District 40 Central Brooklyn

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What is Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a guide to the political races in what many are calling New York City's most significant campaign season in modern history.

What is so significant about it?
For the first time in memory, most political offices in the city will be wide open to people who have neither money nor connections.

Why will the races be so open?
There are two reasons. This year, a new law goes into effect that limits the terms of New York City elected officials, forcing the mass retirement of most incumbents in the city - including the mayor, the comptroller, the public advocate, four of the five borough presidents, and 36 of the 51 members of the City Council. At the same time, a new campaign finance law kicks in, which allows any candidate who agrees to certain restrictions to collect four dollars of matching funds for every dollar they raise.

What does this have to do with this site?
As a public service, Searchlight on Campaign 2001 has a separate page for each race, including all the races for City Council, that not only sorts out the candidates -- many of them new and unfamiliar -- but also offers an opportunity to learn about the issues, and the districts themselves.

Who is behind Searchlight on Campaign 2001?
Searchlight on Campaign 2001 is a project of Gotham Gazette, a non-profit, non-partisan, non-ideological (but non-boring) web site about New York City news, policy and politics published by Citizens Union Foundation, part of the oldest and largest good-government group in the city (founded in 1897).

What's wrong with the way the regular press covers the races?
That is for you to decide. And one of our regular features, Campaign Trail, helps you to decide. Campaign Trail provides succinct summaries and links to campaign articles in the commercial press.

Who are we?


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Learn more about this district in Searchlight 2002

General Election Results

x-Yvette D. Clarke, Dem 11,171 - 86 percent
Lola Poisson, Ind 1,227 - 9 percent
Jean D. Vernet, Wor 411 - 3 percent
Kenneth S. Cook, Con 149 - 1 percent

Primary Election Results

Yvette D. Clarke 4,076
Frances Purcell 1,958
Alithia Alleyne 1,455
Jean D. Vernett 1,420
Wellington Sharpe 1,230
Edward A. Roberts 1,123
(Official Vote Count from the Board of Elections)

Incumbent: Una Clarke (can't run in 2001)

The Candidates:

  • Yvette Clarke (Dem/Lib)
  • Kenneth S. Cook (Con)
  • Lola Poisson (Ind)
  • Jean Vernet II (Wor)

Contributors to these candidates, according to the Campaign Finance Board:

Contributors to Alithia Alleyne
Contributors to Yvette Clarke
Contributors to Kenneth S. Cook
Contributors to Lola Poisson
Contributors to Frances Purcell
Contributors to Edward A. Roberts
Contributors to Wellington Sharpe
Contributors to Jean Vernet

City's Official Primary Election Voter Guide for Residents of District 40


Campaign Tangle:
W. Ruth Whitney and Myrna Sulker were both knocked off the Democratic ballot. Whitney managed to win a partial reprieve from the Board of Elections, but it was overturned later in court. "The way I look at it, I was on the ballot for a day," said Whitney. Posted 8/24/01

Campaign Feature:
[Campaign Update]

Caribbean Stew

Unlike a Caribbean cruise, a walk down Nostrand or Church avenues doesn't offer beachfront vistas or glimpses of palm trees. There aren't many coconuts growing in Flatbush. But block after block offers a taste of the many Caribbean islands whose residents have flocked to the neighborhood. And these commercial districts attest to how much immigration over the last several decades has changed Central Brooklyn.

The Caribbean impact on District 40 is dominant -- and diverse. Between 1992 and 1996, the district ranked first in the city in the number of immigrants from Haiti, Trinidad, Grenada and Panama and second in the number of Jamaican arrivals.

Area Profile
For a detailed profile of this district from City Project, click here.


  • Black, non Hispanic 66%
  • Hispanic 16%
  • White, non Hispanic 13%
  • Asian 5%

Median income: $40,575 (ranks 34th out of 51)

Unemployment rate: 10%

For more information on this district -- its schools, its crime statistics and more -- click here.

