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2021 Elections: Who’s running for City Council in the 39th District

The candidates running for the 39th Council District.
Courtesy of the campaigns

The 39th Council District covers the neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Street Waterfront District, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, and Kensington. Incumbent Brad Lander was elected to represent the district in 2009 and is now running for the citywide office of Comptroller. 

The district also has the distinction of once being represented by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who occupied the office prior to Lander from 2002-2009, before becoming the city’s Public Advocate. 

Since Lander took office, there have been several local battles around development and environmental cleanups, most notably in Gowanus, where the Environmental Protection Agency finally launched its decade-long federal Superfund Cleanup of the noxious canal in November after 10 years of planning.

The city has also been eager to transform Gowanus from a low-lying former industrial nabe into a residential hub via the contested neighborhood-wide rezoning, which officials are eager to get through its lengthy public review before Lander and de Blasio leave office at the end of the year.

Another big development in the district is the controversial luxury mega-project at the former Long Island College Hospital campus in Cobble Hill, which the pol opposed at the time but is now under construction

According to the latest Campaign Finance Board filings, nine people are registered to run for the seat. Five candidates completed Brooklyn Paper’s questionnaire, three have since dropped out of the race, and one candidate, Justin Krebs, did not respond to a contact request.

Update (Feb. 16, 12:30 pm): This roundup has been updated to include response from candidate Justin Krebs.

Here are the candidates who responded, ordered alphabetically by their last names:

Shahana Hanif

City Council candidate Shahana Hanif.Zainab Iqbal

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Shahana Hanif: I am running because Kensington is home. It’s where my father arrived as a ship jumper 30 years ago from Bangladesh, settling in the largest working-class Bangladeshi enclave in Brooklyn. Kensington is where my sisters and I attended PS 230 — I couldn’t imagine running for office anywhere else.

Our community has long been ignored and underserved by city government. I’m running to transform values into action and create a feminist government that fights for the change all our communities need. 

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

SH: I am a Lupus survivor, and since my diagnosis at 17, I have not rested to create a city that radically prioritizes physical and mental healthcare for all. Lupus nearly killed me.

My desire to run for office stems from surviving an incurable illness while going through a nebulous system of healthcare and prescriptions. I am fighting for a city that prioritizes people over profits.

After Trump’s election, I took my organizing work to City Council by joining Councilmember Brad Lander’s office. I provided constituent services to families through the district – mobilizing neighbors against ICE, expanding Participatory Budgeting, and funding an elevator at the Seventh Avenue F/G stations.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

SH: Our city is lagging behind in providing truly affordable housing, particularly to survivors of gender-based and intimate partner violence. There are no NYCHA developments in our district, so I will increase funding towards NYCHA and social housing while ensuring that existing infrastructure is improved and climate-resilient.

Segregation and budget cuts in our public schools have only worsened during the pandemic, and planning fails to center multilingual families. I will work with schools to provide better language accessible outreach and empower immigrant families to lead critical decision-making processes.

New Yorkers are relying on open spaces more than ever before. I will fund and partner with local organizations to create public spaces through open street public programming.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

SH: I would build on community engagement, prioritizing limited-English-proficient community members, and establishing pop-up rotating mobile offices across the district. 

All communications will be translated into Bangla, Spanish, Arabic, and Yiddish, and outreach strategies will include ethnic media. I will also advocate for more comprehensive relief for undocumented residents. 

BP: What’s your political experience?

SH: I helped form The Kensington Stewards, transforming an empty lot into the vibrant Avenue C Plaza. I provided direct services for constituents as the Director of Organizing and Community Engagement for Councilmember Lander.

As an interfaith organizer, I work to respond to hate crimes and bias incidents without bringing more police and surveillance apparatuses into our communities.

I am the co-founder of Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress, Muslim Writer’s Collective, Bangladeshi Feminist Collective, and serve on the board of the Asian Pacific American Legislative Task Force in the New York State Assembly.

BP: Any official endorsements?

SH: New York Communities for Change, New York Immigration Coalition, Churches United for Fair Housing, Muslim Democratic Club of New York, Run for Something, Women of Color for Progress, 21 in ‘21, TREEage, and State Senator Jessica Ramos. 

