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Photo (cc) Steve and Sara
An apartment complex in Ocean Hill

This story originally reported that Anthony Herbert was running only as a Republican. He also is seeking the Democratic nomination.

The political drama surrounding the extension of term limits in 2008 has played out in communities across the city this campaign season, and the low-income neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East Flatbush and Ocean Hill that make up the 41st council district are no exception. The 41st, though, offers a few special twists.

Incumbent Darlene Mealy is seeking a second term in this primarily black district. Tracy Boyland, a former council member and heir to a local political dynasty; Tulani Kinard, who owns a local hair salon, oppose Mealy in the Democratic primary; and Anthony Herbert, a businessman who also worked as an aide to a City Council member and who has often run before as a Republican. Mealy's vote on term limits, her use of her discretionary spending, and the staggering level of unemployment and high crime rate in the community have combined to make Mealy vulnerable.

Changing Sides

When the debate over whether to extend term limits from two terms to three started last year, Mealy spoke out sharply against the change. As a first-term council member, she could have run for re-election this year without the extension.

But when the issue came to the City Council floor, Mealy voted for the extension. At the time, some said she had been subjected to threats and arm twisting from both sides and felt such intense pressure that she vomited before casting her vote.

Darlene Mealy

Challenged on that vote at a recent debate sponsored by Community Newspaper Group, Mealy said she switched her vote once she realized the term-limits extension was going to pass anyway. "I just knew it was best for the district," she said. "You have to bring home the bacon."

In earlier comments, Mealy has said she feared a backlash from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the architects of the extension, if she voted "no" on the measure.

This unexpected vote may well help explain why the Working Families Party no longer backs Mealy, as it did in her 2005 campaign. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who also endorsed Mealy in 2005, now supports Kinard. "The district is a national disgrace under the present leadership," Sharpton has said.

On the other hand, both Bloomberg and Quinn have endorsed Mealy, with Quinn saying, "I can't wait to have four more years to get to work with her."

The Challengers

Tracy Boyland

Tracy Boyland, member of the Boyland political dynasty, is again running for City Council seat she held from 1997 to 2005. The Boyland family has long held office in this area of Brooklyn. From 1977 to 1982, Thomas Boyland was the area's state Assembly member. When he died in 1982, the neighborhood elected his brother, William Boyland. William resigned in 2003, arranging for his son, William Boyland Jr. to replace him. The son still holds the seat.

The Boylands, though, have had some defeats recently. In 2004, Tracy Boyland challenged then U.S. Rep Major Owens in the Democratic primary for his congressional seat and lost. Two years later, Boyland, who by then had left City Council, challenged incumbent State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and got just 65 percent of the vote compared with Montgomery's 65 percent.

When Tracy Boyland was forced off City Council by term limits, her father -- the former member of the State Assembly -- tried to take the seat. Voters of the district balked, electing Mealy instead.

In contrast, Kinard is a newcomer to this district's political arena, although her husband, Stanley Kinard, ran unsuccessfully against Mealy in the 2005 primary. She owns Tulani's Regal Movement, which, she says, was the first natural hair care salon in Brooklyn. She worked for legislation creating a natural hair care beauty license that has been adopted by other states. She also is a performer and was once a member of the Sweet Honey in the Rock a cappella group.

Facing the Issues

The 41st district, with its relatively high crime rate, rising unemployment and high AIIDS rate, presents a number of challenges, many beyond the purview of a member of City Council.

Tulani Kinard

Kinard said she is running to address such problems. "The needs of the district, what is possible and the lack of services [inspired me]," she said. "I was asked to run by neighborhood professionals and residents."

Kinard intends to make schools the focal point of her district and use them to help combat unemployment, poverty and violence. To accomplish this, she would try to keep schools open till 10 p.m. and on weekends so they could host family development programs, adult education and help foster a better sense of community.

While Kinard plans to use city and state tax revenue to finance such programs, she knows the money might not be available, especially during the recession. To address, that, she proposes "a communal grassroots fund, in which everyone in the district donated a $1 a week." That, she said, "would be enough to cover these expanded educational programs."

