2021 NYC Council Elections: 12 Haitian-American Candidates Running Citywide
The contentious 2020 national election cycle is still in the throes of a spectacular, now violent, end. But already, another political fight is kicking off in New York City. Candidates are campaigning in what will most certainly be a busy New York City council election season — with 51 seats up for grabs and ranked-choice voting taking place for the first time — plus the selection of a new mayor.
Cambria Heights resident Sabine French is looking forward to it.
“An election itself is a wonderful part of the democratic process,” said French, a Queens borough advocate working under the New York City Public Advocate’s office. “It’s the true voice of the people.”
With a plethora of candidates from starkly different political backgrounds, the city council elections will have a pivotal effect on the city’s political landscape. The introduction of the ranked-choice primary has garnered mixed responses, with a pro being a streamlined election process and a con being the argument that it does not fall in line with the democratic process. In addition, the council elections are flooded with candidates, as only 16 of 51 members are allowed to seek re-election.
Citywide, at least 12 Haitian-American candidates are running to represent council districts spanning three boroughs. All candidates have filed as Democrats for the June 22 primary election and will vie for two-year terms that begin in 2022. The general election is scheduled for Nov. 2, 2021.
Over the next five months, candidates are expected to campaign on their ability to address a diverse range of issues, including police reform, language access, affordable housing, healthcare and coronavirus, and education funding.
“The gentrification is heartbreaking and sometimes I can’t even recognize the block,” said Charlyvia Concave, a fashion stylist in East Flatbush. “I hope that’s really being addressed, as well as housing, small business initiatives and immigration issues.”
Haitian-American candidates unprecedented
The limited number of incumbents seeking reelection has led to primary races crowded with contenders this year. For example, the heavily Haitian District 40 has 12 registered candidates, according to the city Campaign Finance Board, including four Haitian-Americans.
“It’s really unprecedented,” Queens College political science professor Francois Pierre-Louis said, about the number of Haitians running citywide. “It shows the power of the Haitian community in New York, and it shows also how [effective] the political education of the voters has been, in terms of educating them about their rights as a citizen of the United States, and the need to participate in the political process.”
As a student and later a professor in the city, Pierre-Louis has observed the political growth of the Haitian community. Few, if any Haitian-Americans, ran for council during the 1990s, he said. Then, in 2007, District 40 Council Member Mathieu Eugene became the first Haitian-American council member.
In May 2019, District 45 Council Member Farah Louis won a special election, joining Eugene on the council. Louis seeks to defend her seat this year, while Eugene faces term limits.
The unusually large number of Haitian candidates, however, raises the prospect of splintering the vote. This could decrease the likelihood of a Haitian winning, Pierre-Louis said.
Similar dynamics have occurred in other states. In the 2010 Florida congressional election, current District 24 Congresswoman Frederica Wilson defeated five Haitian candidates in the Democratic primary who collectively received more votes, The Haitian Times reported.
Campaigning already underway
Already, candidates such as Josue Pierre and Rita Joseph have sent campaign materials to their district’s residents.
Cantave has known Josue Pierre, a candidate in District 40, since he was her mother’s student at PS 181 John Steptoe School of the 21st Century in East Flatbush.
“I plan on voting for Josue because I’ve seen him out in the community and he’s always been active for years,” said Cantave. “He comes with all these different dynamics that I think the city needs. Not only is he Haitian, he’s also queer and of an immigrant background.”
While she sees the value of a Haitian representative, French will evaluate council candidates based on their platform, citing personal priorities like funding for education and after-school programs.
“Democracy is about getting the best representative for the people in office,” said French. “If a candidate who isn’t Haitian is in line with my platform, it would be a disservice to not support them.”
To win in New York City, council candidates must build alliances to address issues impacting residents districtwide. Often, successful candidates build coalitions with fellow Caribbean-Americans, African-Americans, Latinos and other groups.
“Even though the Haitian community makes up a good part of the electorate, they don’t have the majority,” Pierre-Louis said. “You have to build a coalition across all of these people.”
Following is an overview of the Haitian-American candidates running for city council in 2021. The overall and Haitian-American population numbers are based on U.S. Census data. They are considered to be underestimates, due to the undercounting of immigrants and other factors.
Neighborhoods: Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens
District population: 160,123
Haitian-American population: 7,700In December, Queens County Politics reported 10 candidates running to represent District 31. Registered candidates are eligible to participate in the Feb. 23 special election to replace former Council Member and current Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, as well as the June primary. The special election winner will serve until the end of 2021.
Two of the 10 candidates are Haitian-American:
- Franck Joseph, chief of staff and adviser to Queens Borough President Donovan Richards
- Manuel Silva, community activist and former chief of staff for Council Member Donovan Richards
Neighborhoods: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights
District population: 148,936
Haitian-American population: 1,800
Eleven candidates are registered to run for District 36. One will replace term-limited Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr., who intends to run for Brooklyn Borough President.
Neighborhoods: Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park, Prospect Lefferts Gardens
District population: 146,522
Haitian-American population: 13,000
Council Member Eugene, who faces term limits after this year, has filed to run for Brooklyn Borough President. The city’s Campaign Finance Board also lists 12 registered council candidates for District 40, including four Haitian-Americans.
- Maxi Eugene, brother of Mathieu Eugene and an entrepreneur
- Rita Joseph, public school teacher and activist
- Josue Pierre, borough director for the city’s Office of the Comptroller, Democratic Party district leader for the 42nd Assembly District
- Edwin Raymond, activist and NYPD lieutenant who has promoted police reform as a member of the NYPD 12, a group of 12 officers who filed a lawsuit against the city for their quota system unfairly targeting minorities.
Neighborhoods: Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Marine Park, Flatlands, Kensington
District population: 140,433
Haitian-American population: 16,600
Council Member Louis seeks another term in office and is the only Haitian-American candidate running in this district. She has three other challengers: Jamaican-American Anthony Beckford, Cyril Joseph, and Cuban-American Louis Cespedes.
Neighborhoods: Bergen Beach, Canarsie, Flatlands, Georgetown, Gerritsen Beach, Marine Park, Mill Basin, Mill Island, Sheepshead Bay
District population: 165,679
Haitian-American population: 18,600
With Council Member Alan Maisel term-limited, nine candidates are looking to succeed him, according to the Campaign Finance Board. Three are Haitian-American:
- Mercedes Narcisse, nurse and community advocate
- Shirley Paul, practicing attorney who has worked for the New York governor’s office and state Supreme Court
Neighborhood: Arlington, Clifton, Clove Lakes, Concord, Elm Park, Graniteville, Livingston, Mariners Harbor, New Brighton, Port Richmond, Randall Manor, Rosebank, St. George, Snug Harbor, Silver Lake, Stapleton, Sunnyside, West Brighton and Tompkinsville
District population: 170,363
Haitian-American population: 1,212
Incumbent Deborah Rose is term-limited, and there are 11 candidates who have filed paperwork for the primaries.
One is Haitian-American: Philippe-Edner Apostol-Marius, activist and community liaison for New York Assembly Member Richard Gottfried.
There are other city council districts with a considerable Haitian community such as Queens District 27, which includes Hollis and Queens Village. We will continue to monitor the candidates in these neighborhoods and update accordingly.
This article, which was co-written with Sam Bojarski, was originally published in The Haitian Times.