Caribbean candidates contest Primary Elections

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Office of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

Several Caribbean or Caribbean roots candidates are on Tuesday contesting the 2021 New York Primary Elections, seeking to hold or retain offices ranging from public advocate to comptroller to Brooklyn and Queens borough president to City council.

Not up for election this year are candidates for US House of Representatives and Senate; New York State Assembly and Senate; Bronx, Queens and Staten Island district attorney; and New York State governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general.

In a heavily Democratic New York City, the winner in the Primary Elections usually goes on to capture the General Elections in November. Caribbean nationals had nine days for early voting, from June 12 to June 20, ahead of Election Day on Tuesday.

According to New York City’s Board of Elections, about 191,197 residents capitalized on early voting, which is just under 20 percent of the early turnout seen in the November 2020 presidential election in the five boroughs – Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.

Across Brooklyn, where the vast majority of Caribbean nationals reside, the Board of Elections said about 65,516 residents, or just 2.5 percent of the borough population, participated in early voting.

Caribbean American New York City Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, the son of Grenadian immigrants, is challenged in the Primary by Anthony Herbert and Theo Chino.

Williams’s primary campaign issues are ensuring a just COVID-19 recovery, redefining public safety, and increasing government transparency and accountability. “Our city needs a public advocate who can effectively be an activist elected official, with more than just politics, bringing the voice of everyday New Yorkers into the halls of government,” he said.

“As New York City’s current public advocate, I pledge to continue to combine activism and legislation to help make our city a truly progressive beacon, and fight for a just and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Williams added.

The office of New York City Public Advocate is a citywide elected position, which is first in line to succeed the mayor.

The office serves as a direct link between the electorate and city government, effectively acting as an ombudsman, or watchdog, for New Yorkers.

Just before Tuesday’s crucial vote, Williams told Caribbean Life: “I haven’t seen anyone trying to ‘steal’ an election, but many people are trying to win it, and I would hope voters reward candidates whose campaigns reflect the serious responsibilities of government leadership in this critical time and reject the politics of division.

“It would be a privilege to continue the people’s work of making a more just, equitable and safe New York, and I hope I’ve earned your vote,” he said, urging voters to cast ballots for him.

For New York City Comptroller, Brian Benjamin, the son of a Guyanese mother and Jamaican father, is opposed by nine other candidates, including New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and New York State Senator Kevin Parker.

“My parents are from Guyana and Jamaica, but New York is our home,” said the Harvard-educated Benjamin. “And I’m running to make it affordable for everyone.

“I would work to ensure that New Yorkers’ retirements are protected, that our city’s agencies face sufficient oversight, and that investments in pension fund reflect New York City values,” he added.

Councilman Dr. Mathieu Eugene addresses congregation at Fenimore Street United Methodist Church in Brooklyn during the church’s Black History Month Celebration last month. Photo by Nelson A. King, file

Haitian-born New York City Council Member, Dr. Mathieu Eugene is among 12 candidates seeking to replace Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams. Adams is a leading candidate for New York City mayor.

Dr. Eugene, the first Haitian to be elected to New York City Council, currently represents the 40th Council District in Brooklyn. Eugene is restricted by the City Council Charter from seeking another four-year term.

Eugene is in a tough race that includes Khari Edwards, the son of Guyanese and Trinidadian immigrants, and New York City Council Member, Robert E. Cornegy, Jr.

Just one day before the crucial Democratic Primary, Adams endorsed Cornegy for Brooklyn Borough president.

Adams’ endorsement is the latest in a slew of endorsements that Cornegy has received, including US Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who represents the 8th Congressional District, comprising parts of Brooklyn and Queens, home to a significant number of Caribbean nationals.

Cornegy said he is running for Brooklyn Borough President “to bring Brooklyn back from the pandemic better than ever.”

Other elected officials who have endorsed Cornegy include Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair, Rodneyse Bichotte-Hermelyn, the daughter of Haitian immigrants; New York State Senator, Guyanese-born Roxanne Persaud; Council Members Farah Louis, the daughter of Haitian immigrants; and Assembly Members Mathylde Frontus, another daughter of Haitian immigrants, and Trinidadian Jaime Willliams.

For Queens Borough president, the incumbent Donovan Richards, who traces his roots to Jamaica, is opposed by Diana Sanchez, Elizabeth Crowley, James Van Bramer and Stan Morse.

Eleven candidates are contesting the 40th Council District in Brooklyn that comprises the heavily-populated Caribbean communities of Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

The contenders include Haitian-born Josue Pierre; Haitian American Edwin Raymond; Guyanese John Williams; and Maxi Eugene, Dr. Eugene’s brother.

In the adjacent District 45 — another predominantly Caribbean district comprising Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands and Kensington – the incumbent Haitian American Council Member Farah N. Louis is being challenged by Jamaican American Anthony Beckford, Cyril F. Joseph and Louis A. Cespedes.

“My motivation for running for re-election is my dedication to seeing the continued growth of my district and of my community,” said the daughter of Haitian immigrants, who is campaigning primarily on housing stability, economic justice and education, and food security.

“I will stand at the forefront to fight for equity and justice,” she added. “Make me your #1 choice.”

In District 46 – which comprises the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Flatlands, Georgetown, Gerritsen Beach, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Mill Island and Sheepshead Bay – at least four Caribbean candidates are competing in the 10-way race.

They are Haitians Gardy Brazela and Mercedes Narcisse, Barbadian Dr. Judy D. Newton and Guyanese R. Dimple Willabus.

Two Caribbean-roots candidates have been at each other’s throats in District 35 that includes Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.

Crystal Hudson, the daughter and granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants, and Renee Collymore, the daughter of a Barbadian father, have been throwing barbs at each other in the race that also includes Curtis M. Harris,

Deirdre M Levy, Hector Robertson, Maayan Z. Zik, Michael D Hollingsworth and Regina Kinsey.

Last week, Collymore, a former Democratic District Leader and daughter of the late Barbadian immigrant, Cecil Collymore, told Caribbean Life that she “experienced racism,” on the campaign trail, from Hudson’s campaign manager.

Collymore described Hudson’s campaign manager as a “young white woman”, whose name she only knows as “Kate.”

When contacted, Hudson declined to give her campaign manager’s full name.

She, however, described Collymore’s allegation as “a preposterous lie.”

“My staff and I are running a campaign rooted in the principles of equity and justice,” Hudson told Caribbean Life. “As a third-generation Brooklynite and the daughter and granddaughter of Jamaican immigrants, I know all too well how displacement has destroyed Black and Brown communities, and look forward to fighting for truly affordable housing for residents of the 35th District when I’m elected to the City Council.”

Collymore said she has been “fortunate to be on the front lines working to bring monumental change to New York’s greatest borough; and, with your help, I will continue ‘Building a Better Brooklyn.’”

Bichotte-Hermelyn has also endorsed two key positions that she said are “frequently looked over by voters, through no fault of their own”: Judge of Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court and Judge of the Civil Court for Brooklyn.

“I have endorsed two highly-qualified candidates of integrity in these elections: Judge Dweynie Esther Paul for Surrogate’s Court and Inga O’Neale for Civil Court judge.

Judge Dweynie Esther Paul, the daughter of Haitian immigrants and a Kings County Civil Court Judge, elected in 2015, is running for Surrogate’s Court.

Lawyer Inga O’Neale, the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, is running to be a Kings County Civil Court judge in Brooklyn.

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