Storefronts bear signs offering immigration assistance. Restaurants promote "the best of Barbados" Guyanese roti, and dishes from Trinidad, as well as ever-popular Jamaican jerk. Churches provide services in Creole or French as well as English, and window signs advertise money transfers to the Caribbean. But as proof that, while immigrants' origins may change, their hopes remain the same, a bargain store on Church Avenue calls itself American Dream.

Councilwoman Una Clarke has perhaps achieved that dream. Born in Jamaica, she has represented the district since 1991, the first Caribbean-born member of the City Council. She has now endorsed her 35-year-old daughter, Yvette, to be her successor.

Four other candidates -- businessman Wellington Sharpe, activists Lola Poisson and Jean Vernet and Alithia Alleyne, who once worked for Clarke -- are also running. But the 40th has far fewer council contenders than other districts in Central Brooklyn, testimony perhaps to what many perceive as the Clarkes' clout.

Yvette Clarke does not deny she has an edge. "I have the advantage of having being active politically for most of my life," as well as the support of the incumbent, she says. But she cites her own accomplishments, including having worked for State Senator Yvette Montgomery and served as director of youth programs for the District 1199 union. Currently she is with the Bronx Overall Economic Development.

Her rivals, though, say that Clarke's election, as Alleyne puts it, "is not a done deal." Sharpe scoffs: "You can't walk in and start operating because your father was a surgeon."

Both Alleyne and Sharpe say their experience will enable them to overcome Clarke's advantages. And Poisson, who is Haitian, says, "I'm not going to be running as the Haitian candidate but the reality is I already have 90 percent of the Haitian vote." Vernet disputes this, saying that he has raised money in the Haitian community, and, he adds, "you can't expect to run on a strictly ethnic platform."

Education has traditionally been the path to success for many immigrants, but if test scores are a guide, district 40's schools may not be fulfilling that function today. From 1989 to 1999, only 39 percent of district students scored at or above grade level in reading and math.

"We have schools that do not have libraries, that do not have books, that do not have science labs," Sharpe says. But, he continued, "We're not really short of money. What we are short of is vision and the political will to make hard, unpopular decisions" on how to spend money. Vernet calls for an array of educational reforms, including improving the condition of school buildings and creating smaller classes. "The only way to reduce class size is to build more schools," he said. Given the shortage of space in New York City, many of those schools might have to be small, which could help many students, particularly immigrants from places where schools are not nearly as big as they are in New York.

The candidates also stress that economic development is vital to aid parts of the district where, as Poisson says, "nothing is happening and life is bad." Key to that, she says, is focusing on education, the problems of youth and job training.

Although both Kings County and Downstate medical centers are in District 40, access to health care remains a problem for many in the district, according to the candidates. Alleyne said that, while children receive free or low-cost care, "parents are not getting the health care they need" and so may leave serious and perhaps even fatal conditions untreated.

Clarke cited police community relations as a concern saying police "need to be sensitive to the plight of people who are newly arrived in the city of New York."

According to Clarke those newcomers include as many as 78 different nationalities, many of whom she no doubt hopes will decide that she should follow in her mother's footsteps.

posted 3/16/01

Campaign Update:

The race in district 40 has seen its share of dramatic events. Candidate Carl Thomas, the Brooklyn lawyer, died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack on August 6. Thomas, who helped bring attention to the case of Abner Louima as one of his attorneys, was 41 years old.

In July, an argument and shoving match broke out on the lawn of candidate Jean Vernet, as supporters of Lola Poisson tried to serve him a subpoena for their legal battles over petition signatures. Vernet's 79-year-old mother-in-law was reportedly shoved and police were called to the scene. No one was arrested. According to a report in the Daily News, the feud between Vernet and Poisson began as the two Haitian-American candidates tried to get each other to drop out of the race, then tried to force each other out with challenges to their petitions.

Two candidates, W. Ruth Whitney and Myrna Sulker, were both knocked off the Democratic ballot, though Whitney did manage to win a partial reprieve from the Board of Elections, later to be overturned in court. "The way I look at it," said Whitney. "I was on the ballot for a day." In the fundraising battle, Jean Vernet has raised more than $44,000 from donors and received $60,000 in matching funds. Frances Purcell has raised $44,000 from individuals and received $55,000 in matching funds. Yvette Clarke has raised about $23,000 in individual donations, but has yet to qualify for matching funds. Lola Poisson, who raised about $26,500, and Alithia Alleyne, who raised $13,500, also have not received matching funds either.

