We’ve spent a lot of time covering the District 1 City Council race, but the District 2 contest between Council member Rosie Mendez and challenger Rick Del Rio is also heating up.
For the past eight years Mendez has represented the district, covering the East Side above East Houston Street (and a few pockets below Houston). Del Rio has been the senior pastor at Abounding Grace Church since 1992. He became a community activist in the aftermath of 9/11 and, again. following Hurricane Sandy. On Saturday afternoon, we rode with Del Rio in his campaign-mobile (a trailer pulled by a pickup truck). As you’ll be able to see from their only debate (sponsored by the League of Women Voters), Del Rio has been highly critical of Mendez’s advocacy (or in his view lack thereof) for the neighborhoods she serves. But in the last 72 hours, Del Rio has faced some scrutiny of his own due to the efforts of a third party political action committee working on his behalf.
As Gay City reported Friday, a group called the City Action Coalition is sending out direct mail pieces in opposition to three gay City Council candidates, including Mendez. According to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, the PAC has spent about $22,000 on three mailers and a “robo call” campaign to oppose Mendez and support Del Rio. According to the mail pieces, the organization is “supporting candidates committed to family values.”
City Action Coalition is a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational movement of faith based leaders, organizations and concerned citizens united together to advocate Judeo/Christian values in public policy. Our movement centers around five main moral issues: Religious freedom, according to the original intent of the First Amendment; opposition to racial discrimination and support for reconciliation between ethnic groups; support for efforts to practice social compassion through churches and faith-based organizations, which are discriminated against in this region; sanctity of life (for both the born and unborn); traditional marriage.
On Saturday, Del Rio told The Lo-Down he has never heard of the group (independent organizations and political candidates are legally prohibited from coordinating their efforts). While Del Rio said he would not agree to marry a same sex couple, he added that his views on gay marriage and abortion are “irrelevant” to the office of City Council. Del Rio declined to state his positions on these issues, saying only that as a City Council representative, he would “uphold the law.” On one “values” related issue, Del Rio’s position is very clear. He has been an outspoken critic of Mayor Bloomberg’s push to ban churches from meeting in public school buildings. More broadly, Del Rio touts his role as a religious leader who has dedicated his life to helping kids in the community steer clear of drugs and violence. He said the city’s political establishment has completely failed not only young people, but seniors and low income residents, who are being gentrified out of the Lower East Side — and that churches (his own included) have stepped up to fill the void.
Yesterday we caught up with Mendez, who was campaigning on Madison Street with fellow Council member Margaret Chin. She said the City Action Coalition effort is “clearly an attack on the LGBT community.” Mendez called on Del Rio to disavow the City Action Coalition, and to tell the organization to stay out of the District 2 campaign. As for Del Rio’s contention that gay marriage and abortion are not relevant to the work of the City Council, Mendez responded, “I think those are very relevant issues in this city. This is a very diverse city. It’s a matter of civil rights. People can have their own personal opinions (but) as representatives, we have to represent the people and whether someone has the right to marry… is very relevant… The right to choose, it’s the law of this land… it’s very relevant.”
According to public records, Mendez has raised about $82,000 for her campaign, as opposed to just $32,000 for Del Rio. They are both accepting public funds, as well. Mendez has received outside support from the PAC funded by the teachers’ union, but those expenditures are smaller than the third party support Del Rio has received.