A Colombian-American mayoral candidate in New York City believes she can siphon votes from the city's Democratic and Republican candidates and tap into a large pool of non-voting residents to be competitive in the November election.
In late June, Cathy Rojas - a teacher at a 100% Latino high school in Queens and long-term activist with the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) - announced her intention to run for mayor, becoming the only openly socialist candidate on the ballot.
Rojas' 14-point political program includes higher taxation of New York's millionaires and billionaires, using the city budget to create employment, $10,000 grants to small businesses, additional funding for social workers and librarians, free public transit, defunding the police and expanding healthcare.
In an interview with LPO, Rojas - the child of Colombian immigrants - said she believes that the impact of Covid-19 on New York City's Latino and African-American communities starkly highlighted the need for an alternative to the city's Democratic and Republican establishment politicians.
"Our community was completely marginalized and forgotten about. Our immigrant families weren't able to access unemployment, and weren't able to access relief funds," she said. "Many were scared to go to hospitals [as a result of immigration status concerns], and even if they got something, they couldn't take off work."
"I walked out of my door to walk two blocks to get some fresh air, and there were refrigerated trucks parked holding stacks of bodies of our neighbors, our family members and my students," she added. "Families were dying and could have been saved, but our government chose to neglect our community."
An alternative approach to policing
After winning the Democratic primary, Brooklyn Borough President and former NYPD captain Eric Adams is widely considered the favorite to win in the city's November election. Adams' campaign largely focused on a law-and-order message that called for a relatively expansive for the NYPD in promoting public safety in the city.
He was largely seen as a more centrist candidate, standing in contrast to progressives such as Maya Wiley.
According to Rojas, Adams' victory in the primary leaves voters "with no progressive option" in November.
"Eric Adams hasn't said anything about immigrant rights, and hasn't said anything about how he's going to deal with the housing crisis," she said. "Instead, he's the politician that has received the most funds from real estate developers, and while we had a whole movement about defunding the police last year, because of the police brutality our communities were going through, he actually wants to fund more police."
In her case, Rojas said she advocates re-allocating police funds to community-focused violence-intervention programs in high-crime areas that provide social services and mediate conflicts before they become violent. Research has shown that similar programs have reduced gun injuries by as much as 50% in violence-plagued areas such as the South Bronx and East New York.
A competitive candidate?
Despite Adams being heavily favored to win the election, Rojas believes her campaign has a chance to be competitive by siphoning progressive-leaning voters away from Adams and tapping into New York's large pool of non-voters.
In the recent primary, initial Board of Election statistics show that only 23% of registered Democrats and Republicans voted. In the 2017 election that saw Bill de Blasio become mayor, only 1,097,846 of 4,596,813 active registered voters cast a ballot - a turnout rate of only about 24%.
"A lot of â€˜voters' have never voted. You have no idea how many people I've talked to on the streets have told me that they've never voted or cared about politics," she said. "New Yorkers have historically been dissuaded by these mainstream politicians. Progressives have no other option, and I'm the only progressive voice in the mayoral election."
Additionally, Rojas said that the success of progressive candidates such as NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes and Puerto Rican-American Tiffany Caban - who ran for City Council in 2021 on a socialist platform - lead her to believe she will perform better than political observers predict in the upcoming election.
"I think for a long time people were fed this idea that if you work hard, you'll become rich. That's a fallacy, and this new generation knows that's a fallacy," she said. "People are becoming present to this faÃ§ade that is our society, and that is New York," she said. "People are much more sensitive to a socialist program."
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