Hailing from the “Los Sures” section of Williamsburg, Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna is the first Dominican American woman elected to public office in New York State.
Her upbringing in the what was a then-gritty, outlier neighborhood of New York City– populated at the time mostly by immigrant families, the working-class and the poor— played a huge role in guiding her policy decisions while serving as New York City Councilwoman for Brooklyn’s 34th District, from 2001 to 2013.
Her focus while in the Council was on tenant advocacy, small business development, literacy and youth development.
But she says, the bill she is most proud of is one she sponsored in 2007, which amended NYC’s administrative code by increasing fines for illegal conversions of buildings from industrial to residential use.
“When you think about the industrial parks, people think about the 50s, 60s, 70s, where you have these huge textile factories,” she said, referencing a time during her childhood when her own mother, who immigrated to Brooklyn from the Dominican Republic, worked as a seamstress in the textile factories.
Reyna said she often sat at her mother’s side while she was at work, helping her manage her per-piece sewing, where every second counted: 3 cents per piece. She watched as, one-by-one, factories closed to make way for housing. And she experienced the direct impact these closings had on the labor force, their families and the community.
“When you slow down the industry portion, there’s less employment opportunities for skilled and unskilled workers,” she said. “But now, instead of textile, it’s technology and innovation we’re looking at.
“I’ve not made some people happy with this. But I’m not in the business of making people feel good. I was elected to protect what is the viability of our city and having the foresight to prevent things.
“We cannot plan for only one sector; we have to plan for everyone, so that they can provide for their families and communities.”
Reyna’s passion for family and small business development continues into her new role as deputy borough president.
Reyna says, she and Eric Adams, a former NY State senator and the current Brooklyn Borough President, hope to change the traditional hands-off approach to policymaking in the post of borough president.
“I don’t see why not,” Reyna said. “There’s nothing stopping us from asking our colleagues in government in the city council to sponsor legislation where we would be referenced.
“This is a privilege: To be able to bring together our experience between state and city; we have the power to set a tone and a culture.
“We have an agenda for one Brooklyn.”