New York City

In an exit interview, Marjorie Velázquez doesn’t regret Bruckner Boulevard rezoning vote

The outgoing New York City Council member got a lot done in a short time, including permanent outdoor dining.

Outgoing New York City Council Member Marjorie Velázquez reads a card at the council’s final stated meeting of the year.

Outgoing New York City Council Member Marjorie Velázquez reads a card at the council’s final stated meeting of the year. Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

In two short years, New York City Council Member Marjorie Velázquez’s term included several major – and controversial – legislative and land use issues.

As chair of the Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection, the Bronx Democrat carried the bill to allow permanent outdoor dining across the city. It’s a major new program and a win for Mayor Eric Adams’ administration, which backed the legislation. But when it finally passed this summer, it was met with some objections from both supporters and critics of the current temporary program.

Another headline in Velázquez’s term was the controversial Bruckner Boulevard rezoning, which the council member ultimately came around to support and likely played a part in her loss to Republican Kristy Marmorato.

City & State caught up with Velázquez to reflect back on her term in its final days. One of her final actions in office was the introduction of a resolution to call on the state Legislature to pass legislation increasing criminal penalties for harassing, threatening or assaulting elected officials or their staff. During her time in the council, Velázquez said, she was the target of death threats that were seemingly connected to anger over multiple issues, including rezoning and outdoor dining. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Looking back at your two years in the council, what do you view as your biggest accomplishments?

The first year, the way we got our budget done on time was amazing. The big wins that were secured for the district – thanks in large part to the relationships with both the mayor and the speaker – we really brought in, in the first year, like $20 million.

For the district? 

Directly into the district. It went into our hospital, our schools. It felt great, especially at a time where we think about the Bronx – outer borough, out of mind. When you’re a borough president, as Mayor (Eric) Adams was, he comes in with that unique perspective, and certainly the speaker too. So this outer borough mentality really did help focus in on what can be delivered financially, especially when we’ve been overlooked. Legislatively, some of my proudest achievements – obviously, outdoor dining was huge. At a time where we saw inequities during COVID, the ability to remove a lot of the red tape and make things more affordable for the outer boroughs allowed so many other restaurants to operate. It saved jobs, it created jobs, and more importantly, it created the safe space for family and friends to meet during COVID. Honoring that, we were able to bring it back home in a way that now works for the future.

What is one thing that you’re disappointed to have not gotten done in your time in the council?

There’s so many things. When we’re talking about maternal morbidity, and ways to work to help, especially Black and brown women, I think about myself, I think about my future, I think about me having kids, certainly at this age, and making sure that folks like me have an opportunity to have a kid in a safe space. And also that the follow-up is there. The work that we were doing was called the fourth trimester. One of the ideas behind it is actually honoring what is going on at Jacobi Hospital in my district. We wanted to actually implement it throughout all of New York City’s public hospitals, where you have a reproductive psychologist stay with the parent and kid, and check up on parent and child. What they have identified through various studies is that for about 10 days after delivering, literally, is when you start seeing any underlying other medical conditions, especially if they are mental health-related, that may or may not have been diagnosed beforehand.

What’s been most rewarding about your experience in the council?

It’s been an honor of my life. This is the district that gave my family an opportunity. Where my aunt and uncle were able to buy a home in Indian Village, and my dad and my grandfather came here from Puerto Rico to meet them there. And my dad ended up working at City Island frying frog legs. But that is what led me to represent them as their very first Puerto Rican City Council member. And it’s very important to talk about that and be honest about how this is a beautiful opportunity for all families, and talk about the opportunities for families to be here. Reminding folks that we all belong, that they don’t have to be displaced because housing is not available to them, and focusing on housing options to keep our families here in the district, to make sure that they have an opportunity. Digging deep, and working through that process and providing the 100 units for senior housing through the Throggs Neck rezoning that we did, 25 units dedicated to veterans, and certainly the housing ownership component to that development. That’s crucial.

On the other side of that coin, what have you found to be disappointing about your time in the council?

I think certain things that I would never have thought, would never imagine, ever having would be living with a panic button in my house that is directly tied to NYPD because of all the death threats that I have received.

