A First for New York – Mexican-American Headed to City Council

In an historic local election, Carlos Menchaca is on his way to becoming New York City’s first Mexican-American elected official. Menchaca won Tuesday’s Democratic Primary in Brooklyn’s 38th Council District, scoring an upset victory over three-term incumbent Sara Gonzalez.

If he wins the general election in November, the 32-year-old Menchaca will also be the first openly gay member of the City Council from Brooklyn.

Ben Max, Founder and Editor of Decide NYC talked with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer about the significance of Menchaca’s campaign. In addition to being the city’s first elected Mexican-American and unseating an incumbent, he told Fi2W that Menchaca’s age and openness about his sexuality signal other trends.

“Sexual orientation is becoming far less of a taboo, and far less of a hindrance to candidates in public office,” Max said. “Also, there is something at play here in terms of youth. We’re seeing a little bit of a youth movement in the city.”

Born in El Paso, TX, Menchaca was raised by a single mother. He began his political career as an aide to Council President Christine Quinn and worked for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. Menchaca will represent the 38th District, which encompasses an eastern part of Brooklyn south of Red Hook. The Red Hook area was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  During his campaign Menchaca focused on criticism of Gonzalez, who had been accused of being inattentive to her constituents after the storm.

Menchaca’s victory is widely seen as reflecting demographic shifts among the city’s Latino population. Mexicans, the city’s fastest growing ethnic group, make up 13 percent of the population. In a city that has seen it’s Puerto Rican population dwindle over the last several decades, a Mexican immigrant taking the place of a Puerto Rican incumbent is perhaps not so surprising.

Menchaca told the New York Daily News that he saw this as a victory not just for Mexican-Americans, but for all immigrants.

According to Max, Menchaca, and other candidates such as Richie Torres in the Bronx and Antonio Reynoso in Brooklyn, used “Obama-esque” tactics in their campaigns.

“I think he (Menchaca) is emblematic of shifts at play in Brooklyn and elsewhere, where you’re seeing communities diversify,” Max said.

Fi2W is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation.

AboutVon Diaz
Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York City. She is a self-taught cook who explores Puerto Rican food, culture, and identity through memoir and multimedia. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, PRI’s The World, BuzzFeed, Colorlines, and Feet in 2 Worlds. Von has an M.A. in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies from New York University. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, she earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and focused her research on women in Latin America. She is a currently a producer at StoryCorps, and previously worked in community advocacy and communications for nonprofits focused on women, children, art, and Latino culture.