The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic starkly highlighted a number of New York City's problems, ranging from food insecurity to housing, according to Ischia Bravo, a Democratic candidate running to represent the Bronx's 15th district on the city Council.
A native of the Bronx, Bravo began her career in the office of US Representative Jose E. Serrano as housing liaison. She went on to work for his son, New York State Senator Jose Marco Serrano, as District office Director, working on issues including housing, education and transit.
Later on, Bravo - a native Spanish-speaker who is of Puerto Rican, Dominican and Pakistani heritage - went on to become Executive Director of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, and currently serves as District Manager for Bronx Community Board 7.
In an interview with LPO, Bravo said that the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted ongoing equalities in the Bronx and across New York City - a fact she believes will weigh heavily on the mind of voters in the city's November general election.
"It definitely exposed the ugly truth," she said. "There was food insecurity, and I'd say that was definitely the number one issue. People just don't' have enough. We noticed that during the free meal program during the pandemic, people really took advantage of it."
The district that Bravo hopes to represent, Council District 15, includes Bedford Park, Fordham, Mount Hope, Bathgate, Belmore, East Tremont, West Farms, Van Nest, Allerton and Olinville. Collectively, more than 60% of the area's residents identify as Latino.
Another prime issue for constituents in the area, she said, is housing.
"Housing has always been an issue in New York City. In District 15, Bedford Park has one of the highest eviction rates. That's because of loss of income, increasing rent and just predatory landlords," Bravo explained. "During the pandemic, you saw all of that times 100."
These issues, Bravo added, have led to a widespread "mental health factor" in District 15 - which she hopes to address if elected to the Council.
"People still haven't recovered. Some people lost permanent employment. These things are very much real issues here," she said. "It really exposed the ugly truth of housing and education inequities."
Across the city, analysts have noted that the recent Democratic primary and the upcoming November general election have been an important factor for many voters, particularly in areas that suffer from high levels of crime or from the impact of aggressive policing by the New York Police Department.
Much of the success of Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams, for example, has been attributed to positioning himself as a "law and order" candidate. A number of other candidates throughout the city, on the other hand, expressed their support for the âDefund the Police' movement.
Bravo, for her part, said that there is "no one answer" for public safety issues in her Bronx district.
"I do believe there is systemic racism. But I also believe there is serious crime going on in our communities. We need to make sure there is a healthy balance in how we address these things," she said. "We need to make sure police have the proper training and are not asked to do things that are outside the scope of the job, which is often an issue."
"We also need to make sure that we don't criminalize poverty, and just put more police in areas that should, in turn, have more resources," she added. "I live in an area that is starved for more programs for our children."
As an example of crime in the Bronx, Bravo pointed the high profile 2018 murder of Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, a 15-year old Dominican-American who was murdered by gang members in a case of mistaken identity in the borough's Belmont neighborhood.
"This is a community where our children are being raised on the corner, because parents unfortunately have to work two or three jobs," she said. "Before we start tackling other issues, I think we need to reinvest in our communities."
Looking ahead to the November election, Bravo said she would meet constituents "where they are", including taking a bilingual approach to many of the area's Latino constituents.
"I always think of my abuela. What would make her feel more comfortable? It's obviously someone speaking to her in her language," she said. "I door-knocked throughout the campaign, and I continue to do so."
"I noticed that when you say hello and the person responds to you in Spanish, the minute you are able to communicate with them in Spanish, there's. a comfort level," Bravo added. "They know you're a person they can identify with, and that's important."
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