What was the sort of pretense of those threats, or what were people upset about?

It was a whole bunch of things. It first started with the (Throggs Neck) rezoning, then it worked its way with the outdoor dining. That was another one. Because of me hosting an illegal smoke shop (town hall), that also got a couple from that. There was the Just Home project as well. It just felt like folks have a lot of anger.

When did it get to a level of needing to take that step of having a panic button?

I don’t know when, but it was a lot. There were a lot that I couldn’t discuss, because you’re afraid of copycats. I basically was told I could never walk alone. I had to stop going to public settings for a while. I got to a point where I was in conversations with the police commissioner where he said, at some point, if this continues or the severity gets even worse, we’re going to have to consider even trying to have a detail for you or more, because this is serious. On both sides, the NYPD side and council security, I really want to emphasize how amazing they all have been to make sure that not only me and my family are OK, but that my staff is OK. So that’s why the bill was introduced with Justin Brannan at this past stated (meeting), because it’s very important to talk about how we protect folks. And call it out, and being open about how our staff does have protection. And reminding them that they are not alone, and that they can talk about it.

Have you found that other council members have experienced this kind of harassment too?

Yeah, it’s sitting down with other council members that have faced similar situations, and understanding, beyond the bill, what can we do as electeds to support one another, and having those conversations. Unfortunately, these threats affect all party lines. It’s not just a (Democratic) thing, and it’s not a Republican thing.

Looking back on the election with a little distance, how do you feel about the results, and are there things that you would do differently?

Of course, I wrestled with the outcome of the election. But it’s also been one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. It made me surprised, but I did learn from it. And what I’ve learned is that having the full opportunity to tell people in my district how and why building hundreds of units for seniors, veterans was so important.

Do you see your support of the rezoning as a big factor working against you in the election? Is there anything that you would do differently in how that played out?

I don’t regret the vote. I really don’t. And I don’t regret the housing that’s going to come here. It’s much-needed housing to the district in an area which is a commercial corridor. Initially, it was a vague concept, what was being proposed was this massive unit. And the proposal ended up being one three-story building, two five-story buildings and one eight-story building directed for our seniors with wraparound services and security. We’re talking about much-needed parking that would go directly to the development, not just an updated supermarket. We’re talking about transit studies to make sure that there are no effects that we haven’t looked at. It was a lot of conversation.

What do you plan to do next? Do you have plans to stay involved in politics or even run for office again?

I’ve been a district leader since forever, and I’ll continue to do that great work. At the end of the day, that is the fundamentals of organizing, it’s literally knocking on doors and hearing people out and seeing how we can be better Dems together. Workwise, it’s everybody’s favorite topic, and I’ve been blessed to have an opportunity to work with so many folks. So sitting down and listening to folks who are in government, to folks who have transitioned from politics to other areas.

So no news on a new gig yet?

I’ve had a lot of people approach me with some random guesses, and I’m like, “OK, no, but thank you.”

So there is no finalized new gig yet?

Nope, not yet.

At your last stated meeting, you didn’t vote with most of your fellow Democrats in favor of the How Many Stops Act, and you abstained on the solitary confinement ban. What was the reasoning behind those votes?

I support the intention of these bills, which is accountability and transparency. I get it. I don’t think that the bill was the best way to get to our goals. And I believe as a matter of policy, I just couldn’t support adding to police officers’ work that doesn’t address matters of safety concerns. There should be improved public safety, there should be protecting of civil rights, there should be a building of good relationships within the community. These are universal goals. I don’t believe that this bill (Intro. 586-A) does that.

And what was your reason for abstaining on the solitary confinement ban?

This was a difficult vote, it was a very difficult vote. Why? I’m the chair of (the Committee on) Consumer and Worker Protection. I think of the workers, all the workers, that are on Rikers Island. Rikers Island is violently overcrowded, it is unsafe, and there is a real crisis on Rikers Island. We need to make sure that all workers are protected, and at the same time, that those who are incarcerated are being treated humanely. There needs to be a balance, and so that is why I abstained.