New York State

Julia Salazar isn’t taking a back seat

Julia Salazar talks about her universal rent control bill, Albany, the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, and her hopes for the future.

Julia Salazar.

Julia Salazar. Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock

State Sen. Julia Salazar has had an eventful first month of session. She already has a high profile bill passage under her belt, and has wasted no time wading into the hot button issue of rent reform. City & State caught up with the state Senate’s youngest member and asked her about her Capitol welcome, universal rent control and what’s next on her agenda.

You campaigned heavily on universal rent control. Do you think its components will pass this session?

It’s hard to say. I really am impressed by the very vocal and consistent public support for it. And I’ve even been surprised by – when I introduced the bill (to ensures evictions only occur with good cause), I anticipated, I think, more backlash, whether it be from some of my colleagues or from the press. I was pleasantly surprised to see a vocal demonstration of support for it. So that of course doesn’t necessarily mean that negotiations over this will be easy, but I’m confident we can actually do it this session.

After such a hard-fought and contentious campaign, what has your first month in Albany been like?

It’s been really energizing. Previously, any time I spent in Albany was as an advocate, lobbying. What I have found in the last month is that the energy, the entire spirit up there, is totally different than anything I had ever witnessed before. People are very – it’s more than optimism. It’s really a strong determination to try to change things, and to actually get to work. I think that more than anything, that came from the grassroots and it came from electing 17 new senators and the vast majority of them being in our conference. It’s contagious, so even though I think it came from the grassroots, it has spread to the Legislature itself and it’s just really cool to be able to experience that at the same time as some of colleagues who’ve been there awhile.

What was it like getting a major bill passed so early in your tenure? Has there been a lot of support for you and other freshman senators?

I’ve been really pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the support for us in the conference. And I think I really attribute that more than anything to the leadership of the conference, Sen. (Andrea) Stewart-Cousins, Sen. (Michael) Gianaris, that from the outset, even before session began, they were really facilitating that culture of support within the conference and making new members like myself feel welcome. And also making us feel empowered. I came in and continue to have this sort of attitude of humility, recognizing that if it were technically possible to be the most junior member of the conference, I would be the most junior member of the conference. So coming in with humility and a little bit of self-awareness about that, I found that the conference has been really supportive. But it makes all of us more effective – or all together, we’re able to be more effective because we are really seeking to be unified. I’m really grateful that leadership allowed me to carry and re-introduce a bill as important as the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act. I just hope that the governor signs it soon.

You’ve had a busy first month. What’s next on the agenda for you?

I think that looking at the executive budget proposal, all of us have a lot of concerns about the quote-unquote savings in the governor’s budget. So right now, I’m really just determined to try to make sure that our priorities, especially a lot of social services that have been cut, will be in the budget again. I think going into the budget, I’m operating the way most of my colleagues will be. I think that after the budget, I’m definitely still going to be primarily focused on rent laws because there’s a really reasonable fear that the governor, perhaps other members of the Legislature, will want to push it (to) June, until the very end of session. Which is not great, because as we’ve seen in the past, the last time rent laws were up for renewal, they actually expired and there were a couple weeks of basically crisis for a lot of tenants who weren’t protected.