New York City Council candidate Al-Hassan Kanu believes the key to being a good city councilmember is to listen to the people of the district.
“Being an elected official does not make you a god. It makes you a father,” he said. “If you want to serve, you have to actually reach out to the people.”
And if elected to be the representative for Council District 27, that’s exactly what he plans to do, Kanu said.
Kanu, a career public servant and immigrant from Sierra Leone, is one of the six declared candidates running for term-limited City Councilmember I. Daneek Miller’s (D-Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, St. Albans, Queens Village, and Springfield Gardens) seat in the 2021 City Council elections.
As a resident of the district and a former aide to Miller and to his predecessor, State Senator Leroy Comrie (D-Briarwood, Cambria Heights, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Hillcrest, Jamaica, Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Kew Gardens, Laurelton, Queens Village, Rosedale, South Jamaica, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans), Kanu said he knows the district inside and out. He knows the people and he knows their concerns, he said.
Much of his career in government, first as an aide to the two councilmembers and then most recently as the Queens liaison for Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, was spent listening to the community and solving their problems, he said.
During his years under Comrie and Miller, he fielded complaints about trash not being picked up, abandoned houses, and the lack of public transportation in the neighborhood. He dealt with constituents who had tax issues or who were unemployed.
“For the last 15 years that I’ve been working, talking to people, these are the issues that they complain about,” he said.
As the city councilmember for the district, he would continue listening to constituents, he said.
Kanu said he believes housing is going to be a perpetual problem in the district and citywide. One of his concerns is with property ownership. Under Miller, he helped launch the city’s Foreclosure Buyback program, a program through the City Council that purchased distressed mortgages for one-to-four daily homes. The program was cancelled after President Donald Trump took office but he hopes to reinstate it, he said.
And in the meantime, he thinks the city should hold off on its controversial annual tax lien sale. If they go forward with it, small property owners will be at risk of losing their homes, he said.
“It’s only going to get us back in the same predicament that we were in a couple of years ago with the foreclosure,” he said. “Our community is struggling, our community is struggling big time.”
Kanu would also push to create a committee that vets mayoral appointees, he said. Many of the issues around basic services stem from the fact that the commissioners chosen by the mayor are beholden only to the mayor, he said.
“Our issue in our city is not everybody’s involved,” he said. “Most of our commissioners, most of the agencies that we have in our community, they don’t have to talk to me, they don’t answer to our councilmember, they don’t answer to our community members, they don’t answer to the community board –– they answer directly to the mayor.”
Kanu, whose family fled civil war in Sierra Leone in the nineties and moved to Southeast Queens, said that living and working in the district has taught him the importance of community and advocating for its needs.
“My responsibility is the same as yours: we must invest in our community to uphold our values and create opportunities for generations after us,” he said.