Julia Salazar, the first Democratic Socialists of America member on New York’s State Senate, talks to Marc Steiner about the role left organizations play in elections and what comes after the midterms
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you with us for our post-election day coverage.
Julia Salazar is a new state senator from New York’s 18th District. She won that district earlier and was unopposed in this general election. She’s 27 years old, which makes her perhaps the youngest person in the state legislature. We’ll find out in a minute. She’s a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and will be the first member of that organization to serve in the New York State Legislature. She was also endorsed by Our Revolution, People for Bernie Sanders, Working Families Party, and a number of unions. And Julia Salazar, welcome. Good to have you with us here on The Real News.
JULIA SALAZAR: Thank you. Thrilled to be here.
MARC STEINER: So, will you be the youngest member?
JULIA SALAZAR: I will. I will be the youngest member, although some of the other incoming progressive challengers are also quite young, late 20s early 30s. The average age in the New York City is about to decrease and skew it. And I am the youngest woman to ever be elected in the history of the state Senate.
MARC STEINER: So, just for a second I’m curious what you think the significance of that is of the- and also in general what you think is the significance of all these younger candidates in their 20s and 30s winning in New York. But all across the states. We’re seeing it here where we broadcast from in Baltimore, Maryland. Young state senators are winning all over the place, as well. What do you think this portends?
JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah. I think that it indicates that young people are becoming more actively engaged in the legislative process, and in the electoral process. I think many of us were inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign, and I know myself, personally, I was really activated by my membership in the Democratic Socialists of America. We are part of a wave of young people who are tired of politics as usual and really determined to finally take it into our own hands and step up to lead in our communities.
MARC STEINER: One of the things that struck me about all the democratic socialist and other candidates backed by Justice Democrats and Our Revolution was the huge number of women who were running, A, and B, the huge number of people of color that were running as democratic socialists, as progressive Democrats. That’s a shift in many ways. One of the critiques of Bernie’s campaign in the beginning was he wasn’t talking to black folks enough. And that kind of shifted, a little bit, his campaign, when he was confronted. So what do you think of that also means? I mean, most did not win. A lot did not win. Some did. So I mean, I’m curious where you think that takes the Democratic Party and where it takes people like you.
JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah, absolutely. I think that we’re seeing a positive shift in the Democratic Party and in the political landscape in general. It’s certainly true that the Sanders campaign was sometimes- sometimes I think the criticism was warranted, and other times less so, painting It as a completely white campaign and his base as just being young white people. I think that the rise in candidates like myself, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Queens, in the Bronx, the victory of Summer Lee, who is a DSA-endorsed candidate in Pittsburgh, and many other young women and particularly candidates of color were challenging that. And it’s definitely a welcome development, because previously our political leaders really haven’t reflected the diversity of our communities, and there’s been a lack of representation.
We still have a long way to go, I think. Right now the New York State Senate, for example, is about 76 percent men. And mostly-
MARC STEINER: Really, that much?
JULIA SALAZAR: That much.
MARC STEINER: Wow.
JULIA SALAZAR: And most of them are white men, which of course is not representative of a place like New York City.
MARC STEINER: No.
JULIA SALAZAR: And [inaudible], as well. So I’m hopeful that this will only be the beginning of us to begin to have more, a more representative leadership in the state.
MARC STEINER: So I’m curious for yourself, and also in a broader sense, what it means for you sitting in the state legislature. Someone clearly on the left, someone who is a democratic socialist, who’s going to have to work with a lot of different people who are, you know, conservative, Republicans, but also talk about within the Democratic Party itself. What do you think that dynamic’s going to lead to? Where do you think this is going, what do you, what do you think it portends for you in the state legislature?
JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah. One of my top priorities upon getting sworn in will be to fight for stronger rent laws. And this, I think that is an issue. Our New York statewide rent laws are up for renewal next June, expiring next June.
MARC STEINER: Could you stop for a minute and explain to our viewers what that means?
JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah, absolutely. Every four years the rent laws statewide are up for renewal, or they expire. Typically there is there is a push to simply renew the old laws. We as progressives don’t want that; we want to strengthen the rent laws so that they will finally work for tenants rather than just for for landlords and for developers. That will mean ending some of the deregulatory policies that have led to thousands of people being displaced every year in New York State. Most cities, most places across the state don’t actually have tenant protections, don’t have rent control, don’t have rent stabilization. And so there is, there there are no protections, really, to prevent people from being from being evicted and from being displaced. And we want to see that change.
