Natasha Ishak

[email protected]

After years of community organizing and working in the state senate as chief of staff to New York Senator Julia Salazar, Bushwick resident and Williamsburg native Boris Santos will be taking the leap to run for public office himself. Santos will be challenging incumbent Assembly Member Erik Dilan for a seat in District 54, which covers parts of Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and East New York. 

The next election will likely be front-and-center for local voters following the recent uptick of millennial candidates running on socialist platforms. The race is also seen as another go-round between familiar foes; Assembly Member Dilan’s father, former senator Martin Malavé Dilan, was beaten out by Senator Salazar (Santos’ current employer) in the 2018 race for the senate seat representing North Brooklyn. 

Since Santos’ announcement of his campaign less than a month ago, the Brooklyn native has been vying for endorsements and support, particularly from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The New York branch of the political group has been credited as the driving force behind a slew of fresh faces giving the city’s political establishment a run for its money. 

Most notably, the DSA fueled the successful campaigns of U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Senator Julia Salazar, as well as the robust run of former Queens District Attorney candidate Tiffany Caban. 

Now, Santos hopes to become the next leftist candidate benefiting from the political group’s grassroots machine.

Born to a Salvadoran mother and Dominican father, Boris Santos and his brother grew up in a Section 8 housing complex in North Brooklyn. Santos mostly kept out of trouble in school until he reached Transit Tech High School. 

“I became less enthusiastic and was overall just disenchanted with the world,” Santos told Bushwick Daily over the phone. Young Santos began cutting class and smoking pot with classmates which eventually led to one of two arrests he was subjected to during high school. 

Santos speaking at TEDxBushwick, via Facebook.

After getting himself straight, Santos headed to college, eventually switching from electrical engineering to pursue political science at the American University in Washington, D.C. But even after graduating college, Santos’ disenchantment with the world continued. It grew more after a memorable stint as a public educator for Teach for America, teaching low-income students in Far Rockaway. 

“I saw through being in the trenches as a teacher, saw how the system operates, how the school to prison pipeline operates,” Santos said. “It was during that time that I really sort of became enraged toward the system.”

Santos, a Bushwick resident for the past three years, began getting involved more heavily in local politics. The 28-year-old’s first serious foray was as a community organizer for Council Member Antontio Reynoso’s office which saw him actively engaging with residents and leading Reynoso’s campaigns in Bushwick and Ridgewood. 

“I was very proud of the work he did in our office,” Councilman Reynoso said, citing Santos’ work to revitalize the business area around Broadway and Bushwick Avenues. “I’ve seen his drive, I know his politics. It’s nice to see young people from our community standing up and running for office so I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Santos, who cites Bernie Sanders as one of his personal heroes, also became a member of progressive groups such as the New Kings Democrat and New York’s DSA, before landing as chief of staff under freshman Senator Julia Salazar in January. 

Since her election, Salazar has focused on tackling New York’s rent regulations, a cause that saw a major win after a slew of tenant rights-focused legislation was signed into law by the governor in June. In his bid for a seat on the New York General Assembly, Santos hopes to continue pushing legislation on that front in addition to other Bernie-esque platforms, like universal healthcare and tackling climate change.

Salazaar and Santos at panel via Twitter.

Santos criticized Dilan’s absence from the list of lawmakers who co-sponsored the tenuous “good cause” eviction bill which was dropped from the compromise bill of New York’s recent rent reforms. He also said the assembly member and his political allies were likely busy “shoving money into his coffers,” an apparent dig at donations Dilan has received from the Rent Stabilization Association and other high-profile figures in New York real estate. But more importantly, Boris says, the representative has not been there for his constituents.

“Forget about the way he conducts politics or what his politics are, but he also is not present,” Santos said of the representative, adding that he believes Dilan is “out of step” with the politics of the community. 

Dilan is of Puerto Rican and African-American descent and, similar to Santos, is a product of North Brooklyn’s public school system. A Bushwick native himself, Dilan began his career in local politics as a member of the Community School Board 32, and was also a member of Bushwick’s Community Board 4. He served 12 years on the New York City Council before his election to the Assembly in 2014. 

Assembly Member Erik Dilan has filed and co-sponsored bills on a wide array of issues, from including seniors to be eligible for supportive housing to protection against unwarranted surveillance. 

Despite never holding an elected position before, and an intense clash with loft tenants was caught on video (Santos says the footage had been edited but admitted regret over his reaction at the time), he is confident in his chances against his incumbent opponent. 

Santos says he is not intimidated by Dilan’s wealth of connections in New York’s political arena, and hopes to follow in Salazar’s footsteps of creating an upset win by mobilizing voters.

“More important is that people don’t know you in the political world,” Santos said, “but that you know your community, and that you speak to your community, and that you bring their stories to the fold.”

Cover photo courtesy of Disctrict Committee for AD50.

For more news, sign up for Bushwick Daily’s newsletter.