Welcome back from the long weekend! Now let’s get right into it, Brooklyn.
If there’s one theme that has emerged in this long, strange trip of an election cycle, it’s that Americans, New Yorkers included, are ready for political change. If you are dedicated to change then you have to vote–not just every four years in November, but in election cycles big and small. It just so happens that the New York State and Local Primary is next week on Sept. 13 and you should vote in it.
Why? Here’s a quick and dirty explanation. New York City leans heavily Democratic in most races, state, local and national. If you are a new candidate challenging an incumbent of the same party, as is usually the case, that means that your state and local contest is in September. Come November, the Democrats who win next week (again, most state and local offices in NYC are held by Democrats) will be largely unchallenged on the ballot, either running unopposed or against Republicans with minimal backing, funding or actual intention of serving. When very few people vote in September, and the people who do vote are dedicated to the status quo, it makes changing up our representation in Albany very difficult–and leads to the incredibly long terms in state office that we see so often in New York City.
What does that matter? Well, did you know that New York state had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the country during the national primary? Did you read that only 9% of the entire U.S. voted for Clinton or Trump? Do you find it disappointing that pretty much every major candidate in this election cycle is close to 70 years old? There can be no new energy in politics, no new ideas, if voters don’t vote, starting with state and local elections.
Here are two Brooklyn candidates who will be on the ballot for State Senate next week, each running against other Democrats who have been in office for more than a decade. (You can view all the seats up for election here.) We’re not endorsing these candidates–we’re not here to tell you how to vote. We’re making the point that if you actually care about the system as whole, every race matters and there’s more opportunity to get involved in our political system than you might think. It’s also a chance to make sure that you are registered to vote on Nov. 8–the deadline to register for the general election in New York State is Oct. 14.
Name: Debbie Medina
Running for: State Senate
Running against: Martin Malavé Dilan (State Senator since 2003)
District: 18th (Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick, Brownsville) map
Core Issues: Affordable housing, education
“Everything revolves around housing,” Debbie Medina, explained, sitting in her apartment on the Southside of Williamsburg. Her phone keeps ringing with calls from tenants asking for advice on how to deal with landlords who won’t make crucial repairs, or how to fight eviction, or how to renew their lease. Medina is a veteran housing organizer with 30 years of experience at Los Sures (Southside United) forming tenant associations, organizing rent strikes, and negotiating with countless landlords on the front lines of an ever changing (and gentrifying) Williamsburg.
While she’s passionate about a number of issues, including education (particularly more funding for public schools and less emphasis on standardized testing), supporting small businesses, and environmental justice, affordable housing is the foundation of her campaign. “If you do not have an apartment, a place where you can call your home, how could you work? How can your kids go to school?” she asks.
Unabashedly anti-corporate, Medina thinks that the current system gives far too many tax breaks to developers while forcing overburdened communities to compete for the few affordable apartments in crowded lotteries. She is not being hyperbolic when she asks,“Why isn’t [it] that we’re getting 70% affordable, and they’re getting 30% [market]?” speaking of local developers. “This is our land. You’re in our community, and if you’re going to be build here, this is what you need to do.” She’d like to create more programs to help long-time renters to one day own their apartments.
Years ago, Medina happily campaigned for her opponent, incumbent Martin Dilan (whose son, Erik Dilan is an assemblymember representing Assembly District 54, covering Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, East New York and Cypress Hills). Now, she says she is disillusioned by his cozy relationships with real estate developers (including substantial campaign contributions) and his decision to vote against crucial rent protections. This led to her first run against Dilan in 2014, which she lost, but still gained a respectable 42% of the vote in New York State’s Democratic primary.
This time around, she says she’s better organized, has more key endorsements (including from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and New York City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso), and has spent more time reaching out to all neighborhoods in her district, including Brownsville, where she didn’t spend much time during her last campaign. She argues that as an organizer, she continually ignored tempting offers for private schools, for apartments, for trips from various landlords and developers, and she believes that she can bring that integrity to Albany.
Medina is however, grappling with recent coverage about her son, who is serving a life term in prison in Pennsylvania for his involvement in the death of a 3-year-old child, and the way she handled his drug addiction and mental health issues when he was a teenager.
Medina wants to run her campaign, and hopefully her time in office, like a tenants association. “This is not going to be a senator who is in Albany, sitting down, writing legislation,” she explained. “This is gonna be a senator is in the community, talking to the people, getting the people organized, having the people have a say, then go to Albany and fight for what the people need.”
Read this profile of Medina from The Nation if you want a deeper dive into her political beliefs and the race.
Name: Michael Cox
Running for: State Senate
Running against: Velmanette Montgomery (State Senator since 1984)
District: 25th (Bed-Stuy,Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Red Hook, Sunset Park) map
Core Issues: Education, affordable housing, economic development
“We were literally told, some kids slip through the cracks,” says Michael Cox, about his experience as a teacher in East New York. Cox and his fellow teachers heard this from his school’s administration when they raised concerns over countless students reading below grade level, up to 85% of the school. Cox grew up in Brooklyn and returned to teach after college in Syracuse. In response to the lack of action on the part of the school, “we reached out to elected officials and Senator Montgomery [the incumbent, his opponent and ranking member on the senate Children and Families Committee] didn’t respond to that call,” he explained in an interview in his campaign office.
After teaching, Cox went on to a career in national politics working for U.S. Congressmen Gregory Meeks and former U.S. Congressman Dan Maffei, as a policy advisor, on a broad set of issues (including advising the Obama administration on the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African American Students). Cox also worked for the Obama administration for the Department of Congress, where he initiated a variety of programs to spur economic development across the country.
“It’s very challenging to do some of the work that presidents do without strong state and local partners…it’s critically important,” Cox said. “I think in 2010 we saw what happens when we don’t pay attention to state races,” referring the challenges President Obama has faced working with an uncooperative, Republican-controlled Senate and Congress.
Cox’s teaching experience, combined with his time in Washington gave him a deep passion for educational policy, both in terms of quality and access. “School segregation is a big issue,” he said. “Not in Alabama, but in New York.”
He’s also committed to affordable housing, and believes that desegregation in education and housing are connected. “As we look at supporting mixed income housing, I think we can look at desegregating some of the schools and creating better community relations not only with the police, but with other public servants,” he said. “If you’re a teacher and make $45,000, you should be able to live a decent life, you should be able to have decent housing.”
The district that Cox hopes to represent encompasses the construction and tech booms of Downtown Brooklyn and the Navy Yard, a wide swath of public housing, and the quickly gentrifying neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy and Sunset Park. That’s a lot of inequality in one district, and Cox hopes housing can be part of the solution.
Cox believes in a mixed income model, with developments whose residents are at a range of income levels. “When I say mixed income, obviously I mean low income, I mean middle income which is a wide group of people, and folks who have means, who I think recognize now that especially after 2008, it’s really important for us to make sure that all boats rise,” he says. “The 421a tax credit is an outdated, outmoded policy. It’s a policy that was implemented in the 1970s when New York City was bankrupt. It was implemented to get high net-worth people to come to the city. It’s never had a real overhaul.”
Cox hopes such an overhaul could provide much more equitable development that benefits newcomers and long-time residents alike. “I think Brooklyn has always been a place that attracted immigrants, like my family,” he says. “It’s the melting pot that’s the coolest melting pot of all… I think that we ought to continue to accommodate these amazing people that are coming to Brooklyn, but we need to make sure we’re doing so in a way that doesn’t push out people who have been here for years. And I think that’s easy to say, but it’s a much more challenging and nuanced thing.”