Mayor, Governor and Congress members gather in Harlem for MLK forum

Rev. Al Sharpton – National Action Network
Mayor Eric Adams and Reverend Al Sharpton spoke at the National Action Network House of Justice on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 17, 2022.
Photo by Dean Moses

The National Action Network hosted New York state’s most prominent elected officials in a lively celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life on Monday, highlighting a joint effort to get voting rights passed in Washington, D.C.

Mayor Eric Adams, Governor Kathy Hochul and Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin were among those who highlighted on MLK Day the grief and fear that New Yorkers are experiencing, and the conversations King started during the Civil Rights Movement that city elected officials are trying to finish. 

“The bills I was so proud to sign into law declared that racism is a public health crisis today, because the war is not over, the battle is not over, the march must go on toward justice,” Governor Hochul said. She also commented on the bills moving forward across the country that make it more difficult for certain groups to vote. “Not in our state, thank God,” she said. “They’re trying to stop Black and brown people from exercising the right that Dr. King fought for as well and we won’t let that happen.”

Lt. Gov. Benjamin said that he and Hochul have supported a bill dedicated to the late Rep. John Lewis, that creates a process for abridging or changing the right to vote for protected classes. 

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Comptroller Brad Lander riled up the crowd during their speeches, and while those attending were ready to celebrate with them, there was also pointed anger surrounding the eviction moratorium and housing crisis. 

Governor Hochul has seen significant scrutiny for allowing the eviction moratorium to end on Saturday, King’s birthday, during severely cold weather and the most COVID-19 cases the city has ever seen. 

“Today’s day the people will lift up a sanitized version of Dr. King,” said Williams, who is running against Hochul for the Democratic nomination for governor. “[King] said, ‘The last few years I’ve been fighting. Fighting for voting rights and fair housing.’ Right now we are fighting for voting rights and fair housing.”

Williams added that there are so many things the state has the power to do, “we just don’t do it.”

Lander tied the housing crisis to his own white privilege, calling for an extension on the moratorium once again. “My son did not have to worry that we would be put out on the streets that is the impact of white privilege and systemic racism,” Lander said. “For Dr. King and for us today, housing justice is key to racial justice.”

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-Long Island) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-Long Island) attended to defend King’s dream in the form of the two voting rights bills headed to the Senate. One is specially dedicated to the late Rep.Lewis, who fought for voting rights alongside the civil rights leader. They claim that filibuster rules, which were developed in the Jim Crow era of Congress, have significantly slowed the process.

“This is a tough fight … Repeatedly for months now we tried to bring our Republican colleagues to the table in good faith. No one has come over to our side,” Schumer said. 

Sen. Gillibrand added, “We have legislators across this country that are working overtime to deny black and brown people the right to vote, making it harder to vote in this country. That has to stop and that’s why we have to end the filibuster and the filibuster now.”

Newcomers to City Hall and borough halls across the city also gave their remarks, like Bronx  Borough President Vanessa Gibson, and freshman council members Carmen De La Rosa (D-Washington Heights) and Eric Bottcher (D-Chelsea). The Council’s first Black majority whip, Selvena Brooks-Powers (D-Southeast Queens), commented on the long fight ahead for racial equality. “I think about how our democracy is still so young, so fragile, and it’s fundamental rules and protections continue to be under attack,” Brooks-Powers said. “We have 31 women now that are City Council members. We have Asian representation in the City Council, Latina representation, as well as Black. We can do so much together.”

In one of the most unexpected moments of the day, Speaker Adams broke out into song, leading the crowd in the hymn “I want Jesus to Walk with Me.” She and Mayor Adams were received with standing ovations after their respective remarks. 

“As we acknowledge the life of Dr. King, let us renew our lives,” the Mayor said. “We’ve pulled ourselves so far apart as a country… We can sit down and see that we’re saying the same thing.