In New York City we have a rent stabilization system, but we’ve seen an enormous loss of rent-stabilized housing, affordable housing, due to some of these deregulatory policies that landlords can take advantage of. And my district, North Brooklyn, has been particularly affected by that. People always hear about gentrification in North Brooklyn, but often don’t know about the driving forces of that, and the root of it is a lack of a strong rent laws. And I mention this in the context of your question because this is actually, it is an issue that affects tenants across the state. And I’m seeing it as potentially a subject that we can unify around.
There are other issues that typically- such as funding the MTA, fixing the New York City subway- issues that at the state level can be really divisive and divide people along the lines of, legislators along the lines of those of us who represent urban areas and those who represent upstate rural suburban areas. But when it comes to the ratlines we want to finally fight to actually expand rent stabilization statewide. So I see that as potentially, certainly, a vital issue for us to unify around and a unique opportunity, whereas there will be other issues where I think we can definitely anticipate it’ll be more challenging and where our interests may clash.
MARC STEINER: So we’re really seeing that as a way to build this coalition that can be across urban-suburban areas. Because people forget New York’s not just about New York City; it’s Albany, it’s Rochester, it’s all the other cities in New York State that you can kind of build a coalition around that crosses a lot of racial and even kind of ideological lines.
JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah, absolutely.
MARC STEINER: That’s really interesting. So I wonder what kind of communication you’ve had with other folks around the Democratic Socialists and other groups since last night, and what the tenor of the conversation is at the moment.
JULIA SALAZAR: Yeah. I think that there’s a lot of enthusiasm coming out of my primary, because I knew that I wouldn’t have a contested general election. We really sought to transfer momentum and volunteers to flip other other seats around around the city, and upstate, in Long Island, and more than anything in South Brooklyn; trying to do everything we could to to bring Andrew Gounardes’ campaign to victory, which was previously a long-held Republican seat held by Senator Marty Golden. And Andrew did win last night by I think a little over a thousand votes.
In doing that, in supporting other progressive candidates, even those who don’t identify as Democratic Socialists but who I am generally aligned with, who shared a policy platform and campaigned on similar policies, the same policies as I did, that I think demonstrates goodwill and an intention to work together despite some ideological differences, and demonstrate to people that that what we really value this is solidarity and are determined to actually work together.
MARC STEINER: So one last final quick question before we let you go, Julia, I know you have a busy day. When you look at the races around the country in New York State, New York City, and all over America, there clearly is a huge divide. And many people going into this race worried about this kind of growing, right-wing, racist, nationalist movement in America that was really taking power and has taken power in certain states, and clearly is sitting in Washington, D.C. at the moment. And given your election, others’ elections as you, how do you see the future? Where do you see this political struggle going in this country?
JULIA SALAZAR: I think that the Democratic Party is going to have to make decisions about about whether to continue in many ways, at least the establishment of the party, to capitulate to the center, or whether they are going to be more receptive to the actual base of the party, the majority of registered Democrats and Democratic voters who I think share a more progressive agenda and worldview, who want to support more progressive candidates. I really want to see another candidate, whether it’s Bernie Sanders or someone like Bernie Sanders, running as the Democratic nominee in 2020 for president.
I think that we are only going to continue to see in other races and at the state level and local level more and more progressive challengers. I think it’s it’s a trend that we’ll continue to see. Andrew Gillum in Florida, despite his loss, which I was really disappointed about in the governor’s race, the fact that he did as well as he did in a state like Florida I think is really, is really telling. And I hope that not only does he run again but that inspires more young people of color, progressive candidates like him to run all over the country. So I think, I think it’s actually, it’s only the beginning. And we’re going to see more and more victories.
MARC STEINER: It’s good to hear that you- good to hear that you have a long view. That’s important. And Julia Salazar, thanks so much for joining us. It’s been a pleasure to hae you with us. And good luck in the legislature. We look forward to talking to you a great deal more down the road here.
JULIA SALAZAR: Thank you. I’m looking forward to it.
MARC STEINER: Take care.
We’ve been talking to Julia Salazar, who’s on the way to go to the state legislature of New York State, where she will be the first Democratic Socialist to sit in that body. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you so much. We’re going to keep up with our post-election coverage. Take care.