2021 Elections: Who’s running in the 40th Council District

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The candidates running to represent the 40th Council District.
Photo by Ben Verde

The candidates vying to replace Mathieu Eugene, the longest-serving member of the City Council, face a laundry list of issues at the forefront of their would-be constituents’ minds.

A dozen candidates are currently filed with the city’s Campaign Finance Board to run for Eugene’s seat, and ultimately represent the 40th district which spans Flatbush, Kensington and Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. The next councilmember can expect to deal with the minutiae of neighborhood issues like sanitation, district-wide issues such as building affordable housing, and citywide issues like police reform, property tax reform, and pandemic recovery.

Here’s a rundown of eight of the leading candidates in the race for Council, in alphabetical order by last name:

Cecilia Cortez 

Money raised through contributions: $9,629

Cecilia Cortez.Courtesy of campaign

Cecilia Cortez, the vice president of the Ditmas Park West Association, said she is running to give back to the community she has called home for 27 years. 

The special needs educator and union chapter leader said she would focus her campaign on COVID-19 recovery, affordable housing, and education, saying she thinks the district needs to stop adding luxury housing units. Her past work in the community has included beautifying Newkirk Plaza, graffiti removal, and work with the Flatbush Network. 

“The opportunities I have had have given the experience necessary to do this job — I am connected to the community,” Cortez said. “I think it is important that people from the community be on the council.”

Kenya Handy-Hilliard

Money raised through contributions: $57,542

Kenya Handy-Hilliard.Courtesy of campaign

Longtime public servant Kenya Handy-Hilliard brings 14 years of experience in government to the race. Hilliard has served as a staffer for Rep. Yvette Clarke and the state Attorney General’s office, and as a director for the city’s Department of Investigation and in the the city comptroller’s Brooklyn office.

“My experience has taught me how to cut through bureaucracy, usher an issue through the legislative process, attach proper funding during the budgeting process, and support implementation at the agency level,” she said.

Now, Handy-Hilliard, a Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident, says she wants to bring her skills to elected office, focusing her campaign on Covid recovery, housing and tenants rights, and education.

“I believe my opponents and I share the same desire to serve our community,” she said. “However, as a career public servant, I am the only candidate with legislative, budgetary, and organizing experience across all levels of government.”

Harriet Hines 

Money raised through contributions: $2,978 

Harriet Hines.Courtesy of campaign

Democratic County Committee member Harriet Hines is focusing her campaign for council on disability rights and accessibility, an issue the candidate says is in dire need of attention in Flatbush. 

Hines, who is disabled herself following a struggle with diabetes and a fall that fractured most of the bones in her right foot and ankle, says she would advocate for better accessibility in the district — specifically by getting the Newkirk and Church Avenue B and Q stations put on a priority list to receive accessibility upgrades. Hines said she would also push to upgrade “curb cuts” to include the yellow truncated domes that allow blind pedestrians to way-find, and work on nitty-gritty issues as simple as potholes and sidewalk cracks that make getting around difficult for those with disabilities. 

“People with disabilities are actually the largest minority group, and the only minority group that anyone can join at any time,” Hines said. “We want to explore our sidewalks, shop in our stores, visit our children’s classrooms, and be civically involved.”

Rita Joseph

Money raised through contributions: $58,099

Rita Joseph.Courtesy of campaign

Community activist and educator Rita Joseph is campaigning with a laser-focus on the homelessness crisis affecting the city.

Joseph says she would support standing legislation like Councilmember Steven Levin’s bill to increase the value of housing vouchers, and Councilmember Mark Levine’s bill to double the income levels that are eligible for the Universal Access to Counsel program in order to ensure legal representation for those facing eviction proceedings. She has also proposed canceling rent for households with less than $75,000 in annual income and mandating temporarily reduced rents for households making more than $75,000 due to the pandemic. 

Joseph teaches at PS 6, has served as chairwoman of the Neighborhood Advisory Board, and has worked as a member of the Citywide Participatory Budgeting Committee. 

“I have a proven track record of making tangible contributions to the community,” Joseph said. “Whether it’s securing increased funding for our students at PS 6, organizing food, jacket, or book drives, or serving as the chair of the neighborhood advisory board, I have put in the work to fight for change even when some of our politicians have failed to do so.” 

Blake Morris 

Money raised through contributions: $13,905

Blake Morris (center).Courtesy of campaign

Ditmas Park attorney Blake Morris is running for the council after an unsuccessful bid for the state senate in 2018 in State Senate District 17.

Morris has proposed a moratorium on land use applications, yet also proposed the simultaneous upzoning of commercial streets and downzoning of residential streets in community board districts 12, 17, and 9. Morris has also proposed using city-owned land and city pension funds to build affordable housing, and rewriting the NYPD patrol guide to address abuses. 

“I can lead the district and NYC in digging out of the mess we are now in,” Morris said.

Vivia Morgan

Money raised through contributions: $3,964 

Vivia Morgan.Courtesy of campaign

Longtime president of Friends of Wingate Park and former congressional candidate Vivia Morgan is campaigning to address gun violence, education reform, eradicating homelessness, and green spaces, according to her campaign website. 

The former campaign manager for ousted Sen. Jesse Hamilton’s failed 2020 assembly bid did not respond to messages from Brooklyn Paper, but has publicly proposed expanding access to careers in tech for less privileged New Yorker’s through apprenticeship programs, building more low-income housing to address homelessness, and assigning a worker to act as an intermediary between seniors and their family members who wish to become their legal guardians in order to prevent elder abuse. 

Josue Pierre

Money raised through contributions: $46,391 

Josue PierreJosue Pierre 2021

Josue Pierre, the Male District Leader for the 42nd Assembly District and a staffer in Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, argues on his campaign website that his experience financing the development of affordable housing through city pension funds makes him uniquely qualified to address housing issues in Flatbush.

Pierre, a cousin and ally of Brooklyn Democratic Party Boss Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and a co-founding member of the Shirley Chisholm Democratic Club, said his track record as a district leader in the community made him the best candidate, and that his experience working in government has prepared him to be a voice for Flatbush.

Pierre has raised the second-most funds of the 11 candidates, and has racked up a number of prominent endorsements, including from the United Federation of Teachers, despite a UFT shop steward also running for the seat. 

“I am the best candidate because I have a proven track record of producing results for my neighborhood, have fought to improve the lives of Flatbush’s working families for years, and have the experience to get the resources we need from City Hall,” Pierre said. 

Edwin Raymond

Money raised through contributions: $90,910 

Edwin Raymond.Courtesy of campaign

Police whistleblower Edwin Raymond earned national attention five years ago when he first drew attention to the NYPD’s alleged arrest quotas that unfairly targeted Black and brown New Yorkers, leading to a class-action lawsuit against the department.  

The East Flatbush native, who lived outside the boundaries of the 40th district until February of this year, and did not respond to Brooklyn Paper’s requests for comment, outlines his priorities on his campaign website, which include police accountability and public safety, housing, transportation and infrastructure, and education. 

Raymond says he would fight to end the quota-based policing he blew the whistle on in the department, reduce the police budget and reinvest it in public housing, health care, and education.

Additional candidates

Also running to represent the district is Maxi Eugene, who is the brother of the incumbent and who has no campaign website or social media presence, John Williams, and Kenneth Lee. Another candidate, David Alexis, has raised just $23, according to CFB, and has no campaign website or publicly available contact information. Neither of the four could be reached to provide information for this roundup. Brian Cunningham, who was once listed to run for the seat, has since dropped out of the race.