State Sen. Gustavo Rivera got to know his new constituents Sunday while rubbing elbows with some old ones as he shared his messages about health care for all and providing more help to the police department among others. He made the comments at a meet and greet at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale as part of his plan to visit different parts of the new 33rd District.
Rivera, who was reelected to the seat by defeating fellow Democrat Miguelina Camilo last year and was uncontested in the general election, spoke of his Puerto Rican background, how he got to New York in 1998, taught in New York colleges, and eventually started working in government and politics. In 2010, he ran for the New York Senate and defeated incumbent Pedro Espada Jr.
The district that Rivera represents has shifted due to redistricting and now includes all of Riverdale.
Addressing the concerns of a retiree from the city’s education department regarding unstable health care, Rivera noted that while it is a city issue and not a state issue, there should be guaranteed universal health care for everyone.
“It should not be left up to the whim of a particular economic downturn or political shift to whether someone has health care or not,” the senator said.
One constituent brought up the recent uptick of crime accompanying the pandemic and wanted to know what is being done to control and fight it. Rivera linked the rise to trauma from the years when people were stuck in their homes everyday. He believes the way to combat crime in general is by providing more resources, stability, better education, and health care services.
“I sincerely believe that we ask the police to do too much,” he said. Rivera does not believe that if someone has a problem they should simply get the police involved. He pointed to such issues as those related to social services, psychologists, and drug addicts.
Sirio Guerino, co-founder of Guerinos Against Graffiti, assured fellow constituents that Rivera will help navigate them through any kind of problem. Guerino referenced a time in which he alongside sanitation and police were doing outreach for the community because of gun violence . He said Rivera was the only politician who showed up and “picked up a broom and helped clean the streets up.”
Another constituent mentioned the lack of parking spaces but yet plenty of stores. Rivera believes we need to be more thoughtful when doing development. He mentioned how sometimes developers are just thinking about making a buck rather than the larger impact on a community.
He also emphasized the importance of investment in public transportation and talked about how there’s been so much investment that encourages the use of automobiles. He described how a balance of bike racks could help minimize the impact on local parking and provide more options for transportation.
One constituent made a comment that the bike industry doesn’t make sense and is a waste of money because there’s no safe place to store or drive them. Rivera reinforced his point about how it would be a difficult transition.
The senator acknowledged that one of the main shifts in his districts is that he has a Jewish community that he did not have before when a large part of his district included Kingsbridge.
He is happy to have a community with constituents who have connections and ties to Israel. Rivera has committed himself to learning from and standing by the Jewish community especially at a time where a national “Day of Hate” has been called by neo-Nazis.
One of the things Rivera previously stated is that he’s looking forward to in the coming months of having direct conversations with people “who might’ve heard all sorts of things.”
One of the first questions asked to the senator was how he planned to stay in touch with the constituents after the initial introductory period.
He answered that if there are activities and events happening in the area his staff will inform him about them and that he will try to go to as many as he can.
He referenced how over the years they’ve organized town halls and events around back-to-school and Thanksgiving. He also encouraged calling his offices, emailing, and visiting his office in Albany.
“People just want to be heard, want to be listened to,” the senator said.
“They want to be engaged. And this was a great opportunity for people who might have not known me before to see me and engage with me. Whether we might disagree on issues or not I want to make sure people understand that I am accessible, that I’m available.
“And this is what I’ve always done in my tenure, and I will continue it.”