By Lincoln Anderson
Giving Rosie Mendez a one-on-one challenge in the Sept. 15 Democratic primary election in City Council District 2 is Juan Pagan.
Pagan, 53, previously ran for state Assembly in 2006 in a three-way primary race against then-incumbent Sylvia Friedman and Brian Kavanagh. He ran on a father’s-rights platform. Though Pagan came in third, he claims the votes he took away from Friedman made the difference in Kavanagh’s victory.
Pagan is proud to call himself a “Nuyorican,” the child of Puerto Rican immigrants. He notes he was born in Bellevue Hospital, and grew up first on East Broadway and then on Third St. between Avenues C and D. He later moved to the Jacob Riis Houses on Avenue D, then to Campos Plaza, and — after a divorce — back again to the Riis Houses.
“All my life, I’ve lived in the heart of the neighborhood — of Loisaida,” he said, noting he’s witnessed the area’s gentrification first-hand.
He has a 16-year-old daughter who is developmentally disabled.
“But despite that, she has a heart of gold,” he said.
He currently works at CUNY’s Baruch College as assistant to the provost for faculty development. Prior to that, for five years, he worked for the New York City Housing Authority as director of the community centers at Campos Plaza and the Bernard Baruch Houses, mainly running children’s after-school programs. He also previously worked, for eight years, as a resource officer for the New York State Department of Correctional Services.
“The last prison I worked on was a maximum-security prison, Sing Sing. I worked the wall towers,” he recalled, saying he was sometimes manning the guns and trained to use deadly force, if necessary. “It was an interesting time. We had some gang warfare between the Bloods and the Latin Kings and the Nietas, who were trying to create peace.”
A graduate of the High School of Music and Art, Pagan plays the guitar, and when he was younger, spent a year playing with a rock band in Liverpool, England, which he said was the best time of his life.
As for the Council district, Pagan laid out several points on which he claimed he would do a better job than incumbent Mendez.
First, he said he would have fought harder to save two East Village children’s daycare centers that closed in recent years.
He said he would make restoring the old Baruch Bathhouse a priority so it can be returned to use as a community center.
“We have 1,800 kids in Baruch Houses,” he noted. “The bottom line is we do have the bathhouse there — it should be landmarked. It’s got a beautiful facade. It can be done and it’s been neglected for too, too long. Webster Hall’s been landmarked. The bank on Avenue B has been landmarked. Old P.S. 64 has been landmarked.”
(For her part, Mendez said it would cost about $30 million to renovate the old bathhouse, which would basically use up all of her City Council allocations for multiple years. She wouldn’t be able to pay for adding any computers in classrooms, doing park renovations or other needed improvements for the district, she said.)
Although it is outside of his district, Pagan said Delancey St. should be widened to relieve traffic congestion.
He said he supported the East Village/Lower East Side rezoning, but still is concerned about overdevelopment.
“Con Ed is right there,” he said of the utility’s hulking power plant at the east end of E. 14th St. “High-rises, they do create canyons. We need our sunlight. It’s about our environment.”
Pagan said he would focus on quality of life, noting the neighborhood “is not safe.” He recalled witnessing some scary incidents of youth violence two months ago.
“Two of them had hammers, one had a knife, right in front of 3 Haven Plaza — and this old lady running with her home attendant,” he recalled of the first incident. “Right after, there were police chasing a gang out of Stuy Town. They all had canes, they had bandannas,” he said of the youths.
Pagan said he would also support creating an East Village business improvement district that would cover the area from 14th St. to Houston St. and from Avenue A to Avenue D.
“It would bring in private sanitation, private security,” he said, adding a BID would help local mom-and-pop stores.
Returning to the subject of the Con Ed plant, Pagan added he’s concerned about toxicity from it, having recently seen men in white “space suits” doing tests on the street along Szold Place, 11th St. and Avenue D. The men told him they were monitoring toxicity coming up through the ground.
Pagan declared he is not taking any campaign contributions from bar owners — though he quickly added he’s not anti-bar.
“The bars bring life to the neighborhood,” he noted. “I’m sure we can come to some agreement between bar owners and the neighborhood. I sympathize with them,” he said of the bars. “I’m a musician, I’ve played at many of these places.”