At a forum in July, seven candidates spoke about what they would do to help the area. Most candidates vowed that they would be "advocates for the community" and then added their own specific ideas.

Ed Roberts said he would try to bring rent control under the power of the city instead of the state, and also called for free tuition at city universities. Yvette Clarke wants to provide incentives, like student loan repayment, to draw more qualified teachers to the area and said HIV and AIDS would be at the top of her agenda. Alithia Alleyne hopes to build public-private partnerships to district 40 and train local entrepreneurs on how to open and sustain a business. Francis Purnell wants to provide more vocational training for young people, and Lola Poisson said she would hold regular hearings on police community relations.

Carl Thomas, who died shortly afterward, had the quote of the evening. When asked if he would resign his seat if he did not hold regular meetings on police issues, Thomas responded -- "That's a stupid question. The issue is whether the council and all these council members will have the courage to stand up to the injustices of the police department."

Posted 8/28/01

Candidate Biographies

Alithia Alleyne has worked as director of government relations at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. She also worked on Councilmember Una Clarke's staff and on Wall Street handling investment products. She is a graduate of City College of New York.

Yvette Clarke is director of business development at the Bronx Overall Development Corporation where she is working on initiatives to develop the South Bronx. She was born and raised in Brooklyn and attended Oberlin College. In 1985, she was awarded a public policy fellowship at Stonybrook University.

Lola Poisson emigrated to New York in 1968. She is a graduate of City University of New York and has master's degrees from New York University and Hunter College. She founded the Haitian Community Health Project.

Frances Purcell is the owner/broker for Century 21 Pelican Properties. In 1987, she opened up her own community financial services firm in Flatbush, which today serves over 100 small businesses. She is a graduate of St. Francis College. She was born in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles and emigrated to the U.S. in 1978.

Edward A. Roberts is an attorney with a private practice in Brooklyn. He represents tenants and homeowners and has represented clients in police brutality and job discrimination cases. In the past, he worked as an attorney at the New York State Division of Housing & Community Renewal and as deputy director at Bedford Stuyvesant Community Legal Services. He graduated from City College and St. John's University Law School.

Wellington Sharpe operates a day care business and has been a community activist in district 40 for years.

Jean Vernet was born in Haiti and runs the Legal Education and Assistance Program for the National Coalition for Haitian Rights.

W. Ruth Whitney is a retired chemist and social worker. She is a coordinator of Ecumenical Churches Program and a member of Community Planning Board 9 Health and Social Committee. She is an active member in the Lefferts Garden Block Association and the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS.

Campaign Trail

Interviews and evaluations of candidates in districts 40 and 45 (Caribbean Research Center of Medgar Evers College -- pdf format only)

New York Times endorsement:
"40th District (Central Brooklyn): Una Clarke is one of the many term-limited Council members attempting to bequeath her seat to a relative. Her daughter, Yvette Clarke, is a politically sophisticated candidate with experience in economic development. Another strong candidate is Jean Vernet, a community activist from the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. But he does not have the energy level that we think Ms. Clarke would bring to the job. Our endorsement goes to Yvette Clarke, in the hope that she will use her mother's better instincts in fighting for social services while avoiding political divisiveness."

W. Ruth Whitney could barely contain her glee last week when her lawyer got a challenge to her petitions dismissed at the Board of Elections. But she was booted off the ballot in court only a day later. "They chased us in Supreme Court the next day and got us tossed off, and I chose to walk away," she said yesterday. "I wanted to keep the high road." But Ms. Whitney and her campaign manager, Kevin Yard, said that they would be meeting with the other candidates in the 40th District in Brooklyn to decide whom to support, and that they felt the process was a great learning experience. "The way I look at it," Ms. Whitney said, "I was on the ballot for a day." (NY Times)

