Gotham Gazette Mon, 19 Apr 2021 17:54:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Ede Fox Unsuccessful in Second Attempt at Election to City Council ede1

Ede Fox, in white, with campaign help (photo via Facebook)

At 7 a.m. on primary day, September 12, Ede Fox had already been campaigning for an hour, since polls opened, at P.S. 20 in Fort Greene. The neighborhood is part of the 35th City Council District, where Fox was trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Laurie Cumbo, who had bested Fox four years ago when the seat was open.

That year, Fox finished third in a five-way primary, 1,825 votes behind Cumbo. This year, she decided to take Cumbo on again, motivated by community concerns around affordability and gentrification, and encouraged by the head-to-head nature of the primary. Cumbo, however, now had advantages of incumbency: name recognition, more institutional support, easier access to donors.

Fox had worked in the City Council as an aide and was particularly moved by one major land use project in the district: the potential redevelopment of the vacant Bedford Union Armory, which sits on a large piece of public land in Crown Heights, and is the center of controversy as the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio seeks to move ahead with a proposal to turn it into a mixed-use facility that includes condominiums, market-rate rental apartments, rent-capped apartments at different levels of affordability, and recreational space. Fox believes the proposal would usher in more displacement to a community already feeling squeezed, and wants to see the land put into a public trust, not turned over to a private developer who won a city request for proposals.

While the issue, and Fox’s attacks against Cumbo about her stance on the project, which Cumbo eventually came out against, has gotten most of the attention, the race was not only about one topic. The district is diverse, including Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, where Fox started her day, feeling optimistic.

Early on this primary day, Fox told Gotham Gazette that 2013 was “much more difficult to capture attention, partly because there were so many candidates for mayor, and so much going on up-ballot that that’s where a lot of people had their attention focused. So this time around, there’s been a lot more focus on this race, and that’s been great. It’s helped us really capture the attention of the 35th district residents.”

Fox was confident that she would win the day, despite the fact that incumbents are almost impossible to unseat in New York City Council races. Media reports regularly listed the race as a close one, and one of the few where an incumbent was vulnerable. There has been a very organized and vocal community advocacy effort to defeat the Bedford Armory proposal, with much antipathy aimed at Cumbo and de Blasio.

“I think that voters all over the district are really struggling around the issue of housing,” Fox said. “That’s the number one issue people to raise to me when I’m at their doors and talking to them.”

Although the armory issue has dominated headlines, the issue is not as salient in the more gentrified, more white parts of the district, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill.

In Fort Greene, numerous voters approached Fox and inquired about laws surrounding bicycling.

“A lot of people prioritize biking here,” she said.

Fox, who used to live in Amsterdam, the biking capital of the world, was sympathetic to the plight of cyclists, vowing to ensure that streets remain safe for them. Fox said that Brooklyn could learn a few things from Amsterdam.

“The Netherlands has a very different take on human rights. All the apartments have balconies. Everyone has a right to fresh air and sunshine,” Fox said, adding that the Dutch do not spend 100% of their incomes on rent. “I want to see a country like that.”

Many voters in Fort Greene were completely unfamiliar with the armory issue; one father of two on his way to vote exclaimed “holy smokes” when Fox described the situation to him. Fox said that partnerships with big real estate developers to create affordable housing are not working, and that a change in direction was warranted.

According to Fox, the media had focused in on the armory, but the district prioritized a range of issues, including criminal justice reform and transportation.

As the candidate moved further east into the district, into Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights, the issue of affordability, and the armory in particular, became evidently on voters’ minds. Those who spoke with Fox and with Gotham Gazette proclaimed the armory as the most prominent issue informing their vote. Kris, from Clinton Hill, accused Cumbo of being “in the back pocket of developers,” a common accusation by her critics.

Kris stated that, in the district, she would vote for anyone who went against real estate developers. She also said she was voting for de Blasio in the mayoral primary, though, since there were no other good choices. De Blasio has regularly been criticized from the left for being too close to big real estate and given that his housing policies, while demanding new extractions from developers, rely on the private market to help create affordable housing by building a lot of new market-rate housing as well.

“This partnership with real estate to create affordable housing is not working,” Fox said.

The primary between Fox and Cumbo was personal and nasty. At a candidate forum in July, Fox accused Cumbo of being in the pocket of big developers, which led Cumbo to accuse Fox of running a negative, insult-based campaign.

There was history to the attacks on Cumbo as tied to big real estate, given that in 2013, Cumbo was the beneficiary of a large independent expenditure by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), seeking to boost her candidacy in the hopes of a more friendly face in the Council.

