Community Board 3 District Manager and recently elected male Democratic District Leader (DL) for the 56th Assembly District Henry Butler (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) is right at home representing his community.
KCP caught up with the lifelong Bedford Stuyvesant resident to discuss the responsibilities of the DL role, voter turnout, being a delegate for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in a digital age, and the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), which originally backed Presidential Candidate Joe Biden in February.
Butler first came into the DL seat after former DL and City Councilmember Robert Cornegy resigned after he was diagnosed with COVID and quarantined for several weeks. Then female Democratic District Leader and former Assemblymember and Councilwoman Annette M. Robinson unanimously nominated Butler for the vacated seat.
The subsequent district leader race and election was “record-breaking,” according to Butler, who noted he received nearly 70 percent of the vote and just over 12,500 votes.
“That’s unheard of,” said Butler about his race, “If you look at the history of elections of district leaders, you may get 3,000, 4,000 people who may vote.”
Generally speaking, midterm election voter turnout and registration rates among New Yorkers underperformed from 2002 until 2018, which saw a significant jump in numbers, reported the campaign finance board in 2019.
“I say more importantly we need voter participation. We have a lot of people registered if you look at the voter roll. We have close to 100,000 people in the 56th assembly and 36th council registered,” said Butler. “Could it be more? Yes, but out of those 100,000 until recently in 2018, we’d usually get 15 percent who would actually come out and vote. Which to me was so sad.”
Butler said that he has no problem with mail-in ballots that increased voter participation tremendously in the June primary. He said when voter participation increases it results in a higher Democratic Party win, but that doesn’t mean the mailing system for the ballots can’t be improved.
Butler predicted that plenty of people will likely come to the polls for Election Day in November. “When it comes to voting and Black people,” he said, “we don’t trust the system.”
As President of VIDA, a historically Black political empowerment group over 45 years old, Butler said, “As Black people we can never be part of the establishment even when we have a seat at the table, we’re fighting for the scraps. You have to be in it in order to make changes.”
Butler said that protesting is important, but so are lawmakers and negotiators in the Black community.
“It’s immature. As Black people, we can’t afford for whole systems to be thrown out and we are just going to wing it with no plan in place. Look what’s happening now. The special units for NYPD were disbanded, and everytime you turn around there’s someone being shot now. And it’s someone who looks like me,” said Butler.
Butler said VIDA is the reason central Brooklyn was up until recently a voting rights district, and briefly touched on his disagreement with some socialist and progressive tactics.
“We’ve been in the trenches, if others want to join us, that’s fine, but don’t come tell us how we need to lead our communities,” said Butler.
He did however agree with some progressive views that the state committee position was not being used correctly by some people to educate and empower constituents, select judges, employ poll workers from within the community, and set the Democratic political agenda.
Butler is also a DNC delegate representing 8th Congressional District with U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries. “As someone who was there in 2016 in Philadelphia, the excitement of being on the actual floor with Hilary [Clinton], and have front row seats to all the political celebrities like the Obamas, and Biden back then was exciting,” said Butler, reminiscing on getting to experience the convention in person, pre-COVID.