Carlina Rivera Is Leading Congressional Candidate for Open Seat in NY-10

By Reuvain Borchardt

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera is a leading candidate in the race for New York’s new 10th Congressional District, which includes Manhattan below 14th Street, as well as Brooklyn neighborhoods including Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, and Boro Park below 14th Avenue.

Rivera, 38, was born and raised on the Lower East Side, growing up in a poor family who subsisted on entitlement programs. She attended public schools and graduated from Marist College with a B.A. in journalism.

Rivera has represented Lower Manhattan neighborhoods including the Lower East Side in the City Council since January 2018. She previously served as Director of Programs and Services at Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), a local non-profit focused on social justice, and served as legislative director for then-Councilwoman Rosie Mendez.

She has been endorsed by some 15 New York elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and 13 of her Council colleagues, and several Democratic clubs and unions, including 1199 SEIU.

Rivera had more than $350,000 of campaign funds in the bank as of June 30, good for fourth-most among the more than a dozen Democratic candidates in the race.

Hamodia interviewed Rivera by phone last Thursday about her Congressional run, hours after she helped pass two pro-choice bills in the City Council, and on the day a poll showed her in first place.

Interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

The most important question is, of course, how long have you been buying the chametz from the Sixth Street Community Synagogue?

[Laughs] I’ve been buying chametz for years at this point with Sixth Street Community Synagogue, and it’s a part of our tradition. I’ve been to events there. I’ve celebrated with them. I’ve certainly been to whether it’s bar mitzvahs, whether it’s sitting down for seder, it’s a great place in the Lower East Side. When they first asked me to participate, I thought, of course, absolutely. And now we have a tradition. 

Now we’ll move on to some less-interesting matters. When the Democratic voters in the 10th District fill out their primary ballot on August 23, they’re going to see more than a dozen names. Why should they bubble in the name Carlina Rivera?

You are right, it is a wild field; there are many, many candidates. I’m running to fight for New York City and our people because I was raised by these neighborhoods. I have this history where all my memories and all the important milestones of my life have happened in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. And it is just a place where I’ve been able to, I think, really take in and of course celebrate the diversity of our communities. I was raised by these neighborhoods; this is who I am. These are the values I’ll advance. New York’s historic character has always come from the idea that people from around the world and across the country journey to come here in search of better opportunities, be themselves, live the life how they want to, hopefully find economic prosperity, open businesses, raise their kids. That’s the story of my family, just like it’s the story of so many Jewish families in New York. And that’s a fundamental promise: it’s a place where you can take care of your family and your dreams, no matter where you came from. And for many New Yorkers, it’s becoming more and more difficult to build and maintain a life here. I’m running for Congress to make sure we can fulfill that promise that our government in Washington helps New Yorkers do what New Yorkers do best, and that’s take care of our people and our city and really look out for our families.

This is a diverse district ethnically, religiously and politically. I want to ask you specifically about its Orthodox Jewish voters. Many of our readers live in Boro Park — a sizable portion of Boro Park is in the district —  and they probably know very little about you, being a Lower East Side Councilwoman. So why specifically should the Orthodox Jewish voters cast their ballot for you, particularly when they can vote for, for example, Bill de Blasio, who represented their neighborhood in the City Council for eight years.

I have a very deep connection to this district. 

When my family came from Puerto Rico, they landed in Brooklyn. They’re in Williamsburg, in Bushwick, my mother grew up in a project near a Chasidic community. I still have family in South Third Street and Havemeyer. 

Growing up in the Lower East Side, I have an appreciation for the Orthodox community, you know, going to Moishe’s Kosher Bakery on Grand Street, I remember seeing the community dancing in the streets, celebrating religious events. All of the things that come with experiencing what someone’s life is, and the freedom to practice what they want, to worship, according to their traditions and values. It’s something that I have lived with. 

I also think that I have very personal lived experiences that are very similar to the Jewish community and families. I grew up with my family wanting to make sure I had access to a good education, that I had healthy food to eat. We would really be struggling at times. I know what it means to rely on government services and support. I grew up in Section 8 housing, and I grew up on programs like WIC, and these are the programs that make life possible for so many New York families in a city that’s becoming increasingly unaffordable. And I’m committed to ensuring that every New Yorker has access to these vital programs.

I’m glad you mentioned about religious liberties because that was actually going through my next question. You are a progressive socially, and that’s a big plank of your campaign. There are times when those values can come into conflict with religious liberties. For example, in a recent Supreme Court case, a baker in Colorado was sued for not making a cake for a wedding that went against his religious beliefs. Maybe one day, a similar couple might want to say we’re going to force a wedding hall in Boro Park to hold a wedding even though it conflicts with religious Jewish beliefs. Also, the Supreme Court just overruled Roe v. Wade. You’re a big supporter of the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy. What if, say, an Orthodox Jewish doctor says I don’t want to do that. What would you do in cases like these, where religious values come into conflict with progressive social values that you support? 

I do think that when it comes to the decision somebody makes over their body, that, to me is something that is a fundamental basic human right. I think the Supreme Court ruling was a direct attack on bodily autonomy. 