In 2013, REBNY’s PAC, Jobs for New York, spent $229,616 in independent expenditures on behalf of Cumbo, and $27,098 in expenditures against Fox and Alabi. This year, Jobs for New York did not make any independent expenditures. The Hotel Trades Council’s PAC, Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities, spent $113,588 on behalf of Cumbo in independent expenditures, as of the September 1 filing with the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

Cumbo notably did not take a position on the Bedford Union Armory until May, which many activists and neighborhood residents took as tacit approval of the proposal. Facing mounting pressure, she came out against it, and regularly explained that she had listened to the community, which wants no part of the armory sold off, which condominiums would do, and wants more affordability in the rental housing. She said she had been supportive of a general redevelopment, but had to study the specifics proposed, and that when she did, she heard her constituents and said it would need to be renegotiated.

The fate of the project is now unclear, as there remains time to change some of the specifics, though not in grand fashion, or to kill the proposal altogether. Many, including Fox, expressed skepticism that Cumbo would retain her opposition to the proposal if she were to win the primary election.

Fox and Green Party candidate Jabari Brisport saw an opening to potentially defeat a weak incumbent. Fox told Gotham Gazette that the community does not have a strong advocate in the City Council with regards to the armory, and that she was someone who would be “firm” and would “stand with the community.” Both candidates took the position of developing the armory into 100% affordable housing, rather than the de Blasio-approved plan of 50% of rental units and 20% of condo units being designated affordable at the site.

Endorsements for the primary were split between Cumbo and Fox. Cumbo received more union support and support from elected officials and news publications, while Fox received ample support from advocacy organizations and political clubs. Among Fox’s endorsements were the Transport Workers Union, the United Automobile Workers, Citizens Union, Tenants PAC, Streets PAC, and New Kings Democrats.

Despite the flaring tensions, a number of residents walked into their polling stations without having made up their mind, especially in Fort Greene, where the armory issue isn’t as dominant. Becca Delmonte, of Fort Greene, told Gotham Gazette as she walked into her polling station at P.S. 20 that she was undecided and hadn’t been closely following the race.

“[They] both seem like great candidates,” she said. “Both support issues I do,” she added, highlighting women’s issues in particular. Cumbo is co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus and chair of the Women’s Issues Committee. The incumbent also recently gave birth to her first child, a son, just a few weeks before the primary. It was not long before she was back on the campaign trail, necessitated by the tight race, or before she and her son appeared on campaign mailers and handouts, explaining to voters that key issues were now even more important to Cumbo because she had become a parent.

Fox called last-minute voter indecision normal, saying that in local races, voters often make up their mind in the last three days of the race, making the last day of campaigning especially critical. A lot of times, she said, “people only pay attention in the last two days.”

Throughout the day, Cumbo and Fox worked to sway those voters throughout the district. At times, Cumbo was joined by several or her many allies among her City Council colleagues.

Late in the day, Fox told Gotham Gazette that Cumbo’s campaign had sunk to low blows to win votes. According to Fox, Cumbo’s campaign was chasing down voters and heckling Fox and her volunteers, which she called an “indication of desperation.” Fox also stated that Cumbo’s chief of staff, Monica Abend, was yelling incessantly, apparently not learning a lesson from a recent New York Post article that alleged Abend had said voters should choose Cumbo because Fox doesn’t have a good relationship with de Blasio.

Indeed, de Blasio has been supportive of Cumbo, though he did not make a formal endorsement, in part because it may not help Cumbo given the armory controversy. Reports indicated that de Blasio’s allies and supporters were quietly helping Cumbo, which none of the parties denied or confirmed when Gotham Gazette asked earlier this campaign season.

When Gotham Gazette asked Fox on primary day whether she had voted for de Blasio in the mayoral primary, she said it was a private matter.

Council Member Jumaane Williams, not facing a heated primary, stopped by to assist Cumbo, leafleting the neighborhood and parking a bus with his own campaign literature covering the windows in front of the school.

When the polls finally closed, Fox returned to her campaign office in Crown Heights to watch returns. She said she was feeling good about the campaign, that most of the people she spoke to were supportive of her campaign, and that she felt confident of a win.

“Every place I was, there was a high level of support,” she said.

It didn’t work out that way, however; Cumbo won 58% of the vote to Fox’s 42%. Cumbo will now face Brisport and Republican Christine Parker in the general, but is expected to win handily given the Democratic Party’s dominance in the district.

For Fox, the second attempt to win the seat did not turn out as planned. Cumbo is likely to win a second term, after which she would be term-limited from running again.

