Young Alumna Shares Her Path to a New York City Council Seat

February 4, 2022

Just weeks after being sworn in as the New York City Councilmember for the 18th District in Bronx, NY, Amanda C. Farías ’11C, ’12G returned to the place where her passion for politics was first ignited, the Queens Campus of St. John’s University. For the 32-year-old Democrat, her election as a young woman of color is an especially poignant victory and an inspiration and career roadmap for aspiring, young, engaged students.

“I am part of the largest body of women in New York City history who currently sit as members of the City Council,” she said. “There are 31 women out of 51 council members throughout the five boroughs. We are the majority female council.”

Ms. Farías returned to campus to speak to students about her career in local politics. She delivered her talk, “From St. John Hall to City Hall,” on Thursday, January 27, before a rapt group of Government and Politics majors, many of whom are weighing their own potential careers in politics. She also majored in the field as an undergraduate and graduate student.

“It is important for the students to hear directly from Amanda about what her hurdles and successes were when she aimed to win a seat on the New York City Council as a candidate who is a woman of color,” said Fred P. Cocozzelli, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair of the Government and Politics Department in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Cocozzelli organized the speaking engagement. Nawsin Kamal, a sophomore who majors in Government and Politics, introduced the Councilmember and led the students in questioning Ms. Farías about her experiences in public service.

“Councilmember Farias is a wonderful inspiration to all of us who wish to improve our communities by getting involved in politics,” said Nawsin.

“As a former Johnnie herself, she was able to connect with the students and converse with them in an easily comprehensible and relevant way. It is also vital for female students pursuing a political profession to hear from empowering female role models like her.” 

Ms. Farías, who is a second-generation Afro-Latina of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, minced no words when describing the determination she needed to win, especially during her first unsuccessful bid in 2017 for the 18th District council seat. At that time, she was 26, the youngest candidate and the only woman in the five-way race. She was also up against a longtime incumbent with strong connections to the political party machine.

“Running for elective office is difficult, intimidating, and scary,” she told her audience. “You really put yourself out there, and you must do many uncomfortable things like reaching out to people you don’t know and who never heard of you.”

It was her passion for community service on behalf of her neighbors, and her own deep roots as a lifelong resident of the 18th District’s Soundview neighborhood, which convinced her to run the first time.

“Ultimately, I asked myself who else in my community is the best fit for this council seat and also possesses the deep, intentional commitment to improving the lives of my neighbors?” she recalled.

A major challenge was running as the sole female candidate. “As the only woman in that contest, what I wore, what I said, and how much money I raised were viewed and critiqued much differently than my male counterparts,” Ms. Farías recalled. “So, things were definitely more difficult running as a woman and as a woman of color. But it put the fire under my feet to keep going and to work harder and smarter than my opposition.”

Her 2017 loss was difficult, even though she came in as the runner-up in the Democratic primary for District 18. But she set her sights on the next election as she continued to build on her experience in public service.

That work included her victory in 2018 over a 21-year incumbent to be elected as State Committeewoman for the 87th Assembly District, covering the Bronx neighborhoods of Castle Hill, Parkchester, Van Nest, and West Farms. She also worked for a series of activist and nonprofit organizations, including the Consortium for Worker Education, New American Leaders, Riders Alliance, and Women of Color for Progress (which she founded along with eight other women of color).

When the incumbent chose not to seek reelection, Ms. Farias—running for an open seat in the 18th District— emerged as the front-runner, topping the eight-candidate field on election night.

Ms. Farías said she never considered a career in politics until she enrolled at St. John’s University. “St. John’s is where I learned to be the loudest. I was super engaged here as an orientation leader; I was part of the student political science organizations; I was in the Study Abroad program at the University’s Paris, France, location; and I was a member of a sorority,” she said. “I had great professors and administrators who helped me develop my leadership skills.

“I also said yes to any opportunities that came my way as a St. John’s student—and I had many,” Ms. Farías said. “My professors and mentors prepared me to know when to ask questions—even if you think you shouldn’t ask those questions—and to actively seek what opportunities are out there and then go after them.”