn’t an easy race.”
Farias, 32, was born and raised in Soundview by a single mom, Tabitha Crespo. Surrounded by her grandparents, Francisca and Duilio Ortiz, cousins, aunts and uncles, family has always been a huge part of her life.
While Crespo worked long hours as a medical secretary, she always put her daughter first.
“I think my mom was really good at managing difficulty,” Farias said. “I think I never realized the times we struggled.”
In an area that was known for crime and violence, Farias always made sure to stay out of trouble. She did that by playing basketball, taking up dance and was often found at the Kipps Bay Boys and Girls Club at 1930 Randall Ave.
Additionally, she went to private school at Holy Cross in Soundview and Preston High School in Throggs Neck. It was then, after her sophomore year, that she truly understood how much her mom had on her plate.
That summer Preston raised the tuition and Crespo told Farias she could no longer afford it. Farias recognized that meant she would be going to public school in the fall, but it seems God had other plans, she siad.
One day she and her mom were getting their nails done when they ran into her eighth grade after-school coordinator, who asked Farias if she was still playing basketball and doing well in school. They broke the news to her about their financial situation and out of the blue, she promptly leaves the salon and returns with half the cash required for tuition.
“That moment was a defining moment for me,” Farias told the Bronx Times.
She was shocked, but thanked the coordinator since it allowed her to stay at Preston and continue her education. With aspirations of one day working at the United Nations, she finished high school and then left the borough to attend St. John’s University in Queens.
While it was a two-hour schlep by bus, Farias liked college, especially a semester abroad she spent in Paris. She fell in love with the city, food, people and even learned French.
“I always enjoy immersing myself in other cultures,” she said.
She graduated with a degree in international relations and began applying to hundreds of jobs. Suddenly, an opportunity fell in her lap that she couldn’t pass up.
Farias was asked to work on the reelection campaign for President Barack Obama in Colorado. She was out west for eight months and enjoyed the experience. Following that, she was offered a job to work at in Colorado, but Farias wanted to make a difference in NYC.
She returned home and landed a job with then-Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, a Queens Democrat. Farias was the youngest on the staff and the only Latina, but worked her way up from constituent services to running the participatory budgeting and the Women’s Caucus.
Being on the ground and hearing the concerns of people was an experience she will never forget, she said. More importantly, she learned that having an active council member can make a difference in people’s lives.
“I was really able to get my footing in understanding how local government worked,” she said. “I had a lot of opportunities to grow there.
“Elizabeth is definitely a go-getter. If she has an idea and wants to see it come to fruition, she will work to get it done and I think I always have that attitude as well.”
Farias was with Crowley for five years and made her presence felt; it was Crowley who first asked her to consider running for elected office. But at just 26, Farias didn’t think politics was for her.
“After I said, ‘no’ a couple of times, a few other council members told me to do it,” she said.
So she sought advice from family and friends, and in 2017 ran for City Council.
According to Farias, her family was apolitical. The only thing she remembered was going with her grandma to pull the lever at the polls. “Working in a City Council office made me realize people need to know who to hold accountable,” she said.
Farias knew defeating Diaz Sr. — he was running for the seat that he previously held — was a long shot, but she didn’t care. The millennial got used to rejection and people telling her she was too young to run for office.
She lost, but it did not deter her. Instead, she worked hard the past four years immersing herself in the district.
“I think people view elected officials as a 50-plus, male-dominated industry,” she said. “I think a lot of people desire new young leadership.”
During this year’s campaign, Farias learned that many people in the district are concerned about the lack of affordable housing and transit options, and the need for better schools. Farias pointed out that there is not a free shuttle to the NYC Ferry in Soundview. Furthermore, she said that all schools must have after school programs and provide children with the digital tools needed to succeed.
“Each of my neighborhoods needs to be looked at in a different way,” she said.
For example, the homes in Soundview that are near the water have high flood insurance rates, so the city must reexamine ways to elevate them higher and protect them.
As she looks ahead to the general election in November, she said it still feels surreal to have a win under her belt and a real chance to be a NYC council member.
“It’s definitely been a long journey to get here,” she said. “I feel the most ready to do this job than I’ve felt at any job I’ve ever had.”
Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bxtimes and Facebook @bxtimes.