“We did a fabulous, fabulous job,” Fox told her volunteers and campaign staff. “It took a quarter of a million dollars to beat us this time.” After her speech ended, the room erupted in a chant of “Ede!”

by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Ede Fox Unsuccessful in Second Attempt at Election to City Council Fri, 15 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Heated Rematch in Central Brooklyn, Where Incumbent Seeks to Hold City Council Seat cumbo campaign office 35 crop

Council Member Laurie Cumbo (@cmlauriecumbo)

Hundreds of Crown Heights residents and community activists laughed and jeered at a recent community forum as a lanky man wearing a paper mask of Mayor Bill de Blasio joked about bringing affordable housing to their neighborhood.

The event was punctuated by moments of levity but mostly dominated by anger from residents who feel their elected representatives have sold out their interests to the real estate industry, with a focus on the proposed redevelopment of the vacant Bedford Union Armory. The de Blasio administration, with a developer, is proposing a combination of affordable and market rate rental apartments, condominium units, and recreation space for the massive site. City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents the district, did not attend the August 2 forum focused on the project -- she was just days from giving birth to a son -- and when representatives of her office tried to speak, they were shouted down.

The event was the latest outpouring of resentment over the Bedford Union Armory project, which has taken center stage in the City Council race for District 35, where Cumbo, a first term Democrat, is facing a formidable primary challenge.

Candidates include Democrats Cumbo, who hopes to continue the work she has done over the last three-plus years if given another term by the voters, and Ede Fox, who lost to Cumbo in 2013 but is running again, seizing on community anger over the future of the armory and related issues of affordable housing and gentrification.

Cumbo won in the 2013 primary with 7,561 votes. Olanike Alabi came in second with 5,369 votes and Fox was just behind with 5,340. Cumbo then ran uncontested in the general election, which will not be the case again this year as she is slated to have a Republican opponent and a Green Party opponent.

Aside from the hotly contested Democratic primary -- which is very likely to determine the eventual winner in the heavily Democratic district -- there is also a Green Party primary between Jabari Brisport and Scott Hutchins, and Republican Christine Parker is also running, though neither Hutchins nor Parker appears to be running much of a campaign (both were absent from two recent candidate forums attended by Gotham Gazette).

District 35 incompasses central Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, parts of Crown Heights and Bed Stuy. Before Cumbo, it was represented by current Public Advocate Letitia James.

Cumbo, Fox, and Brisport met at a forum on Saturday, July 15 hosted by the Flatbush Tenant Coalition as well as at a forum hosted by the Washington Avenue Botanic Block Association on July 25 to discuss focal issues of this city election cycle and the 35th District race, such as affordable housing, education, afterschool programs, and criminal justice reform. They answered moderator and attendee questions that helped further illuminate key issues of the race and their stances on them.

As with many instances where an incumbent seeking reelection is challenged, much of the election will come down to a referendum on Cumbo’s tenure. One unique factor in the race: Cumbo gave birth to a son on August 4. She was back on the campaign trail two weeks later.

In an interview with Gotham Gazette prior to the birth of her son, Cumbo stated that she “talks to the baby” about all of the things she’s worked on while pregnant with him, and that it is a motivating factor for her as she seeks a second term.

Fox has been on the attack against Cumbo, connecting her to big real estate, accusing her of being a weak leader for the community, especially with regard to the proposed redevelopment of the armory. Cumbo touts her commitment to the district, including using her discretionary funding to bolster social service and arts organizations. She also points to her leadership of the Council’s women’s issues committee as it pertains to women and families in the district and elsewhere.

As Brisport eyes the general election against the winner of Cumbo versus Fox, he is running on a typical Green Party platform of social, economic, and environmental justice that overlaps a good deal with and is bolstered by the type of politics popularized by Senator Bernie Sanders, himself a democratic socialist, in the 2016 presidential campaign. Brisport must win what is a rare Green Party primary.

Neither Hutchins, the other Green candidate, nor Parker, the Republican in the race, could be reached for comment for this article, nor has either been present at the two late July candidate forums.

Ede Fox
“I’m running because, in watching the current Council member, she’s not putting [in] the work that is necessary,” Fox told Gotham Gazette. “You know, funding some programs and stuff is great, but it doesn’t help a senior get a SCRIE application filled out so they can make sure that they can afford their rent, and it doesn’t make sure that we’re preventing landlords from illegally harassing and evicting tenants because they want to get the apartment out of rent stabilization. There’s just a tremendous amount of pressure on people in this community in terms of displacement, and that stuff is just not getting addressed, and that’s a problem.”

“We have seen over the last 10 years a dramatic change in the development and displacement from downtown Brooklyn,” Fox continued, “and that wave is moving east, and we need someone who is really committed to focusing on that, and focusing on helping individual people.”

ede fox via her campaignFox (pictured, middle) has worked for the City Council off and on for 11 years, most recently for the Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, where until January she helped work on a variety of programs she hopes to bring into the 35th district.

