Recap: Congressional District 15 Candidate Forum on Sustainability

May 14, 2020

On April 21st, 2020, the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (NYLCVEF) held a candidate forum for Congressional District 15’s primary election, which will take place on June 23rd to replace longtime environmental champion Rep. Serrano who is retiring. The forum was held virtually via Zoom and streamed on Facebook Live. NYLCVEF’s candidate forums provide for voters to hear directly from seven of the candidates about where they stand on important sustainability issues. Our D15 forum focused on issues in the South Bronx and featured the following candidates: Assemblyman Michael Blake, Samelys López, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Chivona Newsome, Julio Pabón, City Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez, and City Council Member Ritchie Torres.


In general, candidates spoke about the needs of the district, and how the communities there are experiencing disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infection. In addition, community members experience high rates of asthma and poor air quality, and need more access to green spaces and reliable public transit. 

Michael Blake serves as a New York Assemblyman for the 79th District in the Bronx. During the forum, Blake discussed his priorities for addressing poverty in the district and securing equitable funding and access to public transit. When it came to issues such as cleaning up the Bronx River, increasing access to open spaces, and funding from the federal government, he tied these topics to the opportunity to create green jobs for constituents. Blake also seeks to increase ADA accessibility for public buses and address exposure to harmful chemicals, such as lead. 

Samelys López is an activist and co-founder of the nonprofit Bronx Progressives. During the forum, she focused on improving air quality in the district. López emphasized the importance of community-based planning, youth education and engagement, and grassroots organizing on environmental issues. She would like to see more coordination between the federal and state government to ensure proper funding for public transportation. She suggested building a cross-Bronx subway line to help people travel from east to west. When it comes to parks, López would like to see permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. She emphasized the importance of collaborating with community members to determine what other priorities should be in the district. 

Melissa Mark-Viverito is former speaker of the New York City Council from 2014-2017. Prior to that, from 2006-2017, she was a City Council Member for the 8th district. During the forum, Mark-Viverito raised the importance of retrofitting public housing buildings to improve energy efficiency, and reinvesting money from congestion pricing back into the community and for transit infrastructure. She continually emphasized the importance of community-led initiatives and elevating community voices, and advocated for educating the youth about how government works and how to determine policy priorities. Mark-Viverito also mentioned the New York State Bond Act as a way to protect green spaces, and wants to see federal incentives that create cooperatives and green jobs. 

Chivona Newsome is an activist and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greater New York. During the forum, she called for better land use and creative solutions for farming to increase access to healthy produce in the district. When it comes to helping the MTA, Newsome said that the people need to be bailed out first. She highlighted the disproportionately higher rates of asthma, HIV, and other illnesses in the South Bronx, and that she would like to see electric buses and more bike lanes to help improve air quality. Newsome also emphasized the importance of investing in the youth and teaching them how to organize around climate change.

Julio Pabón is a community organizer and businessman from the Bronx. Throughout the forum, he emphasized the link between poverty and pollution, and that many solutions to address one can help the other. Pabón would like to see an audit of the MTA to ensure money is being spent properly. Pabón emphasized that air pollution is high in the district due to the major roads that run through it. He wants to see more trees in the area and safeguard existing green spaces. Lastly, Pabón would like to see environmental issues included in school curriculums. 

Ydanis Rodríguez is a New York City Councilmember for the 10th District and chair of the Transportation Committee. During the forum, Rodríguez highlighted that District 15 in the Bronx is the poorest Congressional District in the country, and emphasized that there should be more funding from the federal government to improve quality of life there. He stated that public transit should be free, the Bronx River should be cleaned up, and that climate change education should be included in school curriculums. Additionally, Rodríguez noted the disparity between funding for parks in marginalized neighborhoods versus major parks in Manhattan, calling for equal attention to all neighborhood parks across the city, especially in the South Bronx. 

Ritchie Torres is a New York City Councilmember for the 15th District. During the forum, Torres elevated the need to reduce emissions and invest in renewable energy. He emphasized the need to create new, green jobs. In particular, he highlighted green infrastructure projects as a way to create jobs and improve the health of the Bronx River. Torres spoke about the need to address lead issues in public housing, as there is no safe level of exposure to lead. Lastly, he would like to see the Cross Bronx Expressway decommissioned and buses electrified to improve air quality in the district. 

Special thanks to our moderator Ese Olumhense, a Bronx reporter for The City and to our nonprofit partners, New Yorkers for Parks, Natural Areas Conservancy NYC, and The Climate Reality Project for their help in making this event a success.

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