Though much of the political discussion this election season has centered on the Congressional races, there are a number of state campaigns that are just as contentious.
Take for instance the Democratic primary in the 57th Assembly
District. With the 24-year incumbent, Roger Green, making his play for Washington, the seat is up for grabs.
Three very promising candidates have set their sites on representing the district, which extends from Prospect Heights into Ft. Greene, Clinton Hill and Bedford Stuyvesant: Freddie Hamilton, founder of the Child Development Support Corp.; Bill Batson, the former director of community relations for the State Senate Democratic leader David Paterson; and Hakeem Jeffries, a lawyer for CBS who has twice before tried to unseat Green.
The position that they all covet will place them directly in the Atlantic Yards firestorm since the controversial development lies within the district. The debate surrounding the project, as important as it may be, has played a divisive role in this campaign, deflecting attention away from other pertinent issues, such as education and affordable housing.
We broached the topic of the $4.2-billion development with each candidate, who all have been very vocal about their positions. Hamilton, who is also running to retain her position as Democratic state committeewoman district leader, supports the project primarily for its promise of affordable housing and jobs. Both of her opponents, however, insist that without any legally binding contracts, which the Community Benefits Agreement is not, those two concessions will only remain promises.
“I like the CBA,” says Batson, “but it has to be binding and the parties that are a fixing their signatures don’t have the agency or the authority to make the commitments that are being made. I am not bashing the CBA or its signers, but if FCR expects that document to substitute for municipal or state oversight than they are wrong.”
While Jeffries holds a more moderate position on project – citing the scale, use of eminent domain and the strain on public services as his major points of contention – Batson is going so far as to sue to get an injunction to postpone the hearing on the project. He, too, shares Jeffries’ concerns and is adamantly opposed to Forest City Ratner’s seedy approach – circumventing the City Council- to getting this deal approved. Batson’s position is sure
to garner him huge support from the likes of Develop Don’t Destroy and all others who are more taken with this one issue than any of the other problems facing the district. Some have said that he is suffering from tunnel vision, to which the contender vehemently denies. Batson points to his work with the Duffield St Underground Railroad site and his establishment of the American Civil Rights Education Services organization. “If you go through all of my
quotes in the media, only a tenth of it’s about the Atlantic Yards,” he says.
Well about 90% of our conversation was about the project. Regardless of what I asked, Batson kept returning to the subject. But to his credit the candidate does have some progressive non-ATY-related policies. I applaud his call for “a moratorium on evictions in areas where there’s rampant real estate speculation” as well as his push to sanction landlords that employ arson or neglect to blight their properties for profit. But he seems to lack a broad-based understanding of all that plagues the district.
Batson doesn’t seem as connected to the area as his opponent, Hamilton. Her work with her non-profit seems to have grounded her in a deeper understanding of the plight of working class people, especially those with families. Hamilton is focused on stemming the tide of State Medicaid cuts and expanding dollars for subsidized childcare, both lofty goals that will not be easily achieved. But her administrative abilities, as demonstrated
through the organization, and experience in working with legislators on education and childcare related issues are crucial for the position.
Unfortunately, Hamilton’s support of Atlantic Yards and David Yassky’s attempt to drain the color out of the 11th-CD may not sit well with voters. Granted her explanation for her support of the carpetbagger is reasonable; Yassky’s activism with gun control in the City Council and in Congress greatly attracted Hamilton, who lost her son to gun violence in 1993. She notes that no other candidate in the 11th has included the issue in his/her platform. Hamilton went on to say, “I understand the issue of the voting rights district, but I don’t agree that only Black people can run in that district. It’s a disservice and a discredit for us to even take that position.” Maybe (playing devil’s advocate).but its difficult to trust a man who made the same divisive power play in Washington DC.
As for Jeffries, the young lawyer mirrors Green in much of his policy fundamentals. He too, seeks to funnel more money into skilled-trade training programs and diversify the construction trade. Jeffries also wants to create a program by which cultural institutions that receive state funding “adopt schools and use the resources that are available to” provide students with a well-rounded education. Though a cohesive community effort to educate children is always warranted, it’s important that public schools don’t rely too much on non-governmental agencies to pick up the slack as it allows the government to slack off on services that we are paying for. Nevertheless the
plan is commendable.
However, I’m not totally convinced of his passion, but I seem to be in the minority as Jeffries has picked up endorsements from many of his party’s bigwigs, like Bill Thompson Jr. and Vito Lopez, and has raised $90,000. Batson on the other hand has the support of environmental groups like the Sierra club and has pulled in $62,000. Hamilton, who has posted $17,000, doesn’t have quite the war chest of the other two gentlemen, but she has the support of the out going incumbent.