It was the start of the coronavirus pandemic and City Council candidate Selvena Brooks-Powers was scrambling. Her uncle had just died in a nursing home –– presumably from COVID-19 –– the very virus raging throughout the city. The city was locked down. PPE supplies were hard to find. Working from home with a young baby in tow, Brooks-Powers hunted down masks to hand out to the community. She called local lawmakers to get their help with PPE giveaways and arranged pop-up food distribution sites.
It was during this frenzy that she realized she needed to run for City Council again.
“I just felt like this was a time where I could be most impactful in a position of City Council to be able to deliver for the community and to advocate around a lot of our pressing needs,” she said.
Brooks-Powers is one of nine candidates running in the City Council District 31 special election to replace Queens Borough President Donovan Richards on the council. District 31 encompasses the neighborhoods of Averne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens. Richards vacated the office in December after he was elected as borough president.
Election day is February 23 and early voting began on Saturday in what will be the city’s second attempt at ranked choice voting.
Brook-Powers, who unsuccessfully ran for the seat back in 2013, secured the top line on the ballot as well as the endorsement of top local officials U.S. Rep. and Queens County Democratic Party Chairman Gregory Meeks, State Senator James Sanders Jr. and Richards himself.
A native of Southeast Queens and a homeowner in the Rockaways for the past dozen years, Brooks-Powers said that she’s aware of the different concerns that residents in a neighborhood like Rosedale might have from someone in Far Rockaway out on the peninsula.
But, when it comes down to it, she finds that many of the people she speaks to are worried about the same issues such as access to healthcare and affordable housing, education, and public safety.
“There are issues that align with one another,” she said. “Whether you’re living in the south, you know, on the mainland side or on the peninsula.”
A Jane of all trades, so to speak, Brooks-Powers came to the race with a diverse set of experiences. She’s worked in city and state government. She’s both worked for a union and been a member and delegate of one. And now, she focuses on economic and community development through her job with the JFK Redevelopment Program.
She wants to work to combat hunger in the district, she said. She’s concerned by the number of people she sees waiting in line at her food distribution pop-ups. Each week the lines get longer, including in neighborhoods with higher household incomes, such as Roseville and Springfield Gardens. Breadwinners are being laid off because of pandemic cuts, and families are struggling, she said.
She also wants to make sure that all students have the internet and the proper technology they need for remote learning. When she looks at states like Maryland that she said had relatively successful programs that distributed Chromebooks to students, she’s ashamed of our city.
“New York City, which is supposed to be like one of the leading cities in the country, we have failed our students,“ she said.
There needs to be a new approach to public safety, she said, one is more holistic and preventative that gets at the root of the issue. Work needs to be done to build the divide between community and police.
“At the end of the day, people want to live in safe communities. They want to be safe, whether it’s from, you know, someone that’s committing a crime or an officer,” she said.
Politics and community work run in the family, Brooks-Powers said. She was exposed to politics through her grandfather. He was very politically involved in his community in Jamaica, the country where her family is from.
“He was so passionate about people and community,” she said. “It was something that always just really resonated with me.”
And her mom has been a member of a union for more than 30 years. Her mom’s membership, and her own experiences instilled in her a strong belief in the power of unions which she said is a direct entryway into middle income status for many in her community.
“I always viewed them as the fighters for the working families. And the issues that they continue to fight for are the ones that help to pull communities up,” she said. “They fight for, you know, wages, they fight for benefits, they fight to make people and families whole.”
That is what she said she plans to do if elected to represent District 31 on the city council. The pandemic is ongoing, the city is facing a deficit and it needs leaders who know what their communities need and will fight for it, she said.
“I’ve demonstrated a track record of delivering for the community. I’ve developed a track record for building coalitions and working collaboratively across different communities, to make sure voices are heard and advocated for,” she said.