Farah Louis, one in a broad field of candidates looking to fill Public Advocate–elect Jumaane Williams vacant 45th City Council District seat in the upcoming special election, glanced out of the restaurant window and pondered the road of what got her interested in politics.
She started her career as a community organizer after initially pursuing a career in journalism, where she got her first taste for activism.
“I use to use the platform of being a reporter for being a voice for the people. From journalism, one day I found myself behind the pen, behind the camera, telling people you need to fight for what you need. My first story was covering a school bus driver strike in which the drivers were unhappy with a particular contract. These people felt hopeless, they didn’t feel like they had any help in their fight. I was like, ‘guys you have resources, there’s a council member there.’ I was asking the elected officials, ‘what are you guys doing to help these workers. These bus drivers are about to lose their livelihoods, they need help.’ And that’s how it all started for me,” said Louis.
From there Louis wanting to increase her impact, got involved with local government eventually landing in Williams’ office as former Deputy Chief of Staff.
“From organizing I went into working in government and working hand-in-hand with the council member and agencies. This allowed me to provide services and support to constituents in the community,” added Louis.
Louis is a longtime Brooklyn native, who considers herself the “real” Flatbush Girl, having grown up in the area and graduated from Midwood High School. She went onto earn a Bachelors from Long Island University and then a Masters in Public Administration from New York University.
“I live on Flatbush, my church is on Flatbush, my favorite restaurant is on Flatbush. I shop on Flatbush. This is my neighborhood,” said Louis, noting how the 45th Council District, which includes East Flatbush, Flatbush, Flatlands, Marine Park, and Midwood, has always been her home turf.
As such, Louis believes the top issue facing the district is housing and affordability.
“There is a mass exodus of folks exiting the district because of lack of housing, a lack of opportunities for individuals to get affordable housing and those who can afford to own are losing their property to the increase in property taxes,” said Louis.
However, Louis believes the best way to curb this issue is community outreach and education. Currently, there are close to 5,000 vacant housing units, with a 1.6% rate of homeowner vacancy and a 4.4% rate of rental vacancy, according to NYC Department of City Planning.
“I feel like education is the most important component to addressing the housing issue in my district. I can’t speak for anyone else. And then also giving people access to resources they need in order to apply for affordable housing. We need to get people activated and to understand what it means to get access to housing,” said Louis.
According to the 2010 Census profile of the district, a little more than 40 percent of the entire market of housing is occupied by owners with more than half being renters.
Additionally, the district is largely populated by Black and Caribbean individuals, with about 61 percent of the population identifying as African-American or Caribbean American. The East Flatbush and Flatbush areas of the district have high populations of Haitian, Jamaican and Trinidadian immigrants.
Louis herself is Haitian-American, with both of her parents being immigrants from the Caribbean nation. A detail notable in her campaign as she has strong support from Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Ditmas Park, Flatbush) who has proven to be a prominent figure in the Haitian community.
In September 2017, controversy erupted when Bichotte usurped a planned “Little Caribbean” designation covering much of the district, successfully arguing and lobbying for the area to get a “Little Haiti” designation first.
The designation still has some Caribbeans in the district feeling upset with Bichotte and some in the Haitian-American community for pushing for the designation in a neighborhood that clearly has a flavor of many Caribbean nations.
Louis is hoping that everyone feels at home in the district, no matter their cultural background. The Haitian-American wants to be inclusive of all people not just Caribbeans but also the non-Caribbeans and Jewish communities as well.
Louis also put some blame on media for instigating tensions between the Haitian and greater Caribbean community in the district.
“Caribbeans and Haitians are all in one. We’re black. What I find discriminatory and offensive, is when media puts us out there to be divisive and not interconnected. When they talk about our district being 60 to 65 percent Black or Caribbean that includes Haitians, people from Trinidad, Jamaica, Antigua and Grenada, everything. And I would love if people would frame narratives on that and not about separating us,” said Louis.
Louis, if elected to office, is committed to getting the “Little Carribean’ designation in the district by the end of the year and making inclusivity a top priority amongst all constituents.
“Why can’t we be one. Why can’t we be inclusive and celebrate blackness. It was a two-pronged project–it was supposed to be ‘Little Caribbean first and then ‘Little Haiti’. The organizers of “Little Caribbean” and Jumaane had a falling out. We moved forward with the ‘Little Haiti’ designation because we submitted particular things with the City Council, so we moved forward with the process. That was just what ended up happening. We didn’t choose one designation over the other. We’re still working on ‘Little Caribbean’ and it will be done because everything is there. This is a project that will be implemented because this was always Jumaane’s goal,” explained Louis.
The district also includes a Jewish community.
“I am for the people at the end of the day. Whatever the people in my district need, ‘Farah is there to provide it.’ I’ve always been that way. I’ve been that way for over five and a half years and I will always be that way,” said Louis.
Louis is also hoping to increase the Council’s population of women. Currently there only 11 female City Council electeds out of a total of 51 members.
“We need more women in the City Council because we need more voices. We also need diverse women in the City Council because I also think that that is a component that is missing. We all have different experiences. I know that I’m Black, that I am Haitian and Caribbean, all in one. But we also need more Latinas, more women from the South Asian community and more from the Asian community. There’s room for that,” said Louis.
With over five years as a top legislative official for Williams’, Louis believes she is the most qualified to fill the seat.
“I know the ins and outs of the City Council and know the plethora of agencies working alongside them. I’ve worked on legislation, I’ve worked on budget, on constituent services. There are factors and issues that the other candidates might not be aware of that are happening in the district, that I am going to know because I was working in the office. I can literally hit the ground running,” said Louis.
The Brooklynite credits her commitment to serving to her parents and specifically her mother, who has been serving her church and community since first immigrating to the country nearly 40 years ago.
“I get my passion for helping others and serving from my mother. I learned a lot from watching her in regards to the community and district and wanting to serve. I saw her serve her patients as a nurse, I saw her serve at church and I saw her serve her community. Every Sunday my mom cooks for her church,” said Louis.
Even though candidates have already started fundraising and petitioning for the special election, Mayor Bill de Blasio has not called a date for it because the Board of Elections has yet to officially certify Williams as winning the public advocate seat.