Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of profiles KCP is doing with each of the candidates for the 43rd District City Council Race. Our reporter has either reached out already or is in the process of reaching out to all the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Despite the nation’s ongoing contention with Arab countries, Palestinian-American clergy member, Rev. Khader El-Yateem pushes forward with his unprecedented run for the City Council District 43 seat covering Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.
El-Yateem is confident he can mobilize the community based on his continued efforts that began nearly two decades ago, when he co-founded and currently chairs the Unity Task Force, founded in 1998.
“The organization was created to bring the Christians, the Muslims, the Jews and the elected officials together to address issues of concern in the community and to respond to them collectively,” said El-Yateem.
While still serving as a community unifier, El-Yateem expounds on his service by advocating for District 43 and its changing demographic. The candidate criticised the MTA’s (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) “wait and see” policy with regards to shuttle service during the recent closure of the Bay Ridge train station. “That was unbelievable, unacceptable,” said El-Yateem.
On May 1, with no more than a 2-week notice to Community Board 10, in which the candidate has been a member during the past 12 years, the MTA terminated service at the Bay Ridge Avenue station to complete a 6-month facelift of a station that will not include an elevator.
“At the end of the day I need, after spending $24 million, to make sure that the subway station will be accessible to everyone in our district,” says El-Yateem, empathizing with the districts disabled and large senior community.
A second sore sport within the community is the infamous Prince Hotel whose unfavorable guest have been a nuisance for decades. El-Yateem, like many of the candidates, decried the existence of the the Prince Hotel and proposed, amongst other ideas, the facility would best be used as a community center. “Can that be a community center for people in the arts who don’t have any place to belong to in our community?” suggests El-Yateem. The future of the hotel is undetermined at this time.
The community activist is an ardent supporter of affordable housing and explained his community-first philosophy. He suggests affordable housing should be made available to the families currently living in the community who can no longer afford the escalating rents and the significant senior community. “We need to protect our seniors,” said El-Yateem.
As developers look to build in District 43, the reverend said he would fight for strict stipulations that would benefit the area. First a provision mandating 20% of each new building to be allocated to affordable housing and secondly, the assurance that laborers will be unionized members of the city. “We need the people who work in our district, who live in our district to be hired so they can spend the money in our district so we can continue to strive,” said El-Yateem.
As a father of four, his concerns extend beyond community activism, but also poses a growing concern for his family. “Will my kids be able to afford to buy a house and live in my district?” asked El-Yateem.
All of the candidate’s children attend or have attended public schools and he fully supports the public school system. “We have good schools here,” said El-Yateem. He blamed the illegal home conversion problem in the area as the largest contributor to overcrowding and insists that taxpayers should not be paying for charter schools, but instead demanding a stronger public system. “The very people [charter schools] are supposed to be serving, they are not making space for,” said El-Yateem about charter schools.
The reverend also advocated for more after-school programs to keep youth occupied and out of trouble.
“We have a lot of kids who have died, that I know personally, [as a result of] overdoses,” said El Yateem. As an example of his ability to mobilize a community, he reflected on how he organized the first Town Hall meeting centering around substance abuse nearly a decade ago, in which congress members, senators and law enforcement officials came to support.
Since then, he recruited and worked closely with Donna Mae DePola, the president and CEO of a rehabilitation center, Resource Training and Counseling Center to Sunset Park, to establish a second facility of its kind in Bay Ridge. Her work, says El-Yateem has been instrumental in saving many children in the area. “She’s literally saving lives,” he said.
On the environmental front El-Yateem would advocate for the installation of public bathrooms in the community’s parks and for regulations that improve conditions resulting from the Gravesend Waste Transfer station. “There shouldn’t be one community taking the full responsibility of this,” says El-Yateem about the waste transfer station.
El-Yateem also hopes to be as vocal on city legislation, namely “The Right to Know Act,” implementation of a participatory budget in his community and the protection of the IDNYC program of which Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican candidate for mayor, has brought a suit against the city to stay the decision to destroy identification documents acquired by the program.
“This is my legacy, this is who I am, a person who has always been building bridges, bringing people together and I want to continue doing that during my candidacy for City Council,” says El-Yateem. “It’s time for me to bring all this from the pulpit to the City Hall.”