Cunningham wins Special Election

Brian Cunningham with Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn.
Brian Cunningham with Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn.
Photo by Sabrina Rezzy

A Caribbean American community activist Tuesday night resoundingly won a seat vacated by a Caribbean American legislator in the 43rd Assembly District in Brooklyn.

Brian Cunningham, the son of a Jamaican immigrant, handsomely beat two other contenders for the 43rd Assembly District seat that became vacant when the representative, former New York State Assembly Member Diana C. Richardson, the daughter of Aruban and St. Martin immigrants, was appointed Deputy Brooklyn Borough President in January.

The 43rd Assembly District comprises the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Wingate and parts of East Flatbush.

In the low voter-turn-out poll, in which only 3, 0001 ballots were cast, according to New York City’s Board of Elections, Cunningham, running on the Democratic Party line, received 1, 869 votes, or 62.28 percent.

Jelanie Deshong – who ran for the    Working Families and was strongly supported by Richardson and the Brooklyn-based Progressive Democrats Political Association, headed by former New York City Council Member, Jamaican-born Dr. Una S. T. Clarke – gathered 1, 036 votes, or 34.52 percent.

Mesidor Azor, who contested the election for both the Republican and Conservative parties, received 63 votes, or 2.10 percent, and 25 votes, or 0.83 percent, respectively.

The Board of Elections said there were eight write-in ballots, or 0.27 percent.

“I’m honored that the people of District 43 have selected me to serve them in Albany,” said Cunningham at his victory party Tuesday night at Lips Café in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, referring to the State’s capital.

“I’m ready to wake up tomorrow and get to work on all of the progressive issues we need to move forward,” he added. “We have a lot to do to improve our communities, and I don’t want to waste a single second.”

Brooklyn Democratic Party Leader, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, an ardent Cunningham supporter, said she looks forward to seeing Cunningham in the State Assembly Chamber, “where he will, undoubtedly, leave his mark in the halls of Albany, as he has in the streets of Brooklyn.

Brian Cunningham, fifth from left, with elected officials and other supporters at victory party on Tuesday night, March 22. Sabrina Rezzy

“Brian’s victory shows the Democratic Party is putting the community first, and that divisiveness in this district is a thing of the past,” said Bichotte Hermelyn, who represents the predominantly Caribbean 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn. “Democrats are blazing the way forward.

“I thank the district leaders and grassroots activists who helped make this victory a reality,” she added. “Cunningham brings an incredible energy to this district that will benefit the people he will soon represent.”

Cunningham was endorsed by a number of New York’s political leaders, including New York City’s newly-elected mayor, Eric Adams.

“Brian Cunningham knows the struggles of working families,” Adams said. “He will prioritize our children, putting education, along with economic recovery and public safety, at the top of the agenda.

“I am proud to support Brian and congratulate him on his victory, which shows the Democratic Party is strong and united, and is the party of the people,” he added.

New York State Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs said: “Representative-elect Cunningham’s victory in this district is a sign that the party is united and working together to bring the people of this state the governance they deserve: by making economic recovery, public safety and equity a priority.

“Democracy was in full swing today, and I congratulate Brian Cunningham and the Brooklyn Democrats on a well-deserved victory,” Jacobs added.

New York State Senator Kevin Parker, for whom Cunningham had worked as a senior aide in the 21st Senate District in Brooklyn, endorsed Cunningham.

“This is a victorious night, not only for Brian but for the entire community,” Parker said. “I’ve seen Brian in action for many years, and now look forward to working with him in Albany to pass legislation that serves the people of this district and promotes our Democratic ideals.”

New York City Council Member Rita Joseph, the Haitian-born, newly- representative for the 40th Council District in Brooklyn, said Cunningham is “going to be a real leader in Albany, when it comes to progressive issues like public education, climate change and affordable housing.

“This victory is just our first step, but I know we will continue our strong partnership, delivering for the working people of Brooklyn,” said Joseph, a former public school teacher in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn District Leader and State Committee Member Edu Hermelyn, Bichotte Hermelyn’s husband, said: “Our diverse community is where Brian grew up.

“His history of working in our district’s non-profit organizations has shown us that he has a genuine desire to further enrich this neighborhood that we all love so much,” he said.

Former New York State assembly member and erstwhile representative for the 43rd Assembly District, Pastor Karim Camara, said: “The people of District 43 have chosen to put their faith in Brian Cunningham to lead our community.

“I believe that the voters have seen in Brian what I see: a passionate and experienced leader, who will get things done,” he said. “I look forward to collaborating with him on the important issues we face.”

Former New York City Council Member Robert Cornegy, who also endorsed Cunningham, said: “Crown Heights and the rest of District 43 are getting a passionate advocate for a progressive agenda in Albany.

“Brian understands the legislative process and what it takes to get things done,” he said. “He’s going to be a great asset to our communities in Albany.”

Born in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn and raised by a single Jamaican mother, Cunningham said he knows the struggles of working families in the City and the obstacles that immigrants face on a daily basis.

Cunningham, who was educated in the New York City public school system, said he has also “seen firsthand the lack of resources” in his community.

He said this inspired him to pursue social and economic justice, stating that he has dedicated his life to “giving back to the community” that nurtured him.

Cunningham began his career as an advocate counselor for CAMBA, Inc., a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization that provides social services to New Yorkers in need. CAMBA stands for Church Avenue Merchant Block Association

At CAMBA, Cunningham said he assisted “at-potential young people reach their academic goals and overcoming barriers.”

During that time, he said he learned that the challenges his students faced was “a microcosm of a larger systematic failure of our current public education system,” stating that he pursued a “solution-oriented approach.”

As a senior aide to Parker, Cunningham said he obtained “firsthand experience in the legislative process” and served as an advocate for vocational programming that trained underprivileged youth for “green-color and tech careers.”

Later, he served as chief of staff for former New York City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, where he spearheaded initiatives for affordable housing, women’s issues and small businesses.

Returning to the nonprofit sector, Cunningham said he helped secure funding for affordable housing, with Nazareth Housing, in Brooklyn.

Afterwards, he said he “received the opportunity of a lifetime” to serve as an aide to former US President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper Alliance”, mentoring and providing resources to underserved youth across the nation.

Before his election on Tuesday, Cunningham served as director of Neighbors in Action, a project of the Center for Court Innovation and the home of Save Our Streets Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn is lacking our fair share of resources,” he said. “Our community needs to be represented by people from the neighborhood and understands our needs.

“We can’t wait for progress; we must lay the groundwork for it,” Cunningham added. “We need social, criminal and economic justice now.”