Political newcomers rising through city government this fall

Valery Anatolievich via Pexels

While the rest of the country is in an election lull between last year’s midterms and next year’s presidential election, there’s been no shortage of political excitement this year in New York City.

So far in 2023, we’ve seen plenty of positions shuffled in the Mayor’s office — such as Camille Varlack being promoted to the mayor’s chief of staff, and Karen Ford now leading the newly created mayor’s office of nonprofit services. 

In the City Council, which has an election cycle this year due to last year’s redistricting, there are a few notable newcomers who’ve risen through the ranks and shaken things up in local government.

Some of the biggest changes on the map occurred in Brooklyn. The new 43rd District, currently represented by Justin Brannan (who’s now running for the reconfigured 47th District), is the city’s first City Council district with a majority Asian population. The new 43rd will cover Sunset Park, Borough Park and Bensonhurst, where 53% of constituents are Asian, compared to the citywide average of 14. 

The district, like most of New York City, is largely Democratic, with 51% of registered voters being Democratic, as compared to 14% Republican. This year, voters will elect either Democratic nominee Susan Zhuang, who won her June primary with 59.1% of the vote and who’s already well versed in New York politics as chief of staff for New York State Assembly Member William Colton; and Republican hopeful Ying Tan, a community activist who won 51.9% of the vote in the GOP primary. 

Another big change occurred in upper Manhattan’s District 9, where Yusef Salaam won the Democratic nomination for the seat in June, beating multiple other challengers by a large margin of 63.9% at the final vote count. 

After the incumbent Council Member Kristin Jordan Richardson dropped out of the race following a rocky term, Salaam drew ahead, beating veteran politicians such as serving Assembly members Inez Dickens and Al Taylor, bringing a fresh voice to the neighborhoods of the district. 

This may be Salaam’s first time dipping his toe into city council politics, but he’s long been politically active. Salaam was first forced into the public eye back in 1989, when he, along with five other Black and brown teenage boys, were wrongfully accused and imprisoned for the brutal rape of a woman in Central Park. After being released from prison in 1997, when a serial rapist confessed to the crime, the five were eventually exonerated in 2002. 

Other members of the Exonerated Five have led a quiet life in their freedom, but Salaam has decided to make his voice heard, as a “prison reform activist, motivational speaker, and justice seeker,” according to his website.
Now, after winning the primary in July, Salaam plans to serve his fellow constituents of the ninth district in Harlem, which covers Central Harlem, Morningside Heights, Upper West Side, and East Harlem. Salaam is running on a platform of “equity and empowerment,” according to his campaign website, and proposes to prioritize housing, environmental, economic, and food justice, alongside justice and safety for all — a tall order, but one Salaam hopes to achieve for the place he’s long called home. 

Another City Council newcomer, Chris Banks, beat incumbent Council Member Charles Barron, another veteran of the scene, as well as fellow challenger Jamilah Rose, winning the Democratic nomination for District 42 in Brooklyn. 

Winning the primary with 50.7% of the votes, Banks is running in November to represent the neighborhoods of East New York, Starrett City, and parts of Brownsville, Canarsie and East Flatbush. Banks has run five times previously against the veteran political power-couple Charles Barron and Inez Dickens, the latter of whom Salaam beat this time around. 

Banks ran with the promise to shake things up in the Brooklyn district, ousting Barron from a 22-year reign of the district in some capacity, both in the City Council and the Assembly at various points since 2001. 

Banks, who contested Barron for different positions for almost a decade, has long been laying the groundwork for leadership in his community, serving on a community board and local precinct council. He’s secured endorsements from powerful allies, including United Federation of Teachers and NYC Carpenters Union.

Without question, the newcomers on the City Council scene will cause quite a stir when the newly reconfigured legislature convenes in January.