Ranked-choice voting has made its way to New York City and even had its test run, in Queens City Council District 24 on February 2. Unlike first-past-the-post ballot systems, ranked choice voting asks voters to list candidates in order of preference. Thus, the onus is on voters to not only know who their first choice candidate is, but also their second, third, fourth, and fifth choice.
NYCityLens is here to help New Yorkers get to know the candidates that will be popping up on their ballots as we enter an citywide election year. For our inaugural installment, we spoke via Zoom with Manny Silva, a candidate for the Queens Council District 31 special election on February 23. Silva is a community activist who served as the chief of staff to former council member Donovan Richards, who represented District 31 from 2013 to 2020. Richards vacated his council seat because he was elected Queens Borough President in 2020. (This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.)
If elected, how will you diverge from your predecessor, Donovan Richards? And, in which ways will you continue his legacy?
Donovan Richards got a lot done in seven years, and there was a lot of work to get done. We are facing 50 years of neglect, a lot of our infrastructure is falling apart. We are a community that is ripe for development. So, we have to make sure that we are doing everything we can to combat gentrification. And I believe that Donovan was able to successfully do that.
But, I want to give people power, empower our constituents, educate our constituents, and bring them into the fold. And I want them to have the power to challenge the status quo whenever they feel like it is necessary.
We’re going to start district working groups on both sides of our district. We’re also going to allocate money for new organizations that are coming into our community. We’re going to make sure that we’re not just looking at reforming systems, but we’re looking at creating new systems to take the place of systems that have an inherent bias. And that wasn’t done in the last city council.
What are your thoughts on ranked-choice voting? Do you believe that the new system will be able to deliver the best candidate for District 31?
It is a more democratic system that allows more people to be involved and have a say in who becomes their next representative. There are some candidates that just haven’t built the infrastructure needed to get a sizable amount of votes, and we don’t want the people that do believe in those candidates to not have a say in who their next representative is. And, with this system, we make sure that we have a candidate that can pull in different factions and different parts of our community.
What are the three most important things in your platform and why do you think they will benefit your district?
Our big goals are dignified housing for everyone; a new police system that has empathy at its core; and equity in our educational system. Each one of those has pieces of policy that I’ve come up with that will get us closer to those goals. But it’s not going to be overnight; they’re not going to happen within a week. But overnight and within a week, as a city council member, we can do really focused things to get us closer to those goals.
Then we have little things I want to do in the office that are just as important as those big goals. I want to hire a program manager. I want to organize communities within our district and ensure that there is a civic representation in every neighborhood. I want to build out a community website that will have all of my promises on it as well as what we’ve been doing in the office to get us closer to fulfilling those promises. That website will also have resources and access to different applications for people to get involved in the community.
How does your platform address the COVID-19 pandemic? If elected, what steps would you take to help get your district, which has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, vaccinated?
One thing I wanna fight for is making it easier for seniors to get the vaccination. It should be as easy as coming to the site—or pulling up the site online—setting up an appointment, and showing up with your ID that proves you’re a senior. That is going to be my focus.
I also want to see a large vaccination site in the district. We currently have two large testing sites. I’d like to see one of them get converted into a NYC Health +Hospitals vaccination site.
Queens County Politics called you a “Queens insider.” Why do you think your “insider” status gives you an advantage?
When it comes to job titles, I could be considered an insider. But I am far from an insider. And I don’t plan on ever being an insider.
I do think, though, my last job as a chief of staff for three years, managing the operations of Former Council Member Richards’ offices, gives me an advantage because now I know how to do the job. I know how to take that experience and apply it to make sure that our office is on the ground and being as impactful as possible from day one. It’s also given me an opportunity to get to know the ins and outs of the city, city agencies, as well as my own neighborhoods within the district.
But as far as an insider with the party and elected officials, I’m far from that. We have no institutional backing, and we’re not looking for it. I’m trying to build a people-powered movement.