At the desk of: Rafael Salamanca

The Bronx City Council member on nosebleed seats at Yankee Stadium, his Bronx afghan and helming the all-powerful Land Use Committee
By Eddie Small | May 01, 2019 01:00PM

Rafael Salamanca (Photos by Emily Assiran)

City Council member Rafael Salamanca chairs the body’s powerful Land Use Committee — a key stop for New York City developers as they look to win approval for projects across the five boroughs.

Salamanca — who grew up in the Bronx and lives in the borough’s Longwood neighborhood with his wife and two sons — started his career as an executive assistant at the nonprofit Urban Health Plan.

He made his foray into politics via Bronx’s Community Board 2, where he served as district manager for nearly six years before winning his council seat in a 2016 special election.

His district, which covers such South Bronx neighborhoods as Hunts Point, Longwood and Morrisania, has seen a big increase in real estate activity in the past few years. Major projects there include Bronx Commons, a mixed-used complex being developed by BFC Partners and WHEDco, and the Peninsula.

Since replacing David Greenfield as Land Use chair in 2017, Salamanca has helped oversee several major rezonings, including those for the Garment District, Inwood in Upper Manhattan and Jerome Avenue in the Bronx.

Salamanca said that creating affordable housing is a top priority. “To me, any project that creates or preserves 100 percent, long-term affordable housing for my constituents is a big deal,” he said, adding that he’s greenlit 6,600-plus units of 100 percent affordable housing since joining the council.

His Longwood storefront office is sprinkled with Bronx paraphernalia, including a placard that reads “Transforming the South Bronx,” which he got from an event Gov. Andrew Cuomo held.

“The governor had this, so I wanted it. I told the staff, and the staff said, ‘No, no, no, no, we don’t do that,’” Salamanca said, “so I told the Borough President [Ruben Diaz Jr.], and he got up, and he just yanked it, and he got a big paper cut.”

Basketball hoop

Salamanca has had a basketball net in his office since his days at CB2. But when he moved into his district office, he upgraded to an official NBA-branded miniature hoop. He said taking shots is not only relaxing, but it also helps him generate ideas. “I’m thinking — just shooting, thinking, shooting,” he said. “And believe it or not, something pops up, and boom, I’m ready to go.”

Mother’s funeral program

Salamanca initially worked out of his predecessor’s district office at 149th Street and Third Avenue. But he eventually found his existing space at 1070 Southern Boulevard — the same building his mother worked at in the 1980s and he worked at in the 1990s, both for Urban Health Plan. His mother died of brain cancer in 2012, and he has taken her funeral program with him to every office he’s worked at since.

Bronx afghan

Salamanca got this afghan from the Bronx County Historical Society. It features 12 of the borough’s most famous sites, including the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden. Salamanca noted that none of the sites are actually in his district, but he has fond memories of almost all of them, particularly Yankee Stadium. “I remember sitting in the nosebleed sections,” he said. “I still sit in those sections because it’s so expensive to get tickets.”

The Peninsula mallet

This symbolic mallet is from the Peninsula, which will include 740 units of affordable housing and 50,000 square feet of light industrial space. The Hunts Point project is replacing the former Spofford Juvenile Detention Center, which closed in 2011 after years of protests and reports of violence. The project is being developed by Gilbane Development Company, Hudson Companies and Mutual Housing Association of New York.

Shovel bat & Mo VaughN

This shovel is from the groundbreaking of the Morris II Apartments in Melrose, developed by Omni New York. (Former Major League Baseball All-Star Mo Vaughn is a managing director at Omni, hence the baseball-bat handle.) At the ceremony, Salamanca needled Vaughn for playing for the Yankees’ rivals — the Red Sox and Mets. “He’s retired now, and he’s doing the right thing. He’s building affordable housing,” Salamanca said, “so I had to give him some props for that.”