By Stephen Witt
As Robert Cornegy, Kirsten John Foy, Rev. Conrad Tillard and Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman head into the final weeks before the Democratic Primary in the race to succeed term-limited Al Vann in the City Council and represent Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and Weeksville, Our Time Press asked the candidates the following question:
How would you as City Councilman plan to strike a balance between welcoming the newcomers to the neighborhood and maintaining the longtime characteristics of the community?
The following are their answers:
Robert Cornegy: “I have a long-standing partnership with the Block and Tenant Associations in the district. They are the official greeters for all newcomers to the area and they make a concerted effort to include all new residents in their associations. One has only to look around the district to see the integration of age, culture and faith to know that they are successful. As District Leader, I take pride in promoting all aspects of the district, from the cornerstones of our community to newcomers alike. I stand with those who want to see Bed-Stuy continue to thrive and grow.
Rev. Conrad Tillard: “I don’t see a conflict. First of all, one of the great things about great communities is that you always welcome newcomers. In fact, we have a great community and many great pastors, and even I heard Al Vann wasn’t originally from Bed-Stuy. Bed-Stuy also includes people born and raised here and they have great pride.
However, I don’t think newcomers should be recipients of long-term residents being forced out, losing their homes or signing over and selling their homes at a fraction of the cost. So in the past, I pulled together nonprofit organizations like Bridge Street Development and provided education to homeowners and foreclosure assistance. We also need to teach people how to pass their assets from one generation to the next. We also have some very savvy long-term residents that own four or five homes in Bed-Stuy. So we can strike the balance. Both my wife and I are not originally from Bed-Stuy so I can understand a new person wanting to come to Bed-Stuy. However, as a pastor and City Councilman, we must protect and preserve the folks that have been here for a long time.”
Kirsten John Foy: “I will work to ensure we have a community that is united by a mutual respect for the rich character and history of our neighborhoods – Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights and Weeksville – and the sense of community that exists within them. I will support community events that bring all residents together to celebrate this and contribute to our entire community, and will make sure longtime residents have the ability to remain in our community. To do this, I intend to prioritize the strengthening and expansion of affordable housing for our residents and preserve the homeownership of longtime residents through property tax relief. Reducing the zero sum game for housing will help avoid potential tension between new residents and our longtime indigenous residents.
Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman: “When you use the term long-term character and newcomer, are we talking about gentrification? Are we talking about class? Are we talking about income? If so, when you look at Bed-Stuy you don’t have to make adjustments. If you take Crown Heights, Stuyvesant Heights and Bed-Stuy and block it off you would see it exists today because you face a series of classism, income disparity and even some gentrification from Crown Heights to Stuyvesant Heights to Bed-Stuy itself.
The balance is in the establishment of relationships. It starts with resident to resident, and through the community board and block associations. The balances in all these relationships are equal. When people have moved into the community we, the people of color, have always been most welcoming no matter who moved in based on income or race. As City Councilman, you just build relationships. You’re serving the community. You have to serve all people no matter what income bracket they fall in or what race they are because if they live in that community the schools, hospitals and social services is for the community of people who live there.