Mamnun Haq

City Council candidate Mamnun Haq.Adam Stoltman

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Mamnun Haq: Everyday New Yorkers deserve to be represented by everyday New Yorkers. As a cab driver, labor organizer, public health advocate, immigrant, and working class New Yorker, I know first-hand the difficulties that families like mine face everyday.

I’ve spent over 20 years championing equitable healthcare, workers’ rights and protections, and support for immigrant communities.

Within District 39, I’ve increased language accessibility for the Bangladeshi community, pushed for public spaces like the Avenue C Plaza, participated in all facets of Participatory Budgeting, and cultivated interfaith relationships.

I’m excited to take my grassroots experience and institutional knowledge to City Hall and continue advocating for all New Yorkers. 

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

MH: I’m currently a community health worker and program associate at NYU’s School of Medicine, where I help Bangladeshi and South Asian New Yorkers navigate chronic health issues and our complicated healthcare system.

After immigrating from Bangladesh in 1991, I eventually settled in Kensington and have been living here with my wife and three kids for almost 26 years. We love how vibrant Kensington is, it’s truly our district’s melting pot. 

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

MH: Housing and gentrification are two challenges that our district is facing. We need to prioritize and invest in affordable housing – that includes building high quality affordable housing, adjusting area median incomes, and providing rent relief.

We need to support immigrant and Black and brown neighbors who are disproportionately affected by gentrification by ensuring they’re able to stay.

I’d like to provide grants to invest in and maintain small businesses, stabilize commercial rent, and increase language access and resources, particularly in Kensington and Borough Park.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

MH: While I’ve personally worked with Brad Lander and his office to increase accessibility for the Bangladeshi community, I’d like to go a step further and connect with other immigrant communities in our district as well.

I will also make it a priority to create more affordable housing within the district and increase transparency in the process.

BP: What’s your political experience?

MH: I am a co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the largest taxi union in the country. My time with the union involved co-organizing two of the largest taxi strikes in the city, lobbying and testifying for better working conditions and fare increases, and advocating for the 2014 Taxi Drivers Protection Act after I was stabbed by a passenger.

I also shepherded and helped start Participatory Budgeting in District 39 and engaged in all parts of the process ensuring that immigrant neighbors could take part in idea development and voting.

I’ve worked closely with elected officials in City Hall and beyond to connect with the Kensington community and rallied for safer streets. I’ve also served on Community Board 12 since 2011 where I’ve overseen land use and rezonings, and city budget processes.

Justin Krebs

Justin KrebsCourtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Justin Krebs: I’m running for City Council because I’ve been a progressive movement-builder and organizer for 20 years, and now that [former President Donald] Trump is gone, I want to focus my attention on our community and city. I want to help small businesses thrive, cultivate joy in our schools, celebrate our public spaces, help our arts, culture, entertainment and nightlife survive this pandemic. We need to be national leaders in policies that make a more just and sustainable society — while contributing to a bold, essential and equitable recovery.

Building and sustaining organizations and movements would be part of what I’d bring to City Council. This is work I can do, want to do, and love doing — bringing New Yorkers together with hope and optimism.

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

JK: For the past six years, I’ve led the National Campaigns at MoveOn where our team defeated Trump’s agenda and mobilized millions of members to save Obamacare, fight against family separation, power the 2018 Blue Wave, and show up in solidarity against white supremacy. Prior to that, I was one of the founders of the Tank, an 18-year-old non-profit theater whose mission is to remove economic barriers for artists and art-lovers alike.

And for the past eight months, I’ve helped establish the Camp Friendship Food Pantry right here in Park Slope, where we serve hundreds of families each week. This is my home where my wife — a certified nurse midwife and small business owner — and I are living, working and raising our three kids.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

JK: We are facing the same challenges we have been facing for years, compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. As a parent, I know the importance of truly prioritizing high-quality education. We need to mobilize our communities to a vision that centers on true participation and equity in our schools. I see the challenges to our thriving neighborhoods — how to support small businesses, culture, safe streets, and I am committed to ensuring NYC is a leader in environmental sustainability. 

