Tuesday is Election Day in New York. In the 16th Congressional District, longtime Congressman Eliot Engel faces a Democratic primary against three others. And while it’s not the first time he has faced such a challenge, analysts say it’s the first time he’s in real danger of losing, and to Progressive Jamaal Bowman. Two other candidates are fighting for the chance, including retired NYPD lieutenant Sammy Ravelo. He spoke with WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne.
The 16th Congressional District, which contains parts of the Bronx and lower Westchester, including New Rochelle, Scarsdale, Rye and Yonkers.
Two-thirds of the district is a minority. It's, it's a majority, minority district. And what we have and what we've seen here in this district is that the majority of the district does not know who our current representative is, even though he's been there 30 years. So, as the district becomes more and more minority, majority, you know, it is time for somebody representative to run, and I figured that I could be that person that has the experience to be representing the people of New York 16.
Ravelo differentiates himself from the progressive wing of the party and describes himself as a "traditional Democrat."
It is time that, you know, the district moves forward with somebody new. You know, Congressman Engel has been there for a long time. He has done good work but now the district needs to turn over.
Ravelo, who retired from the NYPD in 2018, would increase funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Program, and push for a number of criminal justice reforms. As for police reforms following the George Floyd death and subsequent protests, he supports some sort of restructuring, but not defunding the police.
What happened in Minneapolis was a travesty. It was a tragedy. 95% of the police officers in the United States, I know for a fact, and I'm probably going to- The percentage is probably higher, probably agree with me and they feel bad. It's sad that that now there's this big push for police reform and, and every, every police officers have been maligned because I know the majority of the good cops, you know, are feel bad, but there is a change in culture that is needed. And I know, they can't tell me that they can't, because I lived it. And I believe that I can speak to this with more clarity than everybody else. Right now, two things are needed. There's got to be transparency in hiring and, and the police department has to be proportionate with the community that they serve. You know, and when I say transparency is, there shouldn't be no more, you know, behind the scenes, hiring of police officers, what's- Because that contributes to the culture of us against them, you know, and they, they have to be more trained. Like, that's why I call for more transparency. And the, you know, not the son, or the grandson, or the cousin of the chief, that, you know, the mayor, now let's make him a police officer. And they really don't know what's going on with the community, or really don't care about the community. We have to be careful with that. We got to start hiring folks that care, that care about their community, that really care about crime, that really care about where the community is going. That's when you are going to see the sea change in how people perceive the police, police officers.
On Thursday, the US Supreme Court rejected President Donald Trump's effort to end legal protections for 650,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers. The justices rejected administration arguments that the eight year old Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, is illegal. Ravelo, who came to the US as a child from the Dominican Republic and was undocumented for a time, says he's the best candidate to address immigration reform.
This is something, and like I said, you gotta have, you gotta have a little skin in the game. You know, you can't- You know, and that's I think that's what's going to separate myself from all the other candidates, on this issue, because we probably all agree on this. We want to make sure, we're gonna- We want to see a path to citizenship. We want to, we want to end set family separation. We want to- We probably want the same thing, but who is going to champion it the most? Obviously, what I want is I want to reintroduce the bill that is going to give a- Is going to normalize our dreamers. You know, that's very near and dear to my heart. I just can't believe that this is still a, you know, you know- They keep punting this and the political football. I really want to see that and I want to champion it, you know. And, and obviously, end what that's going on in the border. It's disastrous, it's just not the United States. Not the country that I fought for, that I was about to give my life, at least six or seven times, and at various stages in my, in my life- That, you know, that's happening down in the border. So I think it's more of who's going to champion it, who's going to be a face. I believe that I would represent, I would be a good face for immigration. As opposed to other the rest of the candidates.
Ravelo says his number one priority is addressing inequities in education, especially in minority and low income communities.
I want to bring more after-school programs, so we're gonna have to invest more money. You know, our kids get in trouble, when they do not find things interesting to do, whether it's sports, arts, music, you name it, you know. That's- I want to see the extracurricular activities for our kids, especially in the most needed parts, most poorer parts of the district. You can see our district has very poor parts like the Edenwald houses. I don't have to tell you, we live in Scarsdale. It is like night, and night and day and it exists here in the district.
His second priority is housing.
So, two things that I want to do: I want to bring more federal subsidies to stabilize our housing, for at least the next 10 years, and I want to make sure that people get credit, a tax credit if they spent over 30% of their income in housing. You know, I believe that that that would go a long way for having people stay in New York because at the end of the day, we want them staying in New York. Third is gonna be jobs. I think I can speak probably to our friends on the other side and tell them, "Listen, we lost 35 million jobs due to this pandemic. Half of those jobs are coming back. Why don't we introduce an infrastructure bill and start getting people to work?" You know, I think that's something that's doable. We can start fixing our roads and bridges. Our water system here in District 16 is depleted, it's time to modernize it.