Hollingsworth Looks to Extend DSA Winning Streak in Council Race

City Council Candidate Michael Hollingsworth. Photo from the Hollingsworth campaign.

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Candidate Michael Hollingsworth, who raked in $160,442 in public payments from the city this week is now running just slightly behind Progressive Candidate Crystal Hudson in a crowded field to succeed term-limited City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights) in City Council District 35.

KCP posed the following questions to Hollingsworth to get to know his perspective and intended policies for the district. 

Tell how your background and where you’re from lends itself to the leadership skills that District 35 needs.

I’m a lifelong Brooklynite, born in Fort Greene, and raised in Clinton Hill and Crown Heights. I’m currently a rent-stabilized tenant in Southern Crown Heights and I work as a graphic designer during the day. 

This district is the only home I’ve ever known. My family, my roots, my history, and my heart are all here. My friends sometimes tease me for never moving away. But there’s nothing wrong with loving where you come from, and nothing wrong with wanting to make it better. That’s why, for the past several years, I’ve been volunteering as a member of NYC’s housing movement through the Crown Heights Tenant Union. Working with my fellow neighbors, we’ve fought to improve our living conditions, keep ourselves in our homes, and push back against luxury rezonings.

I’m running for City Council because, like many others in this district, I’m tired of candidates appearing each election cycle with promises of change, who then end up delivering more of the same. I’m tired of seeing my neighbors, people who spent their entire lives building our neighborhoods, being forced out by landlords and developers while too many of our electeds sit back and do nothing—and in some cases actively work to help displace us. I’m tired of elected leaders who supposedly care about our communities selling us out for campaign donations.

District 35 doesn’t need another lawyer, former staffer, or political insider to run for office. In my experience, the best leaders are people with backgrounds in activism and organizing. Organizers are closest to the issues in our communities, and we understand that solving those problems can’t happen if working-class people don’t have power. I have a strong record of organizing and winning on housing and land use issues not just in the district but across the city and state. That’s the kind of experience our district needs in City Hall. We need someone who has shown that they’ll stand up for their neighbors and challenge the political class even before they decide to run for office. This district is extremely diverse and we need someone who can develop coalitions to address our collective problems. I believe where you’ve stood in the past combined with where you stand presently is a good indication of where you’ll stand in the future. I’m proud to say I’ve always stood with my neighbors—and I always will. 

Who would you say is shaping up to be your core base during this campaign?

I’ve been humbled by the diverse support we’ve received so far. My supporters in this race are tired of the status quo. They’re tenants and homeowners. They’re long-term residents and newer arrivals. They’re community elders and young people. Ethnically and economically diverse. They’re fellow organizers from housing, environmental, education, and racial justice movement spaces. And they all are excited to help elect a different type of City Council member, one who won’t sell our neighborhoods and displace our neighbors. 

In Fort Greene park, would you be for the renovation of that historic space? Why or why not?

As a kid who grew up with asthma in a neighborhood with serious pollution, I felt that public green spaces, such as Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, were some of the few places I could truly breathe in the city. And throughout the pandemic, especially during the spring and summer of last year, I think we were all reminded of the importance of our public green spaces.

Fort Greene Park is another one of those public green spaces that provides a much-needed source of fresh air for thousands of residents. The $10.5 million Parks Department proposed redesign of the park, however, would pave over thousands of square feet of green space and require the removal of dozens of mature shade trees. Any investment in Fort Greene Park should serve to make the park more green and more accessible for all New Yorkers. At a time when the climate crisis is intensifying and impacting the health of our communities, I believe Brooklyn needs more public green space—not less. 

To that end, we should construct more rain gardens and plant more street trees in order to reduce water and air pollution and extreme heat. We should expand the Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Infrastructure program and its maintenance workforce under NYC Parks. And as we look to improve our public green spaces—which are critical for physical health, mental wellbeing, and the reduction of carbon emissions—we should prioritize Black and brown communities.

What steps would you take to defend against anti-Black and Brown rezoning and land use decisions? How would you hold housing developers and NYCHA accountable? 

Before I began my campaign, I fought as a tenant organizer to defend our neighborhood against racist rezonings and land-use decisions that cause displacement and raise rents, starting with the Bedford Union Armory in 2016–2017. And in 2019, two of my neighbors and I sued and won against City Council Member Laurie Cumbo and the City of New York over the 2018 racist Franklin Avenue rezoning. We’re now preparing to fight the rezoning of 960 Franklin Avenue as well. But constituents shouldn’t have to sue their elected officials to protect our communities. That’s a big part of why I’m running for office. We can’t sit by when our council members act as a rubber-stamp for the real estate industry. 

The biggest issue in District 35 is housing. Now more than ever, it’s vital that we establish housing as a human right. It’s a fundamental need, and it’s the groundwork on which we’re building our movement to tackle other pressing issues. I believe the best way to defend against anti-Black and brown rezoning and land use decisions is to first stop electing anti-Black and brown electeds handpicked by party bosses and real estate. I’m also calling for us to implement a comprehensive citywide planning process to create social housing that shuts out real estate influence completely, and prioritizes the people who live in our neighborhoods. I’ve laid out the groundwork for this in my housing platform. We can hold developers accountable by first not being in bed with them, and then by always remembering that, as a City Council, we have a huge say in what gets built and who benefits from it. We must preserve our most affordable housing stock, so I’ll oppose any privatization of NYCHA, and I support banning the sale or leasing of our public land to for-profit developers. NYCHA is our responsibility, and we need to stop acting irresponsibly and provide the federal, state, and city funding that it’s owed.

What kind of preventative measures in regards to public safety and gun violence would you emphasize?

I experienced the scourge of gun violence first hand at a young age. When I was eight, I had a gun pointed at my head while my family was robbed in Crown Heights. It wasn’t the last time I had a gun pulled on me. Throughout my life, I’ve had family and friends who’ve been victims of violent crime. So for me, gun violence and public safety are personal.

Gun violence is a public health issue—and we should treat it as one. To that end, we should invest in group violence intervention, hospital-based violence intervention programs, cognitive behavioral therapy programs, and public health programs like Cure Violence. We should also partner with our state and federal officials to pass legislation to stop the illegal flow of guns into our city, establish gun buyback programs, and collect data on gun crimes that can help prevent future shootings. 

Public safety is a complex issue, and I realize that my neighbors have different views about the role policing should play in our communities. But I know more police won’t solve our struggle with crime. My lived experience tells me that the best way to ensure public safety is to make sure that communities have safe and stable housing, fully funded schools, access to healthcare, and economic opportunity. To eliminate violent crime, we need to eliminate poverty. We can start to do that by diverting billions of dollars from the NYPD budget toward healthcare, housing, education, jobs, and businesses in historically underserved communities like mine.

If you show me a “good” neighborhood in New York City, I guarantee you that that neighborhood and it’s residents have been invested in over generations—that’s what I’d like to see happen in neighborhoods of color.