Carl Thomas, the Brooklyn lawyer and activist who helped bring public attention to the police torture of Abner Louima, died in his sleep Sunday, apparently from a heart attack. He was 41. Thomas, a former prosecutor who came the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago about 20 years ago, was one of 10 candidates seeking to fill the term-limited seat of City Councilwoman Una Clarke in district 40, which covers Flatbush. (Daily News)

A bitter political fight in district 40 in Central Brooklyn became an actual shoving match between the feisty mother-in-law of candidate Jean Vernet and the volunteers for the only other Haitian-American in the race, Lola Poisson, causing a commotion that brought police to the scene. The two candidates are among 11 West Indians vying for Una Clarke's City Council seat. (Daily News)

Some members of the Lambda Independent Democrats believe that Yvette Clarke, who is running for mother's 40th district Council seat, has a grudge against them for endorsing Rep. Major Owens last year. That feeling, according to one prominent Lambda member, was born out last week when Yvette Clarke did not show up to seek the group's endorsement in her own race. "No one responded to us. No call backs, no anything," said the source, a bit miffed especially because Lambda backed Una Clarke early on in her career (as did Owens, and look what it got him). But Yvette Clarke said that she has no animosity toward Lambda. "I had no idea that they had already made endorsements in this district," she said. "It's probably just been my delay in reaching out to them, or them reaching out to me. I'm going to reach out to them because I don't want them to be under that impression [that she has a grudge against them]." Ultimately, Lambda endorsed Alithia Alleyne, who is close to the Owens camp. Other candidates in the crowded race include Lola Poisson, Frances Purcell, Edward Roberts, Carl Thomas, Jean Vernet and Wellington Sharpe. (Courier-Life Newspapers)

Supporters of Rep. Major Owens, apparently still angry at Una Clarke for her run against the congressman last year, are urging James Davis to enter the District 40 race in the hopes of defeating Clarke's daughter Yvette. Davis, a Democratic district leader, has said that he's a candidate in the 35th District, but notes that representative of Owens and Assemblyman Al Vann have spoken with him about switching to the 40th. (Courier-Life Newspapers)

Yvette Clarke is one of several children of councilmembers running for their parents' seat.(Searchlight on Campaign 2001)

More than 200 pages of line-by-line challenges to petition signatures filed by State Senate hopeful Wellington Sharpe mysteriously disappeared from the Brooklyn elections office. Sharpe had hoped to challenge veteran State Sen. Marty Markowitz, but was kicked off the ballot after the Board of Elections rejected 2,000 of his 2,800 signatures. Sharpe appealed that decision in Supreme Court, but then some of the specific challenges vanished. Sharpe's lawyers argued he should not be kept off the ballot if the written challenges could not be found, but a state Supreme Court justice rejected his claim.(Daily News)

These days she spends her time analyzing charts and statistics and running over to City Hall to smile at councilmembers and whisper in their ears how wonderful the Brooklyn Museum is, so that the city's budget provides the museum with the money it needs. But there was a time when she sat in a teller's cage counting money, six-inch stacks, $10,000, $25,000 in bills, and handed them over to excited stockbrokers. Those were her Wall Street days, her Donna Karan suit days, at Bank Leumi. "It was l987, before the crash. I was at the window where the brokers came to cash their checks. They were all tall, very nice. They used to laugh because my hands would shake. Well, I didn't want to miscount the money. "I was always good in math," said Alithia Alleyne, 30. "I'm not sure why. I skipped two grades in grammar school in Flatbush. My father's a retired MTA inspector. My mother was Eubie Blake's executive assistant." She sang, "I'm just wild about Harry." (Village Voice)



Districts of the Week

District 1 -- Lower Manhattan
Whoever wins the election in district 1 will represent immigrant Chinese garment workers, as well as Wall Street traders living in Battery Park City. There are several candidates hoping to be the council's firsts -- the first Asian-American man, the first Asian-American woman, the first gay Rhodes Scholar, the first dot-com guru -- running against some politically well connected opponents. Endorsements and fundraising will play a big role in this race. But voter turnout could be the main determinant of who will next represent district 1 on the council. The key question is how many voters from each community will come out on Election Day.

