Seven candidates are currently looking to replace term-limited Councilmember Laurie Cumbo in the race for the 35th Council District that spans several central and northern Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Since she took office in 2014, the district has changed dramatically, with fast-rising rents driving some long-time residents out of their neighborhoods, and increased development becoming among the hottest-button issues in the area.
Now, the would-be politicos from Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, Downtown Brooklyn, Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill are unsurprisingly focusing a large chunk of their campaigns on housing and tenants rights.
Here’s a rundown of each candidate in the race for Council:
Former Democratic District leader Renee Collymore has been active in Clinton Hill and the surrounding area since she was a young girl, she says. In addition to serving as District Leader, she has been on the advisory board of Brooklyn Hospital, the board of the advisory council of the 88th Precinct, is the CEO of Putnam Avenue Community Service Inc, and is an instructor at Medgar Evers College.
Collymore argues her long history of service is what makes her the best candidate. “A lightbulb didn’t hit on the head a few days ago and make me think to run for office,” she said. “I have always worked alongside the residents of the 35th as long as I can remember to be that voice for the many that have always felt alienated by their local government officials.”
The candidate identified affordable housing and poor healthcare options for Black women as the most important issues the district faces, and said she would make sure all new developments have at least 50 percent income targeted housing in them to address the housing crisis.
Council candidate Crystal Hudson says she has felt called to public service through her experiences caring for her mother who experiences Alzheimers. Since her mother first started showing signs of the disease in 2013, Hudson has served as a staffer in outgoing Councilmember Cumbo’s office, a Deputy Public Advocate, and organized a mutual aid effort in Prospect Heights in the early days of the pandemic.
Hudson, who was raised in Prospect Heights and lives there now with her mother and partner, says she is running for Council with the mission of helping families like hers, and to tackle the myriad of other issues the central Brooklyn district faces.
Hudson identified gentrification and the housing crisis as some of the most pressing issues the district faces — specifically the whirlwind pace at which gentrification has taken place in neighborhoods like Fort Greene and Prospect Heights compared with other neighborhoods, due in part to their proximity to mega-projects like Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.
“I have always wondered how an entire community can come out against a project and it happens anyway,” she said. “Driven solely by the prospect of big profits from developers.”
Hudson’s campaign has rolled out three detailed action plans for education, affordable housing, and a shift away from punitive justice. Hudson pledged to dismantle the Uniform Land Use Review Process that drives rezonings, which she described as “intentionally opaque,” eliminate punitive forms of punishment in public schools, and defund the NYPD by at least $1 Billion.
“I am the only candidate in this race with experience working in local government, and with the global pandemic we’re experiencing — in addition to the racial reckoning and economic crisis, we need to elect people who can hit the ground running,” she said.
Curtis Harris, director of the Crown Heights-based Green Earth Poets Cafe and a former accountant, says he is running for City Council because he is frustrated with “the decisions that have been made and the opportunities that have been missed.”
A Crown Heights resident and former member of Community Board 8, Harris cites the economic divide between more affluent parts of the district such as Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, from the less affluent sections in Crown Heights, as reason for the need of a more united district.
“I believe an engaged and informed 35th district could be a powerful presence,” Harris said.
Harris argues his combined experience as an accountant and arts nonprofit director make him uniquely qualified to lead the district, which includes some of the boroughs biggest cultural institutions — including BAM, the Brooklyn Museum, and BRIC.
“I have the aptitude to champion the arts and culture like no other candidate in this race,” he said.
Harris says he would challenge the existing formula to determine Area Median Income, which is used to price income-targeted housing, and implement impact studies for all developments that come before the district.
Crown Heights tenant activist Michael Hollingsworth first became involved in tenants rights work by organizing his own Crown Heights apartment building when his landlord began the process of converting rent-stabilized apartments into condos.
Hollingsworth and his neighbors won that battle when the New York State Legislature passed a series of sweeping rent laws in 2019, and he dived head-first into tenant activism. Hollingsworth was part of a group of activists that recently had a 2018 rezoning of Franklin Avenue overturned after a lengthy court battle, and has helped residents in Crown Heights organize tenant unions.
“My experience is not one forged in political spaces, but instead in the streets, on stoops, in lobbies, hallways, and community rooms, and that’s exactly what this moment calls for,’ Hollingsworth said.
Hollingsworth has received some of the most big-name endorsements of the race, including the Democratic Socialists of America, progressive attorney Zephyr Teachout, New York Communities for Change, and local elected officials Jabari Brisport and Phara Souffrant Forrest.
The candidate said his housing priorities are protecting the district from evictions, seizing distressed properties from slumlords, and opposing the leasing of New York City Housing Authority land to public developers.
“I think organizers, activists, and anyone coming out of movement spaces make the best candidates,” Hollingsworth said. “I’ve seen enough lawyers, former staffers, and friends of politicians run for office to last a lifetime.”
Special education teacher Deirdre Levy believes the city needs more Council members who are teachers.
A Prospect Heights resident who also teaches in the neighborhood, Levy has unsurprisingly made education a core focus of her campaign, and argues that she is the best equipped candidate to implement education reforms due to her experience on the inside.
“I do not view the education system as a bystander,” she said. “I am living through it every day, working in person and remote.”
Levy says that while she has no political experience, her experience serving the community as the education chair of the District 35 Participatory Budgeting committee and as a volunteer with organizations like the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council and Clinton Hill and Fort Greene Mutual Aide have prepared her for the role.
A community advocate for over 20 years, Regina Kinsey said she is running to “undo those nonsensical failed policies that contributed to the decline of this city and the destruction of our district.”
Vice Chair of Community Board 8’s Seniors Committee and a member of the Crown Heights North Association, Kinsey cited rising crime rates, small businesses closing, and suicide rates increasing as issues she hopes to address, as well as housing and homelessness, which she said can be addressed by pushing the federal government to pass the Affordable Housing and Area Median Income Fairness act, in order to allow for more affordable income targeted housing.
During a recent candidate forum, Kinsey was the only candidate who came out in opposition to reducing the budget of the Police Department.
The candidate said she would make sure if elected to City Council that developers seeking tax abatements to build housing in the district built affordable housing that was actually affordable for central Brooklyn residents and seek housing that prioritized school-age homeless children and elderly residents.
A neighborhood activist for 27 years, Hector Robertson said he is running to bring his advocacy to the next level.
“I have been helping folks for over 27 years,” he said. “I now need to move that help to a higher level.”
To combat the neighborhood’s housing crisis, Robinson said that the “current pace of residential luxury building and rezoning” should be slowed down or completely stopped, citing rising rents in Crown Heights that have pushed some longtime residents out.
Robinson is the President of the Washington Avenue Botanic Block Association and the Crown Heights Community Council, and argues that he is the best candidate because of his having lived through many of the same hardships residents of the 35th district face, including harassment, eviction threats, illegal construction, and exposure to led and asbestos.
“I have been in the trenches to see the everyday despair many of my neighbors and tenants are living through,” he said. “I know first-hand many of the issues this district faces.”
For more on where these candidates stand on the shared housing economy and services like Airbnb, click here.