“One of [those projects] was to create a preservation task force, which was designed to understand the housing stock in specific districts, and to work in partnership with HPD to build out a short- and long-term preservation plan to preserve existing affordable housing as well as to find ways to create new affordable housing,” said Fox. “That’s a thing that can be implemented in the 35th if you have the will.”

Additionally, Fox hopes to allocate funds to local tenant organizations to help preemptively identify struggling tenants and prevent evictions, along with helping to create community land trusts similar to the projects she worked on for Mark-Viverito’s home district of East Harlem, she said.

“Community land trusts can then ensure that we’re creating permanent affordable housing, not stuff that’s going to expire in 25-35 years, but that’s permanent, and that’s the kind of housing that we need in this community,” said Fox. “Affordable housing that’s created needs to be created to match the incomes of the populations that’s there, otherwise it’s not affordable and it’s not helpful.”

In focusing on affordable housing, community change, and gentrification, Fox is honing in on perhaps the most pressing issue for the central Brooklyn district she hopes to represent, and quite possibly the key issue across the city -- one which Mayor Bill de Blasio has dedicated much of his own focus. However, Fox’s candidacy is in part based on the belief that de Blasio is not doing enough to protect and create affordable housing or ward off gentrification. The mayor’s housing plan is largely predicated on leveraging the private market to help fund affordable housing units.

“The Real Estate Board of New York, REBNY, raised about $12 million in 2013 to elect developer-friendly Council members,” Fox said, “...this was a super PAC, and they put money into various races around the city where they endorsed candidates, and my point is that these guys aren’t stupid - they’re putting their money where they think they’ll have a candidate who will work with them and carry their water. So they spent $260,000 doing [mailers] for Laurie Cumbo and sent out door-knockers to do the same and get her elected.”

The support for Cumbo and other candidates from REBNY, through its Jobs for New York super PAC, became a point of controversy in 2013, with Cumbo eventually asking the PAC to stop its independent expenditure efforts on her behalf. But, Jobs for New York did spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of Cumbo and against Fox and Alabi.

“Over the last four years, she’s shown her willingness to carry the concerns of the developers and put those first, and that’s most evident in the Bedford Union Armory project,” said Fox. “This is a project that she supported until about three weeks ago, because it was no longer politically feasible for her to.”

The Bedford Union Armory project proposal was designed to transform the facility into 56 condos and 330 rental apartments. The project proposal also includes plans for a substantial recreation center planned to include an indoor soccer field, basketball courts, and an indoor pool. The developer selected by the city’s Economic Development Corporation to complete the project is BFC Partners, which agreed to keep one-fifth of the condos and half of the rental units as affordable units, pegged for certain income-level earners, but was met with significant pushback from nearby residents who maintain that because it’s being built on city land, the project should be 100 percent affordable.

With Cumbo now against the plan, its future is unclear -- the de Blasio administration, Cumbo, and BFC are in ongoing negotiations around tweaks that might placate community concerns and get Cumbo’s support. Some, like Fox, believe Cumbo will back the current project plan as soon as the election is over. Cumbo insists she has heard the community and will hold out for certain affordability demands and will continue to oppose condo sales.

When it comes to education, community and parental involvement is at the core of Fox’s plans, she explained. Concerned that the Department of Education often leaves parents in the dark, Fox said she will work to increase parental involvement in the school system, as well as leveling the playing field for lower income schools by securing more funding.

“They don’t feel like they’re a part of the decisions that [the Department of Education] is making, and so they get informed late about things, and I think generally what the schools need is a representative who is going to push DOE, and DOE has to be responsive to the Council member, but they don’t always have to be responsive to parents [unless] there is a massive outcry.”

Fox’s platform lists other positions on critical issues. On transportation, Fox calls for an increase in funding for the MTA, though it’s not specified whether this entails a greater city contribution to the capital plan, as well as expanded bus service and bike lanes. Fox also calls for an end to cash bail and solitary confinement, and working on finding and implementing alternatives to incarceration.

Laurie Cumbo
Cumbo, the incumbent, was moved to run for office in 2013 after criticizing the state ending allocation of member items, or funds that state Senate senators and Assembly members got to dole out to nonprofit organizations, like the one she founded.

“I began to spend so much time rallying and participating, and so many other issues came across…that I decided that I wanted to enter into the political world,” Cumbo told Gotham Gazette. “I had been asked by many people over the course of years to consider running, and when Public Advocate Letitia James decided that she was going to run for Public Advocate, she encouraged me to do it.”