District 7 -- Washington Heights, Manhattan
The northern tip of Manhattan has become one of the most popular places for new immigrants to call home. The northern tip of Manhattan is a place that today's new immigrants call home. The majority have come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. But it is not just new immigrants that are moving in. Students, artists, and other Manhattanites looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. Ten Democratic candidates are competing for the 15,000 voters expected on primary day. The winner who emerges from a crowded field of candidates will have to balance the needs of the newcomers with those who have lived there for years.

District 16 -- Highbridge, Bronx
The neighborhoods of district 16 are the city's poorest, with the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest median household income. But those who live there also point out that much is positive and stable about the area, thanks in large part to local organizations, not-for-profit agencies, and houses of worship that help hold the neighborhoods together. Each candidate for City Council believes that through his or her connections to churches and local organizations, they can help empower the community toward a better life. Helen Foster, the current council member daughter, will face Michael Benjamin, who has worked as an aide to several government officials and Anthony Curry, a Bronx neighborhood activist.

District 20 -- Northeast Flushing, Queens
This year district 20 may elect the first Asian-American ever to the City Council to an area which now has the second highest number of immigrants from Korea and Taiwan in the city. There are three Asian candidates in the Democratic race who have each drawn big endorsements. Council Speaker Peter Vallone endorsed Terence Park, City Comptroller Alan Hevesi endorsed John Liu, and the New York Times recently endorsed Ethel Chen The campaign has also drawn national and international press coverage

District 25 -- Jackson Heights, Queens
Thirty-seventh Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens is one of the most diverse streets in the world. Little India quickly blends into Little Colombia, with vendors selling Latin American food to Colombians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Mexicans, and Uruguayans. And each summer, the Queens Pride Parade fills the same street with rainbow banners. So it is no surprise that this election year the district produced a diverse field of candidates. A number of them, however, found out that getting on the ballot is not an easy task, especially when the Queens Democratic organization sends teams of lawyers to challenge petitions. But five Democratic candidates survived and will face off on September 11.

District 31 -- South East Queens
When a heavy rain hits southeast Queens, many residents in neighborhoods like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale head to the basement with a bucket in hand. And it has been that way for the last 50 years. In the rush to build housing in the area after World War II, developers overlooked the need for storm drains in hopes that the city would eventually build a city-wide sewer system. The plan never materialized and the area has experienced "100-year rains" three times in the last decade. The eight Democrats -- all with little experience overseeing massive infrastructure projects--will try to convince voters that they can finally solve the flooding problems.

District 35 -- Central Brooklyn
The residents in council district 35 have some of the highest incomes in Brooklyn and some of the lowest. They can play in a famous park and a beautiful botanical garden, and live in the city's most crumbling public housing. They can attend one of the four institutions of higher learning in the district, and the worst-scoring high schools in the city. Such juxtapositions are a way of life for a district that includes the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; mid dle-class African-American communities near Prospect Park; immigrant communities from Haiti, Sierra Leon, Nigeria, and Trinidad, and in Crown Heights, a mix of Hasidic Jews and African-Americans. Seven Democratic candidates are campaigning in hopes that they can bring some kind of unity, and attention, to the area. Their backgrounds are as diverse as the neighborhoods themselves.

District 39 -- Park Slope/Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
The candidates in district 39 include a chief of staff for an Assemblywoman, the husband of a member of U.S. Congress, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society, an attorney and president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, the district manager of Community Board 6, and a labor organizer. This is the race to watch this year. The group of high-profile Democrats have raised a lot of money, almost $1.4 million combined.

District 45 -- East Flatbush
In no place in the city are the effects of campaign finance reform and term limits being felt more than in East Flatbush. The seven Democratic candidates seeking to represent this largely West Indian district come from a number of Caribbean nations. Many have been working on politicians' staffs and serving with community groups, clearly hoping someday to win their own elected office. Term limits has presented them with that opportunity, and they want to make the most of it. But this race that usually draws only about 8,000 voters could be decided by just a few votes. The candidates are attempting to come up with anything that will separate them from the pack.

