Advocate Seeks To Keep A Seat At The Table For Brooklyn Community

Community Advocate Wilfredo Florentino/Courtesy Wil Florentino

In the five boroughs of New York City, local politics is a serious business, especially in the City Council, Gotham’s legislative body. This 51-member body works concurrently with the mayor to shape the policies and ordinances of the city’s government and is a major force in the life of every New Yorker, from Throgs Neck to Tottenville. In recent years, the legislature has seen a welcome influx of LGBTQ members, such as former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Queens schoolteacher Danny Dromm, current Speaker Corey Johnson, and Red Hook’s Carlos Menchaca. These leaders past and present have given the LGBTQ community throughout the city a real voice in how their needs and concerns are addressed. Today, there are five active LGBTQ members serving at City Hall, but there’s an ominous development — all five of them are term-limited, and will leave office in 2021.

Because retaining representation on the Council is a sine qua non for the LGBTQ community, one Brooklyn native is taking proactive steps to ensure that the rainbow continues to be an active, visible presence on the Council floor. He’s Wilfredo Florentino, a young, energetic Democrat whose unbridled enthusiasm for all things political goes back to his childhood. “When I was 10 years old, there was unprecedented excitement over a female Puertorrican candidate for New York City Council — Nydia Velazquez,” Florentino recalls (Velazquez is now a Congresswoman representing Brooklyn and Queens). “My mom and I must’ve passed out flyers for weeks. My most vivid memory of that time was how proud my mom was to support someone that looked and sounded like her — rocking a very Puerto Rican accent and not diminishing her Afro-LatinX roots.” Florentino, 39, grew up learning why being heard in the halls of power was crucial. During those formative days, Florentino notes, he found his calling. “Representation is critically important for Black and Brown kids and I was fortunate to see myself in my political representation early in life”, Florentino says. “Later in 2009 I worked for the first Dominican woman elected to the New York City Council, Diana Reyna, who would later serve as Deputy Borough President to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. While at her office, I saw the unmatched strength of people powered politics.”

Florentino talks it over with one of his neighbors/Courtesy Wil Florentino

“People-powered politics” was a concept that would stay with Florentino through adulthood. The kid who helped get out the vote on Brooklyn’s streets, now walks those same sidewalks with an easy grace, the husband and father who understands the ways of his East New York neighbors. “I have served as a Brooklyn Community Board member since 2009, during that entire time I’ve also served as Transportation Committee Chair,” Florentino, an Army veteran, elaborates, “Although my advocacy work spans many issues, I’m currently most involved around housing and homeownership, LGBT+ issues, immigrants’ rights, transportation and education.” He and his husband, Kareem Nemley, are devoted patrons of the arts, operating the Rooted Theater Company, the only theatrical organization in the area. “We’re dedicated to producing socially relevant and accessible theater,” Florentino points out. With this well-rounded involvement in the life of his community, Florentino is now seeking to build on his experience and knowledge, setting his sights on City Hall, and keeping the all-important LGBTQ presence there alive and well.

In Florentino’s District 42, where incumbent Inez Barron is term-limited and will not run again, the diversity of the city is readily apparent. Ten languages, ranging from Russian to Arabic are spoken here, and the broad range of cultures gives this locale on Jamaica Bay a distinctively unique character. Florentino has thoughtfully figured all this into his platform. Articulating what he sees as action items for his platform, Florentino underscores the issues: “[We] face many of the same issues that other black and brown communities in our city face: gentrification and its ripple effect, lack of real affordable housing and homeownership, under-resourced and underperforming schools, lack of jobs and access to education, training and the linkage between the arts and strengthening community as a foe to appropriation,” Florentino reflects. “Systematic disenfranchisement and disinvestment have guaranteed that these issues impact our community the hardest.” Within District 42, these are longstanding obstacles for residents that Florentino seeks to ameliorate and overcome in the Council. “Racial and economic justice must be prioritized to address decades-long inequities that have become the reality in Black and Brown communities. Communities typically left out of, and harmed by, unilateral and racist policy must get a seat at the table.”

That seat at the city’s collective table is something Florentino sees as belonging to all his constituents, straight and LGBTQ alike. As part of the overall effort to maintain LGBTQ presence in the City Council and win long-overdue gains for his district, Florentino plans to run a serious ground game. Florentino emphasizes that “our campaign is unbought and unbossed. We aren’t beholden to any special interests other than the interests of the community. “Grassroots” has become common terminology in politics, but our campaign started from the ground and that’s where we’ve met each and every supporter — it has ensured that we remain committed to advancing the people’s needs.” Like all political campaigns, fundraising is what makes the wheels turn for Florentino and his team. “Although New York City has a progressive matching funds program for NYC residents, fundraising is necessary,” the aspiring Councilman confides, noting that time is a factor. “We have an incredibly important filing deadline in July where we must meet matching funds thresholds and send a message.”

Having set this career-defining challenge for himself, Florentino is determined to push forward, running in the 2021 election with no incumbent, looking to facilitate real change and equality for the city’s denizens. You can discover more about him and his vision by visiting his website (where you can also support his campaign). “I’ve dedicated my entire life to service, from serving in the United States Military during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era to protesting against the over-policing of black and brown bodies,” Florentino concludes, “I want to bring my experience, passion and skills in service to my community.” That seat at the table beckons Florentino — and the rainbow — forth.

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Nathan James is an LGBTQ, journalist, playwright, and radio personality. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/nathanjamesFB, or on Twitter as @RealNathanJames

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Nathan James

Nathan James

Nathan James is an LGBTQ, journalist, playwright, and radio personality. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/nathanjamesFB, or on Twitter as @RealNathanJames

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