Born and raised in a nearby Brooklyn area, after attending Brooklyn Technical High School, Cumbo attended Spelman College before earning her graduate degree in Arts Administration from NYU. She used that degree to found MoCADA, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, in Brooklyn.

“What it allowed me the opportunity to be was a director of a not-for-profit organization, to establish leadership in the community, to create local jobs in the community, it gave me an opportunity to provide arts and educational programing in our NYCHA developments, and it provided me an opportunity to create after-school programs,” said Cumbo. “I created 10 after-school programs in different schools throughout the 35th Council District.”

Cumbo said she wants to continue to expand on the initiatives she’s started since joining the City Council in January, 2014 after her victory in the contentious 2013 Democratic primary.

“When looking to run for public office, I feel that it’s important to have a track record of real, tangible leadership in the community,” said Cumbo. “People should be able to point to your accomplishments, people should have an understanding of your leadership style, and they should have an understanding of what you’re able to get done by having participated or seen or experienced it.”

She continued, referencing accusations made by Fox. “To say that I sold out the community is really flagrantly false. It’s easy to just come along and just look at the record of the incumbent and begin to attack, without really being able to talk about what you’re about, or what you've accomplished, or what you’ve done.”

Issues important to Cumbo during her reelection campaign include further expanding after-school programs, continuing to strengthen not-for-profit organizations (City Council members receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in “member items” to divvy up), and the ever important affordable housing struggle in the district.

“Affordable housing continues to be a huge issue in our community,” said Cumbo. “One that, through a lot of collaboration with all of the elected officials, we’ve been trying to do all that we can to stop the hemorrhaging [of funds] that’s happening in our communities.”

Cumbo has also been recorded as saying that upzoning can happen “with or without the community board,” according to a video posted by the Movement To Protect The People roughly a year ago.

“You can boo, you can boo all you want,” said Cumbo.

Aside from promising to continue the work from her previous term, Cumbo’s current campaign platform includes working towards “Investing in Economic Development,” “Strengthening and Stabilizing Not-For-Profit Organizations and Service Employees,” and “Reforming our Educational System.”

And, Cumbo may be getting a boost from Mayor de Blasio’s team, though no one seems to want to talk about it.

Jabari Brisport
“This campaign started out of a deep frustration with our current society, and our current economy, and the level of participation that I was doing with the government,” said Brisport, who has spent the past 10 years as a political activist. “I felt like I was not doing enough - there’s only so many times you can stand outside a politician’s office and yell and scream before you decide that you want to take yourself into City Hall.”

Brisport’s activism has centered around his participation in political theater, such as the group Political Subversities, which he works with to draw attention to major issues in the community, as well as organizing rallies for groups like Black Lives Matter.

“My biggest challenge would be running as an independent third party candidate on the Green ticket. I would say that if we can’t get enough visibility that will be a huge hindrance to the campaign, people will just vote down the Democratic line,” said Brisport. “But I believe if people know about the campaign, they’ll be interested in the campaign, and that’s been my biggest triumph. People hear ‘Green Party’ [and] they think that’s this impossible thing, and they start to get disinterested, but when they start to hear more about what I’m pushing for in this campaign, they start to get excited about it…It’s a great snowball effect.”

Brisport listed affordable housing as the biggest issue of his campaign, saying that it’s the district’s biggest issue “and really, the city’s biggest issue.”

“And it’s not just the Bedford Union Armory,” said Brisport. “It’s the evictions at Ebbets Field Houses…it’s the encroachment of landlords and special interests on some public land or onto the property of the little guy - the working class - and that’s something we really need to take a bigger stance against.”

Police reform is also at the forefront of Brisport’s campaign, and giving communities and citizens more control over the NYPD and “turning the power structure of the NYPD on its head” are essential to his vision for the district, he said. Ultimately, Brisport said he would like to see an end to the police system as we know it, and instead wants to utilize active community members to ensure citizens feel like they are being policed fairly.

Brisport is a member of the DSA, or Democratic Socialists of America, which he feels helps him approach community issues from a new and innovative perspective and gives him a clearer end goal.

“For example, a progressive Democrat might say they want to fight for affordable housing, which [seems] more like a reactionary thing; my goal would be more like community control of the land. I believe all land should be de-commodified,” said Brisport. “I don’t have policies that can do that at the moment, but we can take the next step towards that.”

According to Brisport that next step would be making the Bedford Union Armory part of a community land trust.

