Assemblywoman Phara Souffrant Forrest was sworn into her role as the representative of the 57th Assembly District spanning parts of Crown Heights and Fort Greene earlier this month after she toppled former Assemblyman Walter Mosley in the June primary elections. Brooklyn Paper caught up with the 31-year-old former nurse to talk about her legislative priorities and her hopes for the state budget.
Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Brooklyn Paper: How are you adjusting to the Albany routine? Have you been mostly remote? Or in the chambers?
Phara Souffrant Forrest: It’s been mostly remote, I plan to be at least mostly remote, but if something comes up I think I should make a little noise about I’ll go up to Albany. But mostly remote, it’s safer that way.
BP: A few weeks in, is there anything that has surprised you about what it’s like to be an elected official?
PSF: Anything frankly surprising, no, not surprising, more like we do cover a lot, we really do. As legislators, I’m surprised at how much we cover. Some of the bills that pop up I’m like ‘oh we do that too?’
BP: What are your priorities on a local level in the district, and what are some of your broader legislative priorities?
PSF: Locally my constituents are really struggling with unemployment and their communications with the Department of Labor. My constituents are calling the office a lot about that. I’d like to find out more about legislation we can do on that front to make what constituents are eligible for and making sure they have access to it.
The second thing I’m getting a lot of callbacks on is concern about budget, and making sure that different social programs that my constituents use are funded. This is why my legislative priority is really making sure we have an equitable budget proposal that funds the very things that are keeping us alive and then investing in them. That way we not only survive this pandemic but then we thrive after it.
That, and keeping people in their homes. Please, let’s just cancel rent. Making sure people are actually able to stay in their homes without fear of eviction due to inability to keep up the rent and to provide help for small homeowners and business owners as well.
BP: You have a background as a tenant organizer, what is something the state legislature can do right now that will actually help tenants?
PSF: They can cancel the rent, cancel the mortgage for small homeowners, and cancel commercial rent for small businesses. That way we can keep our communities intact and provide some relief, and so after the pandemic, we’re not facing a debt crisis and we can actually move on and build something together.
BP: What do you think has prevented Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature from doing that so far?
PSF: They want to play the blame game, they want to pass the buck. In his state of the state address, he blamed it on Washington. We have a lot of billionaires here, our state GDP is equivalent to several countries, so we can pull it off ourselves. We don’t need people to come in and save us, and if anything, people coming in to save us, any additional help from the federal government would be welcome, but I think we can do, and I think we have a responsibility to do more for ourselves.
BP: With a democratic super-majority in both chambers of the state legislature, what is one piece of legislation you think absolutely needs to be passed?
PSF: The budget. The budget has to go through. A budget that taxes the rich, to feed, house, and protect people. Notice I didn’t say poor, I said people, everybody. Everybody has been paying their fair share, except those rich people, we’ve got to get them!