Haitian upstart scores politically

City Councilman Jumanne Williams and Rodneyse Bichotte.
Photo by Tequila Minsky
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Sometimes the old fashioned, sidewalk pounding, hand-shaking and grassroots- based politicking works, as it did for upstart Rodneyse Bichotte, who recently won the primary for Democratic State Committee Female Leader of the 42nd Assembly District.

The first Haitian-American woman to be elected to office in New York City, she challenged the signatures on the petitions of 18-year incumbent Mary Hobson, knocking her off the ballot. She beat Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs-endorsed Natasha Holiday by 240 votes, five percent of the 3900 ballots cast. The saying ‘every vote counts’ operated here too.

The 42nd A.D. covers East Flatbush and Midwood. District leader is the bottom rung of electoral politics, where each party selects a man and woman representative for every assembly district. The assembly district leader, an unpaid position, helps pick poll workers, gets people on the ballot, and designates judgeships. (The 42nd assembly district is one of the most powerful democratic districts in the U.S., according to Bichotte, having population of about 150,000.)

But Bichotte has more in mind for her role as district leader.

She wants to help constituents with their concerns from emigration issues to ‘I want to have a tree in front of my house.’ Bichotte says, “I want to be visible; I want people to know what the district leader is, that I’m the person who is reachable and touchable and people with problems can reach me… helping them when they ask, ‘Where do I go for…’” She plans to start her own political club for the 42nd Assembly District.

Prior to this election, Bichotte was among those campaigning for Obama. To beat the odds and seeming favorites, Rodneyse Bichotte had a strong team of passionate novice supporters who wanted to get politically engaged and who campaigned for her as she did, going house-to-house meeting residents.

City Councilman Jumanne Williams was one who campaigned for her and the two were spotted meeting and greeting at the Fall Frolic on Cortelyou, one rainy Sunday. Additionally, robo calls and Haitian and non-Haitian radio helped Bichotte reach out. The district has a high number of Caribbeans, but also includes Jewish people, those with African-American southern roots, middle easterners and has a growing Hispanic population.

For her, the position and work of assembly leader is a natural, an extension of the community work she has already been doing and she’s no novice when it comes to community organizing. She also has been/is on a number of professional and service-oriented organization Boards and holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in Engineering and an M.B.A. She works in the financial services end of American Express.

After the earthquake in Haiti, she was also among those who met with USAID in Brooklyn who was looking to contract for infrastructure projects in Haiti. And though not a medical professional, she went—as part of a support team—on a one-week medical mission to Haiti.

Bichotte’s father, retired to Haiti and has since passed away, and brother are known jazz saxophone musicians in Haiti, the elder a member of the pioneering Jazz des Jeunes, the son was in the band Les Fantaisistes.

“I’m going to serve everybody,” She says, “I’m proud they selected me. I’m aware that there are different parts of the district and they have different issues. I look forward to partner with the different community-based organizations, churches and synagogues. There are resources available and that there are people who care and will help them. I want to partner with elected official and leverage their resources.”

In addition, she wants to drive voter registration, “There are a lot of citizens…of all national origins who are not registered. I want to motivate people to get politically engaged and interested, especially the youth.”

In a post-election analysis, Crain’s Insider wrote, “Some consider Bichotte a face to watch in Brooklyn politics.”

As a person new on the scene filled with energy, Bichotte’s driving force is, “I want people to know that they should not give up on government.”

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