By Sabina Mollot
When Maria Castro, a political consultant who’d also served as a delegate for Bernie Sanders during the Democratic National Convention, decided to join the City Council race for District 4, it was shortly after ending up in the hospital.
Castro, a midtown resident on the west side of the district, said she was “holed up” following a fall down a malfunctioning escalator at the subway station near City Hall on January 4. During this time, with little else to do, she found herself watching the news surrounding President Donald Trump’s inauguration — and getting very upset.
“I was watching the rhetoric of the Trump administration, how he was affecting women, minorities, the working class,” said Castro.
She had a couple of friends over at the time, one of whom mentioned the seat for her City Council district was open. Castro didn’t need to think twice about what she would do about this, and got on the ballot on January 26.
She’s been an independently employed political consultant since 2008, and before that had done marketing and branding work for construction management, engineering and architectural firms. It was when the economic crisis caused a slowdown in real estate that she moved into political work at the suggestion of Elizabeth Crowley, then a candidate for a Queens-based City Council seat. Castro ended up working for that campaign, with Crowley getting elected that year. Castro’s also since lobbied in support of various unions.
For her own campaign, she has only recently started responding to requests for media interviews with a couple of exceptions earlier in the race. Town & Village had actually reached out to the candidate half a dozen times since February. Reached in April, she declined to do an interview, saying because of her work, she’d be busy throughout the financial season. Then, later that month, her 47-year-old nephew died of brain cancer, leaving her family with a lot of planning to make sure his two children would be taken care of. Her walking inability due to her accident, which left her with nerve damage on her legs, also didn’t help. At a debate co-hosted by Town & Village at Waterside Plaza in June, Castro was there, walking with the aid of a cane, which she said she is now close to getting rid of.
She’s gotten some fundraising done, however, saying the current amount is in the $24-25,000 range.
Asked what her first priority would be if elected, Castro said it would be to deal with the related issues of homelessness and affordable housing, in part by dealing with unscrupulous landlords who play games with stabilized units.
On homelessness, she said, “There needs to be more funding, and not for paying for hotel rooms for families that could be housed in affordable units.”
Asked about schools, Castro said she is staunchly anti-charter.
“I think they’re nothing but private schools. They’re nonprofits but their administrators make a lot of money. My thought is you’re not a nonprofit if you make millions of dollars. I believe that these private schools are encroaching into our public schools and our schools are depleted.”
According to her website, she is in favor of increasing funding at public schools, beginning with the ones in the district.
What she does want to see more of are senior centers, noting the district has a couple of them nearby but not within district lines and more ADA-compliant subway stations.
“Less than 30 percent are ADA compliant and this affects seniors and the disabled,” said Castro. “I’m not disabled but I’d rather not go down the stairs in the subway. The mother with the baby carriage is also disenfranchised.”
Another goal is to get more tenants enrolled in the SCRIE and DRIE rent freeze programs for seniors and the disabled, respectively.
“The enrollment is dismal,” said Castro. “Everyone who’s been elected to office, I don’t know what they’ve been doing all this time.”
She has also been an advocate in an informal way, saying she spearheaded a program in 1997 to help undocumented immigrants get accounts at Citibank. This was after seeing immigrants often fall victim to high fees for cashing their checks at travel agencies as well as scams run by people who’d keep the money. Similar programs now being offered at numerous other banks, the program ran under the “Legal and Economic Advisory Forums by Maria Castro & Associates,” though Castro said she wasn’t paid for this service.
“It was an altruistic initiative to help a community in need,” she said.
She’s also helped several people she knows stave off wrongful evictions by looking into their options and advocating for them in court. “And I’m not a lawyer,” she said. Wrongful evictions, she added, were actually her motivation to run for a position as a judicial delegate, which she won in the 75th Assembly District. This is in addition to her position as a delegate in Congressional District 12.
“It’s a horrendous court system we have. It forces you into a settlement or leave,” said Castro.
Castro has lived on the West Side for the past 10 years, and prior to that raised her now grown children on the Upper East Side. Before that she lived in Elmhurst, Queens, after immigrating to New York from Ecuador.
This, she said, has helped her become a unique candidate in this race.
“I’m the only immigrant, the only grandmother,” she said. “So much sets me apart.” She is also the only non-white candidate. Her children and grandchildren, added, don’t live nearby, which would give her more time to focus on the work of the district.
“My children were priced out of Manhattan,” said Castro. “So I have a lot of time.”