[Referencing how Jewish law may permit terminating pregnancies in some instances]: These bans are a direct attack, I think, on the religious freedom of Jewish people.

And for me, I also think when it comes to freedoms, it’s also having to do with the basics. Having stable housing, having the right to an education, having that access to go to the school that you want, to have the support, I think Jewish communities have every right to operate their own schools premised on Jewish values and religious education. And I think we all have standards that we have to meet. I have what I believe in, I know that there are other people that I might disagree with. And that’s okay. We can fundamentally disagree, we can come together, we can collaborate, I’m someone who will be open, someone who will be accessible. And I want people to know that I’m here to listen.

I want to ask, specifically about a case like if what happens in Colorado would happen in Boro Park. If someone wants make a wedding that would that goes against the Biblical values, and force a wedding hall in Borough Park to hold the wedding, and say that if don’t, then you’re violating civil rights, you’re discriminating. What would be your view in a case like that? Where would religious protections play into any civil rights legislation that you might consider voting for? And if there’s a progressive social value you believe in, would you support a religious exemption or not?

I think that a religious exemption is certainly something that I would consider when it comes to certain pieces of legislation. We’ve certainly done it in the Council, and I’d be willing to explore that and do it on the federal level.

But you’re not committing to that.

I would love to have the conversation. And again, we have actually put religious exemptions in legislation that I have sponsored in the City Council. So I understand the need for it and the discussion. And I think leading up to finalizing any piece of legislation, like I said, I’m a listener, I would always, always be in discussion with stakeholders, and understand the perspective. I come with a very humble perspective of being who I am and where I’m from, and having my beliefs. I would never deny anyone the opportunity to contribute to the conversation, and we can figure out how to do something that is fair, and that tries to understand the nuances of every community.

What if an Orthodox Jewish or Catholic doctor says, “I don’t want to be involved in terminating pregnancies”? Say they’re a city or a state employee of a public hospital, should they lose their job?

There are certain doctors who do this sort of work and are able to deliver these services. If someone decides not to engage in that practice or participate in that particular medical field, that’s their decision.

So even if they were an employee of a public hospital, you’d say they should be able to keep their job and keep their personal values?

In terms of what the expectations are of the job and their responsibilities, I mean, that’s something we can certainly discuss, that’s between the employer and the employee and their expectations as to what you have to deliver in certain fields. 

So in that particular example, I’m willing to hear it. And again, if there are certain decisions that have to be discussed in a place, like whether it’s the courts or whether we’re discussing whether it’s a religious exemption, or freedom,  those are all very, very, very serious issues. And we always have to come to the table and discuss it. Like I said, there is a lot of talent and expertise in this city, there are certainly people that we can speak to and ensure that when we are passing legislation, it is smart, it is rational, it is fair, and it understands the nuances of every community. I think that is why someone representing the very, very diverse district and the communities of NY-10 has to have an open mind, and they have to continue speaking to the people and the families on the ground. We have people that are going through very, very specific set of circumstances who are suffering, and right now coming and emerging from a pandemic, where people are not receiving the prevention, the treatment that they need to be healthy, whether it’s access to food, whether it’s taking care of their children, to want to get a good education, there’s a long, long agenda of things for us to engage in. And of course, there’s always the conversation that has to lead to people’s freedoms, their values, their beliefs, expectations, and what’s the legal, right and moral thing to do.

When does human life begin?

Is this a question about —

It’s a simple question: When does human life begin?

I feel like your question, it really does resemble, I mean, if you have a particular question as to what are my beliefs?

When exactly has life begun? That’s all I’m asking.

I believe that someone’s right to make a decision and have full bodily autonomy, that someone’s decision to make.

I’m just asking when life begins. That’s all I’m asking: When do you believe life begins?

I think the question is, like, philosophical. If you’re asking like a specific stance that I have, I’m happy to answer that.

Do you believe that it’s acceptable for there to be any government-imposed limitation on the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy at any point during the pregnancy?

I would say that we are now living in a post-Roe era, and a moment that has been years in the making by anti-choice politicians whose extremist views do not represent those of the majority of Americans. I’m very saddened and outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and it will no doubt have a devastating impact on many, many lives. That said, this is new territory, it demands that, I think, places like New York step up to continue leading the way in protecting access to all forms of health care, which is something I have a history of doing in the City Council. 

Today the Women’s Caucus proudly passed a comprehensive package of bills that will both protect our existing —

I’m sorry to interrupt, but we only have about 10 minutes left and you’re not answering my question. I’m asking a simple question. Is any limitation ever okay, or should it be legal at all times for any reason? It’s a simple question.

I feel that with what we can do, legislatively, we have to help support New Yorkers having the access that they need to make their own decision. We have to have things backed by science. right now there are tens of millions of people living in fear over a concerted effort to roll back our rights. So we need, and we must be ready, to provide safe and accessible health-care services, backed by science, and supported with sufficient resources to everyone who needs it. That’s what we fought for today. And that’s what I’ll continue to fight for in Congress.

Many progressives are upset at recent Supreme Court rulings. Would you support expanding the Supreme Court from its current nine members, to get more progressives onto the court?

