Since declaring his candidacy for the 11th Congressional District last year, David Yassky has been called an opportunistic, racial carpetbagger by the Black political establishment. His critics have accused Yassky of trying to benefit from Machiavellian politics: if his three Black opponents split the Black vote, the white candidate can conquer with the support of white voters. Even the district’s current representative, Major Owens, is calling for high-ranking Democrats like Hillary Clinton, to convince Yassky to drop out of the race. Owens and others fear that the district, which was created to empower people of color in Congress, will be usurped. Yassky stresses, “I trust the voters to make a wise decision about who is going to represent them most effectively. And I’m just working as hard as I can to get my message of experience and ideas to every voter in every part of this district.” The city councilman has told just about every media outlet that race is of little importance in this election. But many of Yassky’s actions starkly contrast with his sentiment.
Less than a month ago, the candidate had a page in the “issue” section of his campaign Web site entitled, “Defending Israel” that undeniably pandered to the Jewish voting contingent. The page, which has since been taken down, discussed his intentions to support the Palestinian Antiterror Act and supply state-funded nurses to every Yeshiva. Granted, tailored political rhetoric is a standard campaign strategy, but considering the history of Crown Heights, which in part lies in the CD-11, the ploy was in bad form.
There are other flashing yellow lights that call attention to Yassky’s campaign. Last year, the councilman had plan to run for Brooklyn district attorney, which would have pit him against two other white candidates, but dropped out to pursue his current bid for Congress. Furthermore, Yassky, who once lived three blocks outside of the district, only recently moved into the area. This begs the question: Is the candidate purely driven by the ambition to gain political power by any means necessary?
“I know this district well, I represent a very big part of it right now as councilman ” says Yassky. “I understand the needs of this district. I understand how Washington is shortchanging this district right now and I understand what we need to do to get Washington to serve this district better.”
The 42- year-old contender believes that his track record in the city council, six-year stint as a congressional aide for Chuck Schumer and “progressive” platform will convince voters that he is the most qualified candidate. Since being elected to the council in 2001, Yassky has sponsored several pieces of legislation. He championed the Affordable Housing Zoning Initiative, which requires developers of luxury apartments to finance moderately priced housing. He also brought forth the Gun Industry Responsibility Act, which sought to hold “reckless” gun dealers liable for the sale of guns that were involved in a crime in New York. Though the bill was shut down in Congress, it gained Yassky quite a bit of attention. Yet one of Yassky’s CD-11 opponents, Chris Owens, questions his record.
“If Yassky’s record was as wonderful as he would like us to believe, why didn’t he run in the 12th District where he lived and did all of his work? It’s because he would have had to run against an incumbent with money, Nydia Velazquez, and face criticism from constituents that are unhappy with his performance,” says Owens.
Like Owens, many of Yassky’s critics say his work in the council was primarily focused on the needs of his constituents in the more-affluent neighborhoods of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights. In fact, many of Yassky’s financial contributors, according to the Federal Election Committee, hail from these areas. More importantly, a healthy percentage of Yassky’s backers who have helped him amass a war chest of $800,000, are real estate developers. In light of the candidate’s support for the Atlantic Yards Project, one wonders whether Yassky will play to these developers if elected. “My record of independence in the city council tells people that I’ll be 100% independent once I get to Congress,” Yassky declares.
To Yassky’s credit, he does have a well- thought -out local and national platform, which includes stronger labor laws and environmental protections, more funding for Section 8 programs and Universal health care. Admittedly, Yassky, much like Chris Owens, has one of the most thorough approaches to
issues of policy (at least on his Web site). But his connection to outside interests and his questionable political ambitions leave much to be desired.