City Council candidate takes heat over Cumbo’s legacy

Crystal Hudson and Renee Collymore during the Jan. 5 virtual forum.

Laurie Cumbo’s record in the 36th district was front and center during a Jan. 5 forum of the candidates hoping to replace her, with one candidate taking heat for her time working in Cumbo’s office. 

Nonprofit executive Renee Collymore took aim at rival Crystal Hudson — a former Cumbo staffer and Deputy Public Advocate — pointing to Cumbo’s support of the Bedford Union Armory project, which has received criticism for its inclusion of luxury housing.  

Hudson worked in Cumbo’s office as operations manager for 18 months while Cumbo was negotiating that deal, which Collymore said gives Hudson no right to criticize the project.

“Please don’t talk about a Bedford Union Armory, when you had every opportunity to say something, and you didn’t,” Collymore said. “You sat by, Crystal, and let your principal, Laurie Cumbo, lie to us about the Bedford Union Armory and everything else, and you said nothing.”

Hudson has made an effort to distance herself from the Bedford Union project — even penning a Bklyner op-ed in opposition to it in November as she began campaigning for the 35th council district, which stretches from Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant to Fort Greene and Downtown Brooklyn.

“I have always been opposed to the Bedford Union Armory,” she said during the forum. “Just because I was working for somebody who voted for it doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have been and was not in fact opposed to the deal. I have yet to find somebody who has never disagreed with a boss that they have had.”

Hudson walked a fine line between distancing herself from Cumbo and outwardly criticizing her. When asked by moderator Alec Duffy of the Bedford Stuyvesant performance space Jack how she would define Cumbo’s legacy, Hudson did not directly answer the question, and instead spoke about what she learned while working for the council member, and how it prepared her to take over the seat.

Her opponents at the virtual forum, which included 3 of the 7 candidates for the seat, repeatedly tried to paint her as a lackey of Cumbo’s, who was being helped behind the scenes by the outgoing majority leader. 

When Hudson brought up that she was the only candidate to qualify for maximum matching funds from the city, Collymore interjected that this was proof of Cumbo helping her fundraise. 

“Because Laurie Cumbo was helping you, that’s why,” Collymore said. 

In another point of veiled criticism at her former boss, Hudson said what motivated her to run was being told by Cumbo’s constituents that they had been unable to get anyone at Cumbo’s office on the phone before her time there, and were again unable to reach her office once she left.

“What brought me to run for office was all of the constituents and the neighbors that I helped, who came to me and said ‘we’ve never been able to get a hold of anybody in Laurie Cumbo’s office until you arrived,’’ she said. “I’ve had people tell me since I’ve left that office how that have not been able to get a hold of anybody, and how they wish I was still in that office.”

Hudson accused her opponents of painting her with a broad brush, and insisted that she would be a wholly separate leader from Cumbo. 

“One problem that I have experienced first hand as a Black woman is that we are all treated as a monolith, everybody thinks that we are the same, and everybody thinks that because I worked for Laurie Cumbo, that I hold all her values, all of her visions,” she said. “I am not Laurie Cumbo, I am Crystal Hudson.”

A forum with the remaining candidates will be held on Jan. 12 at 5:30 pm on the Jack Facebook page.