Kinard hopes to create green jobs, particularly retrofitting, which will create employment in the neighborhood and also help to reduce diseases causes by pollution, such as asthma. As an artist, she would like to foster the growth of arts and culture in the neighborhood so it becomes a destination point for artists, who would in turn benefit schools.

In a recent debate, Boyland linked many of the problems in the district to the current economic downturn. "We've been hit hard by the economic crisis," she said. "When you have desperation based on the economy, you're going to see a spike in crime."

If elected she would work to bring more businesses into the district. Area residents, she said, "need a place to shop."

She stresses working with other levels of government to solve problems, such as the district's high AIDS rate. Her proudest accomplishment in her eight years on the council, she said, was her ability to reach out to officials at the federal, state and city level "to make things go quicker," break through the bureaucracy and get things built in the community.

Running the Schools

The district, as Boyland has pointed out, was the site of the dispute that eventually led to the creation of community school boards in the 1960s. Over the years, community control was steadily weakened and has now been all but abandoned with the mayor having taken control of the schools.

The three candidates all have expressed concern about this. "Our parents have to be part of the restructuring of the schools, the parents have to be part of the budgeting," Boyland said.

Mealy said, "As long as it has parental participation, I'm happy with mayoral control." However, she added, the recently passed law extending mayoral control did not do enough to involve parents.

She also expressed skepticism about the alleged increases in achievement under the Bloomberg administration. "I think the numbers may be fudged. I can't believe a third grader is reading at a tenth grade level and couldn't read last year," she said at the debate.

Mealy said she supports some charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded. Kinard, though, would rather see the money spent on charter schools "be put back" into public schools. Apparently under the mistaken impression that charter schools charge tuition (they are barred from doing so), Boyland said they are not feasible in low-income community such as those in District 41.

Bringing Down the Crime Rate

Boyland and Kinard both blamed the district's crime rate on the poor economy, which Kinard said had brought the area's unemployment rate to 50 percent, and on a lack of programs for young people. Instead, Kinard said, it is the gangs that "are educating them, employing them and empowering them." Herbert has repeatedly blamed "leadership," a not very subtle dig at Mealy.

For her part, Mealy implied the crime problem was being overstated. "Somebody has missed the memo," she said at the debate. "Brownsville is coming up strong. … Crime has been reduced."

Kinard disagreed sharply: "Brownsville is suffering, Bedford-Stuyvesant is suffering. East Flatbush is suffering. … The level of violence in this community is ridiculous."

The Mealy Issue

Mealy points to a record of accomplishment, saying she has improved schools in the district -- including getting a kitchen at one -- and revitalized parks. Coming up from the grassroots, she said, "I learned to drown or swim, and I thank God I'm swimming very well."

Mealy, along with Boyland, has faced questions about whether she could have stopped

the closing of St. Mary's Hospital. Now only Kingsbrook Jewish Hospital remains in the district to serve the scores of people who depend upon it, particularly for primary care.

Mealy became enmeshed in the City Council member items scandal when she tried to get a $25,000 allocation for her sister's nonprofit: the Fulton-Ralph-Rochester-Community-Organization. She has denied doing anything improper but said she later decided the money would be better pent if it went to larger organization.

In June, Mealy was blocked from giving $5,000 to Lynval Samuels, a local, self-described linguist who calls himself Dr. Bidi XiLi Bey, who planned to give etymology classes. Funds were redirected to a local housing development, but, at the debate, Mealy defended the linguist's program.

Mealy remains ahead in fundraising, with $50,006 in private funds and almost $72,000 in matching funds. Kinard is next with $33,712 in private money and $67.607 in public funds, followed by Boyland with $34,317 in money raised privately and $46,214 from the city.

While she has lost some union support, Mealy has the backing of the Transport Workers Union. Courier-Life publications backed Boyland, citing her "strong grasp of the local issues and... how to address them."

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