Samy Nemir Olivares’ Assembly challenge to incumbent Erik Dilan

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Samy Nemir Olivares would be the first genderqueer member of the State Legislature.
Emilio Herce

Samy Nemir Olivares, who was born in Puerto Rico and came to New York in 2014, is aiming to serve as the State Legislature’s first genderqueer member. With a background of service on his local community board and as the Democratic district leader in Bushwick’s Assembly District 53, he is challenging four-term incumbent Erik Martin Dilan in neighboring District 54.

Nemir Olivares explained that when elected district leader he lived about a block within the 53rd AD, but has since been redistricted into the 54th AD. The two Assembly districts, he said, represent essentially the same community demographically.

Asked to distinguish himself from Dilan, he mentioned the incumbent’s “absence” in the community. During the height of the COVID crisis, Nemir Olivares co-founded Bushwick Ayuda Mutua, which he said delivered food to 20,000 residents of the neighborhood, and he also helped organize two vaccination campaigns there. Dilan, he charged, was nowhere to be seen during that time.

Nemir Olivares also said he is the only candidate who does not accept contributions from the real estate industry, which he holds responsible for the neighborhood’s lack of affordable housing and its gentrification. An analysis by found that of more than $155,000 raised by Dilan (not his complete haul for this cycle), roughly $22,000 came from the real estate, finance, and insurance sector, with another $8,750 from lobbyists and lawyers. The largest sector donating to Dilan, however, was labor unions, who ponied up nearly $42,000. More than $60,000 in donations were not associated with any industry sector.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, as of May 27, Dilan had almost $198,000 in his campaign coffers, compared to just under $69,000 in Nemir Olivares’. The Democratic primary for Assembly is on June 28 and voting kicks off June 18.

Beyond the distinctions mentioned by Nemir Olivares, his primary challenge is also part of the ongoing combat between progressive forces in Brooklyn and the established party organization. He is endorsed by groups including Equality New York PAC, the Working Families Party, Tenants PAC, Brooklyn Young Democrats, and three LGBTQ clubs — Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, and Stonewall Democratic Club.

Samy Nemir Olivares is backed by multiple LGBTQ political clubs in the race for Assembly District 54.Luis Carle

He also has the support of Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and State Senators Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport. Salazar came to office in the 2018 election, when she beat incumbent Martin Malave Dilan, Erik Dilan’s father, who, though not formally a member of the Republican-friendly Independent Democratic Conference, benefited from its fundraising. Most IDC-affiliated Democrats were defeated in primaries that year.

Like Salazar and Brisport, Nemir Olivares describes himself as a democratic socialist, which, for him, means the government assuming a central role in meeting basic human needs such as housing, food, and healthcare. The New York Health Act, a single-payer universal healthcare approach sponsored in Albany by Manhattan Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera, is, in Nemir Olivares’ view, a “fundamental example” of democratic socialism. When the corporate profit motive determines access to such basic needs, he argued, communities such as Bushwick suffer.

Housing access and affordability are a major theme of Nemir Olivares’ campaign, which is why he emphasizes his refusal to accept real estate money. He supports Good Cause Eviction legislation that would prevent the arbitrary denial of a new lease to New Yorkers not otherwise protected by living in rent-stabilized apartments. That measure, he estimated, would protect 1.2 million tenants in the city.

Nemir Olivares agrees with many other progressives that the 421-a program that grants developers tax exemptions for incorporating affordable housing into new residential builds has failed — and, in fact, exacerbates the city’s housing problems. He also supports fully funding NYCHA, expanding existing housing voucher programs to move people from shelters into permanent housing, transforming vacant hotels into rental housing, and using government money to build limited co-op residences along the lines of the earlier Mitchell-Lama model.

Housing and healthcare reform are critical to the well-being of LGBTQ New Yorkers, from Nemir Olivares’ perspective. He voiced support for a $15 million Transgender Equity Fund to provide job training and placement for trans and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers ($1 million has been secured for that fund so far). He also emphasized the need for an LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum and gender-affirming initiatives in the classroom.

“I was bullied in school for being perceived as gay, and I am traumatized to this day,” Nemir Olivares said, in highlighting the advances needed throughout the state’s school systems.

A supporter of full sex work decriminalization, he said the 2021 repeal of a state loitering law commonly termed “Walking While Trans” — since it often targeted transgender women on the belief they were sex workers — gives him hope that public opinion and legislative sentiment are now supportive enough to allow New York to become “a pioneer” in ending criminal penalties on the consensual adult sex trade.

Noting that the Legislature has no immigrant rights caucus, Nemir Olivares said that the Assembly and Senate are “complicit” in the “xenophobic” exclusion of undocumented residents from many government safety net programs, including unemployment, child care, and healthcare benefits.

The 54th Assembly District has a large immigrant population — including Dominicans, Mexicans, Ecuadorians, and Bangladeshis —and he argues that many of them were undercounted in the 2020 Census.

In identifying as genderqueer, Nemir Olivares said his gender expression does not align with the norms defined by American society. His gender fluidity, he explained, is informed by having been raised in an all-female home within Puerto Rican culture — and he said his self-identification also has a political meaning. He is the son of a Puerto Rican mother and a Dominican father, and until the age of 15 only interacted at home with women, including his mother, his two grandmothers — both survivors of domestic abuse — and his sister.

“I came from a long line of powerful women,” he said, “who influenced my feminist perspective. As a youth in Puerto Rico, I struggled with machismo, male-dominated politics, and discrimination.”

Also identifying, from youth, as a Nuyorican, Nemir Olivares came to New York with only $200 to earn a master’s degree in International Affairs in Human Rights at the New School. Until taking a leave to launch his campaign, he worked as a communications manager at Lambda Legal.