He continued: “The same thing for policing. A progressive Democrat may be arguing for [body cameras], I’m pushing for a restructuring of the police so that it is run by communities, and not run alongside or against communities.”

by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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Heated Rematch in Central Brooklyn, Where Incumbent Seeks to Hold City Council Seat Thu, 24 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio, Cumbo Teams Mum on Campaign Aid 13291399165 906bc2fcac z

Mayor de Blasio & Council Member Cumbo (arm raised) (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)

As she seeks re-election, City Council Member Laurie Cumbo has key advantages that come with incumbency -- name recognition, access to donors, and a degree of institutional support. Included in that support is the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, a fellow Democrat also running for a second term this fall, though the mayor and his team appear to be helping Cumbo quietly, in part because of the complicated politics surrounding a key issue in her district, the redevelopment of the vacant Bedford Union Armory.

Politico New York recently reported that the mayor’s team has thrown its weight behind Cumbo’s campaign, aiming to ensure that the key rezoning effort in her district is successful. As reported, the effort raises questions about potential violations of the city’s Conflicts of Interest law and rules governing campaign activities by city officials, but both the de Blasio and Cumbo camps have been tight-lipped about the mutually beneficial arrangement.

In the August 10 report, Politico New York’s Sally Goldenberg, citing more than a dozen sources, detailed efforts by de Blasio’s close associates to bolster Cumbo, who is facing a tough primary challenge from Ede Fox. Goldenberg noted that the city's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which is run by former de Blasio campaign operative Emma Wolfe, has organized volunteers for Cumbo’s campaign and arranged for them to hire an aide from the office of Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. They also urged unions to back Cumbo and expressed the importance of the race to the Working Families Party, which has decided not to make an endorsement. “High-ranking de Blasio staffers have offered the Cumbo campaign operational advice,” Goldenberg wrote, “and are prepared to provide more assistance as the primary nears, the sources said.”

As Gotham Gazette sought to clarify what campaign help was being provided to Cumbo by City Hall, perhaps blurring or crossing lines meant to separate government and political work, the response was silence. Mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips refused to comment, as did a spokesperson for Cumbo’s campaign. De Blasio’s own reelection campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Over the years, the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board has issued numerous advisory opinions on the restrictions on political activity by public servants. Perhaps one of the most pertinent, from 2012, prohibits city employees from working on political campaigns on city time or with city resources.

In the most recent advisory, issued August 17, the Board noted the general intent of the law as it pertains to political campaigns. “Certain principles run consistently through each of these Advisory Opinions: while public servants may engage in many political activities, they must keep those activities separate from their official City duties,” the advisory reads. “This means, most significantly, that public servants may not use their City positions to benefit a political campaign, and they may not use any City time or resources for campaign-related activities.”

The COIB does not comment on potential violations, each of which can carry a civil penalty of $25,000 for an erring public servant. Officials can also be fired, suspended, or lose vacation days if their employing agency deems it appropriate.

The Office of Intergovernmental Affairs interceding in a City Council election could violate that basic principle. “The real issue is, are they accounting for their time properly?” wondered Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government reform organization. “Are they using their powers responsibly?”

Horner said it wasn’t unusual or inappropriate for the mayor to wield his political clout in another elected official’s favor. “It’s not unheard of for an executive to use their political muscle to help legislative candidates,” he said. Indeed, the mayor has attempted to use his influence in the past to try to sway state Senate elections towards Democrats in 2014. “What would be inappropriate is using the public office for partisan advantage,” Horner said.

At the core of de Blasio’s support for Cumbo is the Bedford Union Armory project, a proposal to turn the 138,000-square-foot facility in Crown Heights into a mixed-use development with affordable and market-rate housing, condos, and a state-of-the-art recreation center. The project has become the burning issue of the District 35 race, creating space for Fox to challenge Cumbo in the primary and bringing increased attention to the de Blasio administration’s rezoning efforts that have been unpopular with communities fearing displacement and gentrification. Cumbo only came out against the project after months of delay, during which Fox painted her as a real-estate-friendly elected official who had betrayed her community. (De Blasio’s City Hall and Cumbo have also been largely aligned on other matters over the course of the term.)

Fox said she wasn’t perturbed by de Blasio’s unseen support for Cumbo. “I think that Laurie Cumbo is aware she’s in a very competitive race and is looking for all the support she can get,” Fox said in a phone interview.

Although Fox recognizes that she’s at a disadvantage running against an incumbent, she said she isn’t deterred. “I knew going in that I was not going to get much institutional support so this is no surprise,” she said. “I knew the power of incumbency. I was expecting and preparing for it.”

She has been particularly skeptical about Cumbo’s opposition to the Bedford Armory project, and worries that Cumbo may give in to the administration’s preferences if she wins the primary election on September 12. “I think that is a very real question,” she said, “and I think voters are weighing whether they can trust their representative given her long-standing support for the project. The language I’ve heard from her has not made it very clear that she’s standing against the project as a whole.”

