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Pastor Seeks New Calling by Running for East Village City Council Seat

By Serena Solomon | March 11, 2013 7:45am

EAST VILLAGE — When Hurricane Sandy left the East Village dark for days, the Rev. Richard Del Rio  did what he's done for decades. He served.

Del Rio and his congregants from Abounding Grace Ministries pulled together a base inside Dry Dock Park on Avenue D, and began handing out water, food and blankets to residents in need — even teaching himself to drive a forklift to help provide supplies.

In crisis mode, and faced with what Del Rio labeled a lagged response from the City Council, he had a new calling — to run for a council seat.

The pastor is hoping to represent District 2, which covers eastern Manhattan from the Lower East Side to southern parts of Murray Hill. Del Rio hopes to topple Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, who has been the district's City Council representative since 2006.

He's running on a platform of delivering services to the area's most vulnerable with a focus on young people and housing.

"I'm a father in this community and I take that as such a great honor," said Del Rio, 60, who has spent 30 years working with gangs, single parent families, young people and seniors. 

"I think about this next generation. I am a family man and these are the values that I bring to the table."

Del Rio and his wife Arlene, a daughter of Norwegian immigrants, started Abounding Grace in 1992. It holds its Sunday service at P.S. 34 on East 12th Street and Avenue D for about 150 congregants. Their outreach ministry was captured in a 1997 the documentary "Pastor Harley."

After taking a backseat in his church leadership while he runs for office, Del Rio is now putting the finishing touches on his campaign office on Avenue C between East 6th and East 7th Street. 

"The politicians are total disconnected," said Del Rio, who has not yet begun raising funds for his campaign.

Del Rio's focus begins with affordable housing and eliminating the backlog of maintenance issues he said currently plagues NYCHA's public housing. 

He also has a plan to restore the abandoned Baruch Bath House to the north of the Williamsburg Bridge into a community and recreation center.

"I want to see programs in this community and I want to see housing," Del Rio said.

To foster opportunities for the area's young people, Del Rio wants to implement programs that leverage adult mentors while involving young people in leadership as well as activism, education, the arts and sporting activities.

"For the most part these children don't have programs," he said. "There is no arts, there is no music. These are things that have suffered because leadership has neglected them."

As a former construction contractor, Del Rio said he has a mind for not just the poor, but for the small business owners and entrepreneurs in District 2.

With his faith background, Del Rio also said work can be done in partnership with local organizations including houses of worship.

"They [local politicians] have dismissed the faith community, but we are the first responders, we know the community," he said. 

Growing up in Williamsburg with a mother who had multiple sclerosis, his parents switched his schooling to the New York Christian Academy at age 11 in an attempt to break his attachment to local gangs.

At 15, it was a crush on a high school teacher that led Del Rio to Christianity. Five years later that teacher, Arlene, became his wife.

About 17 years ago at the request of an East Village mother dying of HIV/AIDS, Del Rio and his wife cared for her daughters, eventually adopting one and adding her to their family of three biological sons.

"These stories are just who we are," said Del Rio.

"We just want to serve people with the agenda of getting things done."