City Leaders Battle Against Coronavirus Becomes Personal

From left are Comproller Scott Stringer, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazques and Democratic District Leader Josue (Josh) Pierre.

In Brooklyn, over a dozen zip codes have more than 300 positive COVID-19 cases including the neighborhoods of Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Bushwick, Borough Park, East New York, to name a few.

The most high profile elected official directly impacted by COVID-19 in New York City is City Comptroller Scott Stringer who announced that his mother succumbed to the virus today. Arlene Stringer-Cuevas was “…committed to public service and a genuine trailblazer. She was the first woman to represent Washington Heights on the New York City Council,” Stringer wrote in his announcement of her passing.

Brooklyn’s local elected officials, and their loved ones, have been among those testing or being diagnosed for COVID-19. The COVID-19 realities for these public officials are helping to make this a common cause for all.

Assemblyman Charles Barron (D-East New York) was the first known Brooklyn elected official to test positive for the virus. Assemblywoman Helen Weinstein (D-Flatlands, Sheepshead Bay) also tested positive. Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) announced that the two Assemblymembers tested positive for COVID-19 in a tweet. Since then, Councilwoman Inez Barron (D-East New York) has also tested positive.

On Sunday, in a highly circulated press statement, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez revealed that her doctor had diagnosed her with COVID-19. And, just yesterday, Democratic District Leader Josue Pierre, who is also a candidate for the 40th NYC City Council seat, announced that his father was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Thankfully, Assemblyman Barron and Congresswoman Velazquez have announced that they are recovering and in improved health.

Many of these cases are being made public, while some are not. KCP has learned that two Brooklyn judges, Lawrence Knipel and Noach Dear, are currently hospitalized with the coronavirus. According to social media sources Judge Dear is currently on a ventilator. KCP learned of District Leader Josue Pierre’s father contracting the coronavirus when he posted this message on his personal Facebook page:

“Hiding our #COVID19 status doesn’t help or heal anyone. We are all struggling with this pandemic together,” wrote Pierre.  “Today I learned that Dad, like so many others, has been diagnosed with COVID-19. He is doing as well as can be hoped for, and our family is praying for his health, while also following our doctor’s recommendations. I am imploring that everyone stay indoors and follow all directed safety measures. In doing so, you will be doing your part in the fight against this virus. Be informed, be cautious, be compassionate, and God Bless.”

Unfortunately, not all of Brooklyn’s leaders who have contracted the virus have survived. Last Friday, Justice Johnny Lee Baines, a beloved longtime Brooklyn judge, died from COVID-19 complications. Known as the “gentle giant,” Judge Baynes was first a Kings County Housing Court judge and was then elected to the New York Civil Court in 2005 and to the Kings County Supreme Court. “He was a ‘Tenants’ Judge’ who made sure tenants were not abused by the process in Brooklyn Housing Court. His courtroom was a rare safe space for tenants” said one longtime tenant advocate.

In the coming days, there may be more similar announcements from city leaders. A reality that underscores the fact that the COVID-19 virus does not discriminate in any way. We are all vulnerable to becoming infected.

We at KCP wish all of those affected and their families a speedy recovery.

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