Come primary election day, in a district where some residents are up in arms about the de Blasio administration’s housing and economic development policies, Cumbo’s ties to the mayor and his team may be her undoing. “Ultimately, the voters will decide if it’s a good or bad idea,” said NYPIRG’s Horner.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio, Cumbo Teams Mum on Campaign Aid Mon, 21 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Rep. Jeffries Endorses Council Member Cumbo for Reelection 15064019050 ec023beaf0 z

Council Member Laurie Cumbo (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)

New York Congressional Representative Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, has endorsed City Council Member Laurie Cumbo for reelection. Cumbo, a first-term Democrat from District 35, which covers Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, is in the midst of a tough primary battle against Ede Fox, a Democrat who lost to Cumbo in 2013 and is running again this year.

Jeffries, whose congressional district includes large parts of Cumbo’s Council district, explained the endorsement to Gotham Gazette in a phone interview on Monday. “These are challenging times in our country, and Democratic members of our Congress are fighting hard each and every day to stop the onslaught of regressive policies coming from the Trump administration,” he said. “In this atmosphere, having a strong ally in the City Council to defend the interests of the neighborhoods we both represent is critically important. There is no better ally that I could have at the local or state level than Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo.”

The Congressman said he plans to actively campaign for Cumbo in local churches, block parties, senior centers, subway stations, and “whatever else it takes to make sure she wins decisively” in the September 12 primary and the November 7 general. Jeffries is extremely popular among his constituents and was reelected last year with 93.3 percent of the vote in the general election after being unopposed in the primary.

The Congressman, who was rumored to be a potential challenger to Mayor Bill de Blasio for much of last year, has taken on a notable role among national Democrats since the election of President Donald Trump. Jeffries was elected as co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee in December and has since emerged as a vocal critic of the Republican president. Jeffries and Cumbo share many views on major issues, including handling the district’s housing crisis and improving education.

“Laurie Cumbo has been a tremendous champion both in creating and preserving affordable housing throughout Central Brooklyn,” said Jeffries. “On issue after issue, she’s been phenomenal when it comes to pushing back against the intense gentrification that we confront in Crown Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights.”

Jeffries is the latest high-profile fellow Democrat to endorse Cumbo. Last week, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke declared her support for Cumbo’s reelection. Cumbo has also been endorsed by Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Vanessa Gibson and the Council’s LGBT Caucus.

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(photo: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries/Flickr)

 Jeffries praised Cumbo’s accomplishments in her first term, and spoke highly of her efforts to preserve affordable housing in Brooklyn, getting at a core issue motivating Fox’s challenge. “She’s been responsible for helping to prevent the privatization of certain housing cooperatives in the Clinton Hill section of the district. She’s fought hard to affirmatively create affordable housing opportunities on NYCHA developments throughout the district, particularly in Fort Greene,” said Jeffries. “Cumbo single handedly shut down the [Bedford Union] Armory deal because it did not meet the aspirations of the community that she effectively represents.”


The Bedford Union Armory rezoning proposal has been a particularly hot issue in the District 35 race, and represents the core of any vulnerability for Cumbo in the September 12 primary. The project -- which would convert the Armory into 330 units of rental housing and 60 condos, and includes plans for a state-of-the-art recreation center -- faces heavy opposition from some residents who believe it is a sweetheart deal for real estate developers, would spur gentrification, and doesn’t include enough affordable housing. Although Cumbo came out against the proposal in May, some constituents and community activists criticized her for her delayed opposition. Critics point to the project’s affordability levels -- about 50 percent will be set aside for affordable units in the current proposal -- will not match the incomes of the district, and say that the facility should be 100 percent affordable. Jeffries, however, felt comfortable that Cumbo has handled the development effectively.

“At this point, the City Council has a long standing policy of not moving forward with a development deal absent the support the local City Council member,” he said. “There is no scenario that I can envision where the Armory deal moves forward and sees a vote for the City Council as long as Laurie Cumbo is opposed to it. [Up] to this point, she has managed to negotiate improvements to the deal with the developer and the [de Blasio] administration, and I have every reason to expect that her opposition will only strengthen the leverage that she has to improve the outcome.”

Though there are several other Council districts that fall in the areas that Jeffries represents, the Congressman said he did not have plans to make any other endorsements. “Laurie Cumbo is the only endorsement that I have made this summer in the City Council races, and it’s not clear that I will go beyond this particular contest,” he said. “She is an on-hand, ever-present, active representative of the community, and a tremendous partner to me.”