District 49 -- North Shore, Staten Island
Staten Island has always been somewhat of a suburban stepchild to New York City. When a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were ''visiting friends and relatives" and ''passing through.'' But in many ways, the north shore has more in common with areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn than with the rest of the Staten Island. The top priority for all the candidates -- Jon Del Giorno, an administrative manager for the Board of Elections, Mike McMahon, an attorney and counsel to current Councilmember Jerome O'Donovan, and Debi Rose, an administrator at the College of Staten Island and the first African-American candidate in Staten Island politics -- is to make sure that the island becomes more than just a turn-around-point for the over one million tourists who ride the free ferry from Manhattan each year.

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Links You Can Use

Government sites
NYC Campaign Finance Bd.
NYC Board of Elections
NYC Voter Assistance Comm.
NY City Council
Federal Election Comm.

Local non-partisan sites
NY League of Women Voters
Common Cause New York

National non-partisan sites
Ctr. for Responsive Politics
Common Cause
League of Women Voters

NAACP Voter Empowerment
Vote Smart


Political consultants
Amer. Assc. of Pol. Consultants

Prime New York

Gotham Gazette
The Empire Page
Campaigns and Elections
Legislative Gazette

Political columnists
Andrea Bernstein
Joe Conason
Mario Cuomo (radio)
Rudy Giuliani (radio)
Clyde Haberman
Nat Hentoff

Joseph Mercurio
Joyce Purnick
John Tierney
Michael Tomasky

Political parties
Right to Life
Working Families
Marijuana Reform
Natural Law Party
Taxpayers Party

Political clubs and groups
Blueprint Camp. Finance Reform
Central Queens Greens
The Jefferson Democratic Club of Flushing
NY Young Republican Club
Stonewall Democratic Club
Village Independent Dems.

Abbreviations for Party Affiliation

American Dream Party (AMD)
Better Schools Party (BES)
Communist (Com)
Conservative (Con)
Constitution (CST)
Democratic (Dem)
Friends United Party (FUN)
Fusion Party (FUS)
Green (Gre)
Harmony Party (HAR)
Independence (Ind)
Liberal (Lib)
Libertarian (LBT)
Marijuana Reform Party (POT)
Natural Law Party (NLP)
Party of Ethics and Traditions (PET)
Reform Party (Ref)
Republican (Rep)
Right to Life (RTL)
School Choice Party (Sch)
Socialist Workers Party (SWP)
Working Families (Wor)

2001 Election Calendar

June 1 -- Deadline for candidates to join the Campaign Finance program, qualifying for the four-to-one match of contributions.
June 5 - First day for candidates from the eight major parties (Democratic, Republican, Indpendence, Conservative, Liberal, Green, Working Families, and Right to Life) to circulate petitions. Candidates running for City Council must collect the signatures of at least 900 people living in the district for which they are running in order to appear on the Primary ballot. Candidates not running under these eight major parties do not appear on the Primary ballot and have a separate set of deadlines.
July 12 - Deadline for major party candidates to file petitions.
July 10 - First day for unaffiliated candidates to circulate petitions, in order to appear on the ballot in the General Election. They must collect the number of signatures equal to five percent of the total enrolled in that party.
August 7 - Board of Elections announces candidates appearing on the Primary ballot.
August 17 - Last day for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the Primary Election.
August 21 - Deadline for non-major party candidates to file petitions to be included on the General Election ballot.
September 4 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the Primary
September 10 - Last day to personally deliver application for absentee voting in the Primary Last day to postmark absentee ballot for Primary
September 11 - Primary election; Polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m.; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.
September 25 - Runoff Primary election for Mayor, Comptroller and Public Advocate, if needed
October 12 - Last day to for non-absentee voters to register to vote in the General Election
October 30 - Last day to postmark application for absentee voting in the General Election
November 5 - Last day to hand-deliver an application for absentee voting, or to postmark an absentee ballot for the General Election.
November 6 - General Election; polls open at 6:00a.m. and close at 9:00p.m. in NYC; Absentee ballots must be hand-delivered by 9:00 p.m.

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