All of this must be done in the context of COVID recovery. We’ll only tackle these by prioritizing and protecting what we value most; bringing folks together to punch above our weight and get things done; and being innovative—working from our abundance, not from scarcity.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

JK: I think Brad Lander has done a strong job during the pandemic. He’s focused on childcare, gig workers and the Essential Workers’ Bill of Rights, and aligned closely with grassroots movements. In many ways, I would work to continue this legacy — when it comes to education, I would take it a step further, making schools my highest priority. Even now, I’m stepping forward to organize parents to advocate for a real plan to safely, equitably and successfully reopen five-day-a-week in-person school in the fall — something that every elected official and candidate should be talking about daily.

BP: What’s your political experience?

JK: I’ve worked in politics the majority of my career. Prior to MoveOn, I worked on projects with progressive allies across the country, including WFP, Central Labor Council, the New York League of Conservation Voters, and was a lead in one of the largest citywide campaigns to increase NYC parks department funding. I am most proud of founding and growing the Living Liberally network of social political groups creating communities around political values — known for the hundreds of Drinking Liberally happy hours and national tour of Laughing Liberally comedy show. In New York, these clubs have regularly been platforms for our leading progressive candidates; nationally, they’ve been lifelines for progressives in conservative places.

BP: Any official endorsements?

JK: I have secured endorsements from dozens of parent leaders across the district including past and present PTA/PA presidents, board members, SLT parent representatives, as well as small business owners, artists, and community leaders across the district, and national progressive leaders.

Briget Rein

Council candidate Briget Rein.Courtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Briget Rein: I believe our community needs a strong advocate for working- and middle-class New Yorkers. I’ve lived in this district for the last 20 years and have seen it evolve right before my eyes. Our community needs a councilmember who will listen to and fight for our district’s values, wants, and needs.

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

BR: I am a proud educator, previously teaching at PS 104 in District 20 and PS 109 in District 22.

Currently, I work for the United Federation of Teachers as assistant to the staff director and have also served as government liaison to the City Council. As a union organizer, I have worked with educators across the city to defend their right to work in a safe environment.

I’ve lived in Cobble Hill for the past twenty years. I know what the local small businesses need because I know the owners. I understand our students’ and teachers’ needs because I’ve dedicated my work to our local education system.

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

BR: The top three issues I will prioritize are education, middle-class and working-class families, and the COVID-19 response.

I have first-hand experience working with educators and teachers, which gives me a unique perspective on the countless issues facing our public school system. By listening to educational professionals, we can provide our students with the high quality, safe education they deserve.

I’ve also been a trade unionist my entire life, so I know the struggles middle- and working-class families face and what they need to provide for their families. I will fight for union members, small businesses, and minimum wage workers.

And, most importantly, as our city continues to recover from this pandemic, distribute vaccines, and further reopen, we need leaders who will listen to science, think resourcefully, and advocate for equitable, safe approaches.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

BR: This district has a long line of impressive leadership that I hope to follow. I hope that I can continue their successes of being real progressive advocates for our city, but I’d also like to focus on the importance of constituent services.

There are so many people struggling right now that need help, I want my office to be a place that is as accessible as possible for those who are in need of assistance. 

BP: What’s your political experience?

BR: I’ve spent over 20 years as assistant to the political director, Manhattan political action coordinator, and the City Hall liaison for the UFT. I know how city government works.

My past work experience as an educator has also given me an essential perspective that would shape my approach to the difficult education-related challenges we face during and after this pandemic.

BP: Any official endorsements?

BR: United Federation of Teachers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 338 RWDSU/ UFCW, Seafarers International Union, Uniformed Fire Officers Association, and the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club.

Doug Schneider

City Council candidate Doug SchneiderCourtesy of campaign

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Doug Schneider: I’m running for City Council because our community is struggling with the impact of COVID-19, with an unaccountable police force that must be reformed, with traffic violence approaching an all-time high, and with a public school system in crisis.

We need leaders who are prepared to lead from day one. I will bring to the Council my 15 years of experience fighting against an out-of-control NYPD; the lived experience of a public school parent, struggling to balance my work as a lawyer with my responsibility to handle remote learning for our son; my experience of both owning a small business and representing small businesses throughout the district; and, my years as a community activist.

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

DS: I have lived in the District for the last 15 years. I am a former trustee of the Park Slope Civic Council, served on the District Committee for Brad Lander’s participatory budgeting initiative, and am a lay leader at Congregation Beth Elohim, where I currently sit on its school reopening task force.

I have worked in the community on housing and pedestrian safety issues. I am a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and am currently the Democratic District Leader for the 44th Assembly District. I live in Park Slope with my wife, Joni and two kids, Micah (age 7) and Evie (age 3).

