Do or Die in The Stuy: Butler Runs for City Council

Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler helps set up and organize the fundraiser. Photo by Ariama C. Long.

Male District Leader for the 56th Assembly Henry Butler has officially launched his candidacy for Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy Jr. ‘s (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights) term-limited seat in the 36th City Council District, while Cornegy makes a play for Brooklyn Borough President.

Butler kicked off his campaign last Sunday, Oct. 11, with a fundraiser in the backyard of a beloved, family-style soul food spot in Bedford-Stuyvesant called Cheri’s, located at 216 Malcolm X Boulevard. 

Cheri’s is a family-style, Black-owned restaurant, run by Tori Clayton. Photo by Ariama C. Long.
Community Board 3 District Manager Henry Butler. Photo By Ariama C. Long

“This is a continuation of the work I’ve already been doing in current and previous positions,” said Butler, who is the President of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), serves as Community Board 3 (CB3) District Manager, was an organizer for labor union and committee, and was president of his block association.

“So I’ve always been civically engaged. Me running for city council seemed to be the right progression for me at this time because I’m so vested into the 36th council district. Growing up in the Tompkins Houses, and now owning a brownstone with my wife and our two sons that we’re raising here,” said Butler, “I’m fully vested in my community that I was raised in, you know, for the past 48 years.”

As far as his platform, he said, what matters the most in his community is affordable housing, education, criminal justice and reform as it relates to the Black Lives Matter movement, healthcare and the detrimental impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, and helping small businesses. 

In the last 10 years, said Butler, Bed-Stuy had had a high increase of restaurants and bars which had brought in a good amount of jobs for the community. However, he said, the COVID-19 crisis has gravely impacted their local economy with closings of restaurants, establishments, bodegas, and even grocery stores. “It’s like we’re going back. We would normally get about five, six, seven liquor license applications per month at the board meeting. Now, within the last four, five months none are coming in for new applications,” said Butler.

Butler’s supporters and donors gather in Cheri’s backyard setup. Photo By Ariama C. Long

Butler assisted Restaurant Owner Tori Clayton, who runs Cheri’s, over the summer by referring her to a food program that delivered home-cooked meals to different hospitals during the lockdown.

“Cheri is my mother’s name,” said Clayton about her family restaurant that’s been operating for two years. “The community has really kind of rallied and pulled together and you know supported one another. I even have block associations that do dinner night and they all kind of order food within the blocks,” said Clayton. “And so we’ve been really grateful because without that we may not, our doors may not be open, we may have been closing for good.”

As a minority-female run business, especially with the wave of Black Lives Matter, Clayton said there are positives and negatives to being highlighted as a Black-owned restaurant. 

“I believe, you know, you’re treated a bit differently. We have an outdoor space, we keep the music very low, very light, and we’re Black-owned. And I feel like sometimes maybe we get a little bit picked on and have to kind of tone down what we have, which is already toned down. And we’re struggling whereas I would walk past an establishment that’s not Black-owned and they’ll have like a live band and no one’s tampering with that,” said Clayton.

Restaurant Owner Tori Clayton (left) and her sister (right). Photo By Ariama C. Long.

Clayton said she is worried about the winter and heating solutions for her large backyard space, but has decided against indoor dining for now. “Day by day, we don’t know what tomorrow holds and we’re staying positive, we’re in a very tough position,” said Clayton. 

Speaking generally about other community concerns, Butler said affordable housing is definitely the number one issue. He said in the last 14 years on CB3, he’s dealt with several projects that came in from the city and always demanded that they consider all income levels within the community. 

“We have low income, you have the working class, that middle income, or the city workers. For example, someone who’s a transit worker and the other person could be a nurse and they’re making combined probably $125,000 or $150,000. But you got a couple of kids and you’re trying to get an apartment on the open market. You need a three-bedroom, you know, it’s not cutting it,” explained Butler.

He said at the end of the day these parents also just want a good education for their children. Butler said the school district has “a high influx of charter schools.” “That’s something we need to be working on too, to make sure we have the best schools overall, whether it’s charter or whether it’s traditional public schools,” said Butler.

From left to right: Supreme Court Judge Carolyn Wade, Councilmember Justin Brannan, Henry Butler (center), Judge Robin Sheares and Assemblymember Tremaine Wright. Photo By Ariama C. Long.
City Councilman Justin Brannan
Tremaine Wright
Assemblymember Tremaine Wright

Councilmember Justin Brannan (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, and Bath Beach) and Assemblymember Tremaine Wright (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights), plus Judges Carolyn Wade and Robin Sheares, showed up to the fundraiser to demonstrate support for Butler’s campaign. 

“I think now more than ever, with all that we’re dealing with, it’s so important that we have people who can hit the ground running on day one. Right, we don’t have time right now for on the job training with our new council members. We need people who know who to call, how to work the levers of government, how to grind the gears of government to make sure that it works for the people of this district,” said Brannan.

“That’s what this is about. This is about making sure that as our community moves forward we have leadership that knows and understands how to serve us,” said Wright, “This is always going to be about the people. And it’s going to be about love of communities. And that is what we have in Henry Butler.”