Richards’ staffer vies for left lane 1

Donovan Richards’ former chief of staff Manny Silva is running to take over the Council seat in District 31.

For Manny Silva, a candidate running to replace his former boss Donovan Richards in the freshly vacated Council seat in District 31, the week’s events provided a useful comparison between the two political actors.

Richards, in his new capacity as borough president, recommended approval of the Arverne East development proposal with conditions to ensure it is a true community-first initiative.

Silva, Richards’ former chief of staff, led his own community forum for residents to air their concerns over the project, and mirrored the borough president’s opinion that the developers have not engaged the community, while agreeing with the project’s level of affordable housing.

Silva touted his work as Richards’ right-hand man and emphasized that his campaign is aiming to build on the former councilman’s legacy, while noting several key areas that nudge his candidacy to the left of his mentor.

Silva has framed his candidacy first and foremost as an extension of his experience on Richards’ staff, especially as someone who held down the fort while Richards made runs for Council speaker and borough president during that period.

“I had to make sure that our district was getting the resources it needed, felt the presence of our office and I had to make sure that our concerns out here were being met,” Silva said.

Silva grew up in the Rockaways. After working on the Obama presidential campaign in college and helping with Sandy relief, he joined Community Voices Heard to organize youth throughout the city to take part in the participatory budgeting process. He later worked for the Worker Owned Rockaway Cooperatives project, a nonprofit that converts traditional businesses into a structure owned by workers, before taking the job with Richards.

When asked what distinguishes him from the new borough president, he raised the idea of adding more democratic structures to the district’s decision-making process that he referred to as “co-governance.”

“When it comes to land use decisions, we’re not only listening to the community board, we’re going to start our own district working groups, where they have a say, and will be able to have some influence, not only on the negotiations of any kind of land use, but also how I’m going to vote in the Council,” Silva said.

He added that he doesn’t think anything for those making above 120 percent of the city’s median income should be included in any affordable project, but for projects coming into Rockaway he would only approve them with a mix of income levels to encourage economic diversity in the neighborhood.

The role of real estate in his campaign is another departure from Richards, who actively courted real estate contributions in his borough president campaign. Silva’s campaign website states it will not take “donation[s] from anyone with ownership stake in real estate development companies or lobbyist[s] that represent them.”

“It’s a conflict of interest because we make decisions on what is going to come into a neighborhood,” he told the Chronicle.

On the issue of police reform, however, Silva is in line with Richards’ view that the City Council’s budget over the summer did not go far enough to reform the culture of the NYPD, and he would have cast a “no” vote.

His police reform plank would remove traffic enforcement and homeless outreach officers from the department and invest more in the community affairs section. His plan would also include only $150 million for absolute emergencies when it comes to overtime for the NYPD, though in general Silva said the city should freeze the agency’s overtime in general.

Silva framed his emphasis on both reforming policing and adding avenues for grassroots participation in the district as a bold change to the status quo.

“Right now we are fighting for the heart of the city and we can either keep doing things the way we do them in the traditional way that got us into this fiscal crisis, the same thing we’ve been doing for 50 years, or we could be a little more innovative,” he said.

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