Randy Abreu returned to the Bronx with a vision.
And then he got here.
“My background is in cyber law and clean energy, and I came back home thinking, ‘Man, you know what would really help the people in the Bronx is some universal internet access, and build some solar panels,’” he said. “And then it hit me real quick that solar panels aren’t going to pay the rent, Randy.”
The Bronx native had traveled the country for school and work — serving time as an energy department appointee in the Obama administration — and wanted to come back to his home to share some of the various ideas and innovations he had picked up along the way.
One of those ideas, he revealed at a meeting of the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club in April, was to use 3-D printing as a potential solution to homelessness.
But as exciting and futuristic as that was, when Abreu began walking his neighborhood, he realized just how far the Bronx had been left behind.
“How does the Bronx enter the 21st century?” Abreu asked. “Because we are not there. The digital divide is real, and we are on the wrong side of it.”
Several months later, Abreu is now embroiled in a heated and tight race for the 14th District council seat against incumbent Fernando Cabrera and another challenger, Felix Perdomo.
The race has been interesting however, Abreu said, representing a clear divide between an old guard in New York City politics, and a younger generation who wants to see something change.
“The clearest difference between Fernando and myself are who we side with,” Abreu said. “He is friendly with the real estate lobby. He’ll side with corporate America. I’ll side with the people.”
Those differences have played out to this point in the form of endorsements. Cabrera has the support of most incumbent politicians in the Bronx, like Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Andrew Cohen. But Abreu has been endorsed by other typically progressive groups like Planned Parenthood and the Working Families Party.
Yet Abreu’s biggest advantage thus far, he said, is the impressive amount of money he has raised over the course of his campaign. The political newcomer has raked in more than $55,000, not far behind Cabrera’s $81,000, according to campaign finance records.
It’s that earning and spending capacity that’s allowing Abreu to give the incumbent a good fight in the district.
But one criticism Abreu has struggled to fight off is his age. He’s just 28, and although he has had experience in Washington as an Obama appointee, he still sometimes encounters people saying, “Oh, that’s the kid who is running against Cabrera.”
“We have a lot of people who just immediately dismiss me as some kid,” Abreu said. “Yeah, I am 28, but I have the job experience, I have the education, and I have the life experience. And it just so happens that there is an election right now.”
In terms of actually helping to pull the 14th District — which includes parts of Kingsbridge — into the digital age, Abreu said that fight starts with keeping people in their homes, and standing up to big businesses and real estate developers to keep housing and rents equitable.
“It’s great that we get backpacks to go to school,” he said, referring to current capital funding projects. “But shouldn’t we be focusing on making sure that mothers and fathers can afford to buy their children backpacks?”