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

DS: One of the greatest challenges that the district faces is high levels of traffic violence. Unfortunately, the 39th Council District has seen an epidemic level of pedestrian and biker deaths over the last 10 years.

We need a comprehensive plan to expand the amount of open streets that are in one cohesive network instead of randomly strewn throughout the city. We need to turn some open streets into permanent play spaces and make them entirely car and bus free, the prime example being Fourth Street between Fourth and Fifth​ avenues.

We need to protect bikers and pedestrians by creating a cohesive network of protected bike lanes and eliminating the traffic behaviors that put bikers at risk such as midday truck deliveries and constant obstruction of bike lanes.

We need to expand the use of red light and speed cameras to slow down traffic, and we need to make our sidewalks & crosswalks safer and more accessible.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

DS: Councilmember Lander has an impressive record of accomplishment. I hope and intend to have the same record of success.

I have my own life experiences, priorities and expertise. I will bring to the Council my experience as a criminal defense attorney, as a traffic, pedestrian, and biker safety advocate, and as a public school parent struggling with remote learning.

BP: What’s your political experience?

DS: I am a long time political and community activist on issues like criminal justice reform, traffic safety, and investing in our public schools.

In 2018, I was elected the Democratic District Leader for the 44th Assembly District. I have fought to bring transparency, inclusivity, and accountability to the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

BP: Any official endorsements?

DS: Brooklyn Young Democrats, District Leader Julio Peña, and local community and political leaders.

Brandon West

City Council candidate Brandon West Megan Magray 

Brooklyn Paper: Why are you running for City Council?

Brandon West: I have always had a deep interest in building power for people who don’t have it. The city needs transformative change, which means bringing more working people into creating solutions.

Government is failing people, our economy is built off of people’s exploitation, and the local political establishment is propping the system up. Particularly in the 39th District, the marginalized are politically invisible.

I want to build power and use Council as a model for base building, and pass real, life-changing policy at the citywide level.

BP: Tell us about yourself and your relationship to the district.

BW: I have lived in the 39th District for almost 11 years, in the same apartment in Park Slope. I love the organic nature of this community and the way people band together. During the height of the pandemic my block did a weekly sing along!

I also love the Park Slope Food Coop, and look forward to leading a squad again. My most recent job was at the Center for Popular Democracy; there I organized Black and Brown grassroots organizations on democracy issues. I was also a proud member and co-steward of our union, CWA. 

BP: What are the biggest challenges facing the district and how will you solve them?

BW: The biggest challenges facing the district are all related to the coming austerity crisis due to the impacts of COVID-19. We need to advocate at the State level to tax the rich, and find the resources in the city’s budget to support our communities.

We need a Green New Deal for NYC; a reformed land use process that treats housing as a human right; and schools that are fully funded, safe, and desegregated.

BP: What will you do differently than the incumbent?

BW: I want to take the work Councilmember Lander has done and build off of it, incorporating a lens focused on the liberation of all people.

I’d like to try to build a larger coalition around ending systemic problems in the city. Especially around housing, I want to build from what has been done, but our current situation is so dire, we have to rethink our existing policies.

We need to look to other cities in the world for examples of how to implement transformative change, rather than taking incremental steps that aren’t really meeting the needs on the ground. We need to speak truth to power in regard to policy.

BP: What’s your political experience?

BW: This is my first time running for office, but I have been involved in politics both professionally and as an activist.

I’ve worked as a budget analyst for the city, which has given me the tools to understand how we can achieve budget justice. I also served as President of local political club New Kings Democrats, encouraging people to get involved in local politics.

This summer, I organized with the Free Black Radicals, who called on the mayor and the City Council to reinvest funding from the NYPD budget into our communities.

I’ve also been a member of the Democratic Socialists of America for many years, and am honored to have their endorsement.

BP: Any official endorsements ?

Democratic Socialists of America NYC, New York Communities for Change, Churches United for Fair Housing Action, Future Steps US, state senators Julia Salazar and Jabari Brisport, assemblymembers Zohran K. Mamdani, Marcela Mitaynes, and Phara Souffrant-Forrest, and attorney and author Zephyr Teachout.

Note: Some responses have been edited for brevity, clarity, and style consistency.

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