Last week, NYCHA resident Claudia Perez appeared in a video at the Republican National Convention hailing President Donald Trump’s response to dire conditions in public housing.
Now, the spot has cost her the presidency of her local political club — just part of the fallout from the two-minute clip that has roiled her family and fractured a close friendship with a City Council hopeful.
“I was betrayed on so many levels,” she told THE CITY Tuesday, her voice breaking over the phone.
Perez resigned as president of the East Harlem Democratic Club over the weekend, she said, stepping down at the request of the club’s executive board.
Eddie Gibbs, a district leader in East Harlem who chartered the club about 18 months ago, said he was on the phone with Perez when the video aired during the RNC on Aug. 27.
In it, Perez — who also serves as tenant association president at NYCHA’s Washington Houses — looks at the camera and says Trump administration officials have “opened their ear and have listened” to the concerns of public housing tenants.
“We’re very appreciative of this administration that has come and finally shined a light on what’s going on and bringing real solutions to a real problem,” she says in the short video.
As the clip played on television, calls poured into Gibbs’ phone as he spoke with Perez about unrelated club business.
“I put her on hold,” he said. “I have the state senator and the councilwoman calling me, the county chair. Everybody’s like, ‘Yo, what’s going on over there?’”
He quickly convened a Zoom meeting with the club’s executive board. Within a day, they decided to ask Perez to resign, which she did.
‘A Bad Mistake’
Gibbs said it was a necessary step to reflect that “our democratic values are totally different than what she said.” At the same time, he emphasized that she had been an “awesome president” and passionate advocate for her neighborhood.
“She’s a wonderful worker. She loves her community. She just made a bad mistake,” he said. “I know she feels horrible.”
Perez has been replaced as club president by Bridgette Scott, Gibbs said. Soon, the full board of about 140 members will decide whether to allow Perez to remain as a club member.
For her part, Perez stands by what was reported Friday in The New York Times — that she did not know the tape would be used for the RNC at the time she filmed it. Only after the interview, when “we were walking out that door,” did that become clear, she said.
She lays blame with HUD Regional Director Lynne Patton, who set up the taping. Perez also faulted her close friend Carmen Quiñones, a tenant association president at Douglass Houses on the Upper West Side, who asked her to participate and who also appeared in the RNC video.
“Carmen and Lynne Patton knew what they were doing,” Perez said.
“I felt I was thrown under the bus not only by a friend, but by the club,” she added.
‘Like My Daughter’
In a statement to THE CITY, Patton said the four participants in the video had confirmed to media outlets “that they were fully aware this video would be played at the RNC and that I did not ‘trick’ them.” She also said that she has “fought on behalf of the residents of NYCHA and would never deceive them.”
“This video was never intended to imply the residents support President Trump,” she said. “The RNC video genre simply highlights undeniable administration accomplishments, which the residents did.”
Quiñones, who is running for City Council in 2021, said she thinks of Perez “like my daughter.” The two had collaborated for years, both said.
Perez is listed as treasurer for Quiñones’ Council run, launched in late July, according to campaign records. Quiñones said she never intended to hurt Perez, or the two other public housing residents who appeared in the video.
“I am sorry I asked them. I really am sorry,” Quiñones said, her voice strained. “For real.”
She conceded she learned the video would be used for the RNC the day of the taping, but saw it as a way to shine a light on serious problems within the beleaguered public housing system.
‘How Did This Happen?’
It wasn’t her first interaction with the Trump administration: In 2019, Patton stayed overnight in Quiñones’ apartment as part of a publicity tour, after which the NYCHA tenant leader traveled to the White House to meet the president.
“You can’t play politics with people’s lives. We’re living here with gunfire. We’re living here with sh-t,” Quiñones said.
“Our loyalty belongs to the residents! Not to any party. This is not about party,” she added. “It’s about human life that nobody’s addressing — not the Republicans, not the Democrats. Where are they? Where they been?”
‘You can’t play politics with people’s lives.’
Perez, meanwhile, is clear on whom she supports politically.
“I’ve voted Democrat since the age of 18 years old. In any election, I’ve always voted Democrat. It should be [Joe] Biden and Kamala [Harris],” she said of the Democratic presidential ticket.
But since the RNC video came out, she’s had to face doubts and questions from colleagues, friends — and even her own family.
“Even in having to explain the situation to my own kids — I’m a mother of four — you know, my daughter seeing it and she’s like, ‘Mommy, this is not you.’ She’s like, ‘How did this happen?’”