Council Member Cumbo, who was pregnant throughout the campaign and gave birth on Friday, was with her newborn son and not available to comment. A spokesperson said she was thankful for Jeffries’ endorsement and was excited to work with him on affordable housing and improving schools in their shared communities.

Although Cumbo has a slew of prominent endorsements, her primary opponent Ede Fox has also picked up support. Fox has been endorsed by a number of local Democratic organizations, the Transit Workers Union and New York Communities for Change, among others.

The winner of the primary will be a heavy favorite in the general, where she will face Republican Christine Parker, as well as the winner of the Green Party primary between Scott Hutchins and Jabari Brisport.

[Related: Rare Green Party Primary in Brooklyn City Council Race]

by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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Rep. Jeffries Endorses Council Member Cumbo for Reelection Tue, 08 Aug 2017 00:57:08 +0000
Rare Green Party Primary in Brooklyn City Council Race Brisport

(Credit via @Jabari2017)

Despite laying claim to less than one percent of party affiliated registered voters within New York City, the Green Party has two candidates competing in a rare primary this year.

Candidates Jabari Brisport and Scott Hutchins are facing each other for the chance to run against the winner of the Democratic primary between incumbent Laurie Cumbo and Ede Fox, as well as Republican candidate Christine Parker, in the 35th City Council District, which includes central Brooklyn neighborhoods like Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Crown Heights.

"It's very rare that there are two Greens in a race, that is true," said Gloria Mattera, the secretary of the Green Party of Brooklyn, in a brief interview with Gotham Gazette. "All candidates are encouraged to run."

Mattera said that the Green Party wasn’t backing Brisport or Hutchins, but that there might be an endorsement meeting soon.

In a subsequent interview, Mattera said the party saw an “uptick in people, either back or joining the Green Party” who had been active in Bernie Sanders’ campaign during the 2016 presidential election that were disappointed with the Democratic Party.

“Both, of course, with how the DNC process went, and for many, Sanders himself in terms of the decisions he made around his campaign,” said Mattera. “So I think our party has been, I would say, growing in the last year and a half.”

Of just under 5 million registered voters in New York City (4,996,975) as of April 1, there were 8,621 registered with the Green Party, according to the state Board of Elections. In Brooklyn, those numbers are 1,544,238 registered voters, with 3,172 in the Green Party. It’s not clear how many Greens live in Council District 35, and there is still time to register to vote for the September 12 primary -- according to the city’s website, new voters must submit their voter registration a minimum of 25 days prior to the election date. (The deadline to switch one’s party registration in order to vote in a particular primary has passed, though.)

The Green Party is fielding candidates in a handful of other City Council races, as well as a full slate in the three citywide races for Mayor, Comptroller, and Public Advocate.

It’s not clear yet whether both Brisport and Hutchins will be on the September primary ballot, as petition signatures are being vetted by the Board of Elections. Brisport appears to be running a much more active campaign. He has reported raising about $15,000 for his campaign, and spending about $5,000 of it, while Hutchins has not yet filed any financial disclosures with the Campaign Finance Board. Cumbo, meanwhile, has raised about $108,000 and Fox about $74,000, all as of mid-July. Parker has reported raising just under $4,500 -- like Hutchins, she does not appear to be running a particularly active campaign.

Hutchins was not present at either of two recent candidate forums for the race, those put on by the Flatbush Tenants or the Washington Avenue Botanic Block Association. Brisport showed up to debate the two candidates of the more popular Democratic Party, Cumbo and Fox, and raise awareness of his campaign.

“If anybody here is in the Green Party, I do have a primary challenger…he didn’t show up, so don’t vote for him, vote for me,” said Brisport at the WABBA forum on July 25. “I do plan to win the primary soundly, for those of you who are not [Green Party Members],” Brisport added, in referencing to the subsequent general election.

Brisport, like both Democratic candidates, is running a housing-centric campaign, stressing that affordable housing is the most important issue in the district. He is also running on police reform, economic justice, climate justice, and an end to high stakes testing in schools.

Hutchins did not make himself available for comment for this story -- he said via Facebook that his phone was not working, but promised to call Gotham Gazette and did not do so by publication time.

Though, according to Mattera, District 35 is the only City Council race with two Green Party candidates, the mayoral race in Albany will be holding a Green Party primary in September between 22-year-old Bryan Jimenez,and Sheridan Hollow, 28. According to The Albany Times Union, there hasn’t been such a primary in Albany for mayor since in the last 16 years.

by Jynn Schubert for Gotham Gazette
@JynnWasHere  @GothamGazette

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Rare Green Party Primary in Brooklyn City Council Race Sun, 30 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000