SOUTH BRONX — Army veteran John Perez has joined the crowded ranks of people looking to fill Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo's former seat on the City Council, saying that his military experience will help set him apart from the other candidates.
"I am battle tested and battle approved," Perez said. " ... I have led troops into a firefight. I have led troops through so many catastrophic conditions, and they follow me."
Perez was in the Army for close to two decades and was just released from active duty in May following service that included two tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan, he said.
He now hopes to shift from the military to politics and plans to focus on issues like education, housing and pollution if elected to the City Council, noting that a good education could help solve other economic problems in the South Bronx.
"A lot of the issues that we’re having as far as jobs, most of them are self-inflicted," he said, "because if you get the proper education, you’re marketable. If you don’t get the proper education, you’re not marketable."
Increasing the amount of mentors in schools would be helpful, as would having counselors available to help students after school and making sure that students are held to high standards, according to Perez.
"You have to raise the standard," he said. "You can’t lower the standard because we’re just creating dumber and dumber kids."
Perez joins an extremely crowded field of candidates running for the 17th District City Council seat, which covers neighborhoods including Longwood, Hunts Point and Melrose.
The seat opened up after Arroyo made a surprise announcement in November that she would step down at the end of 2015 due to family reasons.
Other candidates include South Bronx businessman George Alvarez, Bronx Community Board 2 District Manager Rafael Salamanca, Arroyo’s chief of staff Joann Otero, activist and businessman Julio Pabón, Rep. Jose Serrano staffer Amanda Septimo, preacher and businessman Rev. J. Loren Russell, Human Resources Administration Director of Business Development Anthony Sanchez, union leader Helen Foreman-Hines and Bronx Volunteer Coalition founding member Marlon Molina.
The special election to replace Arroyo has been set for Feb. 23.
Perez stressed that his time in the Army enabled him to adapt to any environment and that the leadership skills he learned there distinguished him from the many other candidates trying to nab Arroyo's old seat.
"Who have you led?" he asked. "You have worked for somebody, but who have you led?"