Yes, I support expanding the Supreme Court, as has been done numerous times throughout our country’s history, in order to more fully reflect the views of the people and preserve its legitimacy, which has been endangered by this undemocratic conservative majority. 

Do you support an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit?

Yes, I do.

Would you support policies that would increase oil drilling, if you believed they would result in bringing down gas prices but increase climate change?

I support the Green New Deal in order to end our reliance on fossil fuels, not increased drilling that only exposes us to additional price shocks in the future while worsening climate change. The Biden administration has begun taking action on gas prices that have reduced prices dramatically in recent weeks, and I am glad to see it. 

As a Member of Congress, what would be your stance regarding Israel?

In 2018, I went to visit Israel with a small subset of Councilmembers. And it was to me a very, very memorable experience. I went with the Jewish Community Relations Council. 

When I traveled to Israel, the situation on the ground was difficult to see. Many lives have been impacted by generational conflict — people who just want to live in peace as we all do. I’m fully committed to supporting a negotiated two-state solution. I believe that ending the conflict is a moral imperative, as well as the pathway to long-term stability for both Israelis and Palestinians. 

That trip reaffirmed my convictions on the importance of a determined effort that brings this conflict to an end with American diplomacy playing a genuine and proactive role, and shaping a real two-state framework that gets the Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table.

Would you travel to Israel again as a Member of Congress, and would it matter if the trip was sponsored by AIPAC?

I’ve traveled to Israel before and would do so again as a Member of Congress. I prefer to travel with local organizations from New York City as I have in the past, but would evaluate any potential trip individually based on its sponsors and content. I would not travel with any member of Congress who has questioned the legitimate outcome of the 2020 election or supported the January 6th attack on the Capitol, whether through their words or their votes.

What do you think of the BDS movement?

I do not believe that BDS has advanced the aim of a peaceful two-state solution. I think in the end, we have to remain clear-eyed on the goal of a mutually supported peace deal that allows Israelis and Palestinians to live free of conflict. I am not going to say that I know what the solution should be for people that live there — that decision should be up to them.

What do you think of anti-BDS laws, punishing companies who engage in BDS?

I plan to carry on the sensible, pro-peace legislation we’ve seen from our New York House members, like Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who is a liberal champion in Congress. I don’t see how BDS has helped us accomplish a peace deal, and I’m also wary of the economic impact of BDS on ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Jewish businesses and places of worship in New York City.

What do you think of the Democratic Socialists of America? You were first elected to the Council in 2017 as a member of DSA.

I was not endorsed by the DSA.

[Ed. Note: According to a 2017 article in Vice News, Rivera attended a DSA meeting that year, seeking the group’s endorsement. According to a New York Post article on Rivera’s DSA ties, the DSA requires all candidates who are seeking its endorsement to pay dues to attend their meetings. Rivera ultimately did not receive the DSA endorsement, though after she won election, the group put out a press release celebrating her as one of “15 DSA members elected” to office that year. Rivera also told Vice News she was inspired by the 2016 presidential campaign of self-described democratic-socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying, “It’s going to make me a better Councilmember.”]

I know you weren’t endorsed. But you were a member of the DSA.

I went to a meeting in 2017, trying to meet as many people as possible for my first run.

To attend the meeting and seek their endorsement, you had to pay dues, did you not?

Yes, I paid dues at this meeting in 2017. 

Do you regret having paid dues to them? Do you regret having sought their endorsement in 2017? What do you think of them today?

When you are running for office, you want to meet as many people as possible, and you want to hear as many perspectives to really make sure that you can show people that you’re listening, and that you’re open. And you want to be a good representative, and pass good legislation that takes into account whatever their everyday situation is. The DSA has their community campaigns around housing and health care. There are some things that we agree on, and some things that we don’t. There are many groups like that out there, and they have their role in the city. And I’m an independent person who has my own style and has my own record, and I think my successes reflect my values.

Aside from the Israel issue, let’s just focus on the economic issue: Do you agree with the DSA’s philosophy on that?

I’m not as well-versed as you in the DSA philosophy, so you’d have to let me know [what it is].

Do you consider yourself, economically speaking, a democratic-socialist?

You have to explain that a little bit, because I’m someone who lives rooted in reality and understands that we live in a society where, you know, you have to understand, like, I’m not quite understanding the question.

What do you think of the job President Biden has done so far?

I think he’s doing as best he can. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of his trip abroad [to the Middle East]. 

On domestic policy, I would like to see an expansion of some of his recent announcements on affordable housing, and ensuring that we are creating more affordable housing and that the supply meets the demands. And that we’re looking at how health care is more accessible and affordable. So I believe he’s doing the best that he can in terms of what is a very, very tumultuous and challenging time. And so, should I be elected to Congress, I’m looking forward to working with him on issues directly affecting families in NY-10.

Would you like to see Biden run in 2024 or drop out?

He should be able to run if he wants to. I mean, that’s up to him. I do think that, again, his agenda, I’m looking forward to him expanding on some of the issues that are affecting our families. And hopefully, we’ll be working with him.

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