City Council Candidates Line up to succeed Eugene

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The District 40 City Council race is packed with a wide variety of candidates as diverse as the district itself. The seat is currently held by term-limited Councilmember Mathieu Eugene (D-Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens), who’s brother, Maxi Eugene, is even looking to replace him.

Quality of life issues, saving small businesses, transportation, and sanitation were among the biggest concerns for the candidates coupled with overarching issues like the COVID-19 health pandemic, public safety, and education.

Edwin Raymond

“I’ve been monitoring the violence and shootings and can confirm that the spike coincided with COVID-19 and not contemporary police reform measures or even mass protesting of police brutality. The spike starts mid-March. Wearing of masks has sadly contributed as it’s made hiding identities exponentially easier,” said former NYPD officer and candidate Edwin Raymond.

He said that in order to properly address prevailing issues with crime and gun violence in the district certain elements in the culture need to be re-examined. 

“Contrary to what many people may think, a large contributing factor to these beefs stem from ego-related incidents. Conflict resolution and anger management are crucial,” said Raymond.

Right out of the gate Raymond has been a big fundraiser. He added that right now regarding quality of life concerns, the trash keeps piling up, homelessness is growing and becoming more visible, and distant learning is causing more students than average to fall behind. 

Rita Joseph

Candidate Rita C. Joseph, who is an elementary school teacher, said she would’ve kept this school year 100 percent remote and waited until January 2021 before attempting to send kids back to school in person. She spoke as well about solving the digital divide among students in the district that in reality had little access to technology and the internet before and during the health crisis.

Joseph said in her district there are a lot of children living in nearby shelters and going to school.

“There’s room for improvement for a lot of inequities,” said Joseph, “I will as a city councilperson make sure that our school will be funded equally. I’ve seen the lack of. I will work with my counterparts, finding other resources, to make sure that happens without them having to be cut.”  

Democratic District Leader Josue Pierre

Democratic District Leader for the 42 Assembly District and candidate Josue Pierre, in addition to doing creative community outreach for the census and participating in the recent wave of Breonna Taylor marches, said he is trying to key in on the budget crisis in the city because of his background in finance. 

“We have a financial crisis on top of a healthcare crisis, and healthcare and essential workers many of whom live in the Flatbush area, were asked to make sacrifices to keep our city going. And now as this financial crisis continues, we’re seeing the wealthiest amongst us, especially those billionaires that live in New York, they’re going to dig a little deeper to keep our city going,” said Pierre.

Pierre said the short-term solution is to give the city borrowing authority, and the other part, is raising tax revenues that don’t burden working-class or middle-income households. Pierre said his #Taxtherich drive starts with the threshold of $500,000 incomes. He also suggested utilizing other avenues like the pied-à-terre tax, a proposed tax on expensive real estate, or a marijuana tax.  “I don’t think Washington, D.C is going to come save us,” said Pierre. 

Blake Morris

Long-time community activist and Attorney candidate Blake Morris said the real issues are fluctuating appreciation assessments from house to house and the five-year window to pay residential property taxes that protects working and middle-class households but gives the city less revenue. He said on paper getting rid of the law looks like a fast way to raise money during the financial crisis but in reality it would be a horror show.

“It’s about money. People want to know who’s paying the tax and who’s not. Isn’t that the question?” said Morris. “We’re scratching the tip-top of the iceberg on the issue.” 

He added that for immediate relief to businesses he’d propose a 6-month credit holiday that owners wouldn’t need to pay rents and expenses during.

Morris also proposed making the district’s transportation more efficient by renovating one of the original freight-only rail lines in Bay Ridge to run a streetcar service from the Flatbush junction to the Brighton line at Avenue H. The line would have an added bicycle expressway for several miles. Morris said that he supports the BQX rapid transit line idea too.  

Brian Cunningham

Candidate Brian-Christopher A. Cunningham similarly put forth innovative ideas on how to improve transportation in the district. 

He proposed making 5 to 10 inch protected bike lanes in between the sidewalk and parked cars, as opposed to the outside in car lanes, to protect riders from traffic along streets like Flatbush and Nostrand Avenue. Cunningham also criticized double-parked cars in bike lanes and advocated for harsher ticketing.  

Cunningham said he’s been talking about universal income, more support for small businesses, and landmarking certain businesses in the community since 2017. 

“We know that over the last 14 years rent’s gone up on the residential side. We also know that happened on the commercial side as well. Many who have an idea and want to start a small business could not because of access to capital, the ability to make payroll with the cost of living and wages going up, and continuing to pay rent,” said Cunningham about more coworking spaces.  

On the importance of the census to the district, Cunningham said it would be detrimental to lose any congressional seat or funding because of low numbers and like other candidates has been doing outreach to raise numbers. 

Celia Cortez

Cecilia Cortez, a long-time resident and special needs teacher, said that the issue of sanitation in the business district needs to be addressed. Cortez said that money needs to be restored so that streets can be clean and businesses can thrive without the eye sore of waste.

“We have issues that have existed from before. Garbage has been an issue in the community for a long time. We have a problem with the rats in the neighborhood, and the number of homeless and lack of housing were there before,” said Cortez. “Mayor De Blasio cut the sanitation budget for $106 million saying the first thing we’re going to cut is nobody is picking up the litter from the street. That has really created a problem.” 

Kenneth Lee

Kenneth Lee is a sophomore and student leader at Medgar Evers College, and by far the youngest candidate. Lee said that affordable housing, healthcare, and transportation are what matters to people in the district. “As the developments go up the prices are going up. Is affordable housing actually affordable and the answer is no. I’ve seen the listings and it’s like 80-90K. My question is what person in the district is making that type of money. My district is majority immigrant and Caribbean people, and not a lot of them are making that type of income,” said Lee. 

Vivia Morgan and Maxi Eugene haven’t responded. Kenya Handy-Hilliard couldn’t be reached.

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