Gonzalo Duran has lived many lives — a marine, a producer-slash-writer, a Nasdaq opener and a community programmer — but this year, he has a new focus: running for City Council District 17.
A South Bronx seat, District 17 is currently represented by Longwood Democrat Rafael Salamanca Jr., who currently serves as Land Use Committee chair and is in his second term on council.
Joining council chambers in 2016, Salamanca, who identifies as a progressive, won the seat via special election following the resignation of Maria del Carmen Arroyo in 2015. Salamanca secured his first full term in 2017, winning that primary with 72% of the vote and followed that by capturing 92% in that year’s general election.
In 2021, Salamanca won a second term, winning reelection with 80% of the vote in a district that includes East Tremont, Hunts Point, Morrisania and Port Morris, among other neighborhoods.
What prompted Duran, a Democrat, to challenge Salamanca in his second go-round in politics — he unsuccessfully challenged then seat holder Ritchie Torres for District 15 in 2017 — is a sentiment that city electeds often doesn’t invest enough resources or energy into hyperlocal programs.
A Belmont native, Duran is the CEO of a non-profit, Devil Dog USA, that helps veterans successfully reintegrate into community until “their services are no longer needed.” For a decade, Duran has held an introductory and instructional golf program for veterans and youth at Turtle Cove Golf Range.
These community efforts, Duran, 37, told the Bronx Times, has received inadequate to little support from Bronx politicos, an issue he notes is across the board for programs in underserved Bronx communities.
“Now the elected officials’ job is to gather resources and distribute it to the communities, right? That’s one of their functions. But their main function is to give the resources (to communities) because they don’t provide resources,”he said. ” They don’t give you legal services, they don’t give you recreation, But their job is to gather the information and they disperse it to the community, and I feel that is not happening.”
In 2017, Duran petitioned former President Donald Trump to donate to his golf program and allow access to the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point, when the president vowed to donate his presidential salary. In the letter, Duran said the program “had been running on a budget of $20,000, with the golf program running on no more than a few hundred dollars a year.”
The 17th City Council District houses some of the poorest communities in New York City, and the incumbent Salamanca has driven more than $52 million in capital investments into the district since coming into office in 2018.
However, Duran thinks more needs to be done to ward off threats of gentrification in high-development areas like Port Morris and Mott Haven, and evergreen boroughwide issues such as long-term unemployment and access to affordable housing.
As a marine veteran — a sergeant who served eight years with one tour in Iraq — Duran said he struggled to “get back on his feet” and find stability a year after he finished active duty in 2011.
While toppling any incumbent is a tall task, Duran believes that City Council is in need of community members without political connections or corporate influences, to represent their districts and engage with local programmers and organizers.
“I’m the guy running against (an incumbent) that’s right in the middle of the Bronx, so many people may not be familiar with who I am. But I’m going to reach out to every possible member of the district and find out who they are,” he said. “And that’s the way that I’m gonna do it, by word of mouth and informing members of my communities of their options.”
City Council primaries will take place on June 27, with the general election scheduled for Nov. 7. Councilmembers are elected to four-year terms, making a base salary of $148,500 a year, although committee heads can receive more.
Duran, if elected, pledges to take a 50% pay decrease to allocate the funds for more staff members.
The Bronx Times reached out to Salamanca for comment and is awaiting a response.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.