By Jonathan Greig
Election Day is approaching quickly and voters in the 42nd Assembly District are heading to the polls on Thursday with a number of important decisions to make in hotly contested state legislative party primaries. One of the most important local races is for male district leader of the 42nd Assembly District, which covers Ditmas Park, Flatbush, East Flatbush and Midwood.
Incumbent Josue Pierre won the seat in 2016, taking over for longtime district leader and president of the 70th Police Precinct Community Council, Ed Powell, after being elected to both the Democratic County Committee and the Judicial Convention in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
District leaders are unpaid but generally work to encourage local residents to be more engaged in the community politically, champion pertinent local issues within the county’s executive committee and vote to elect Democratic party leaders or judicial candidates.
Pierre, born in Haiti and raised in the Flatbush area, has worked ardently to promote and encourage increased political engagement within the Haitian-American community in the 42nd District. With the help of powerful Haitian-American Assemblywoman and female district leader Rodneyse Bichotte, he has been able to consolidate political influence in the area and give local residents a platform to voice concerns about pressing issues like immigration, housing and jobs.
He releases a monthly email for job opportunities and housing openings that local residents can sign up for all while canvassing and building coalitions with other party officials. He’s tried to become a resource for some of the 5,200 Haitians in New York City that will be affected by the Trump administration’s decision to terminate their temporary protected status on July 22, 2019. This will force thousands of families to make unconscionable decisions about whether to take American-born children and family members back to Haiti with them or leave them behind.
“People may have had a limited view of [the district leader position], but I have worked to maximize its potential and use it to affect change. Based on the work I have done here, my constituency and voters will see that he came in, and did more with what he had. If I can do this much with a position like this, I hope they could imagine any legislative position where I would have a budget, and be able to pass legislation. I hope to be their voice,” Pierre told the Haitian Times in an interview.
“I am a product of the community. Despite the challenges of growing up in central Brooklyn, and in consideration of the opportunities, I have fought to be successful and I have decided to stay in my community, and use all that i have learned, and my skill sets, to make my community greater.”
Pierre comes from a politically influential family in the district, as Bichotte is his cousin and another family member, Samuel Pierre, previously ran for a New York State Senate seat before dropping out and becoming the executive director of the Haitian American Caucus.
Since becoming district leader, Pierre has been adamant about increasing the visibility of the role and actively seeking out community thoughts on issues to bring them to other Democratic party leaders and decision makers. He said he has always wanted the Democratic Party to “feel like a localized, empowering group” that was inclusive and made people feel as though they were being heard.
As a founding member of the Shirley Chisholm Democratic Club, Pierre has worked with Bichotte to cultivate a new generation of political leaders in Brooklyn while flexing the growing leverage of the Haitian-American electorate and political machine in the area. But Pierre, through his “Opportunity for All” agenda, has stressed that the issues facing Haitian Americans were almost identical to those facing everyone in the 42nd District.
“It is critical that the Haitian-American community not lose its culture or its sense of connectivity, but that it does be pulled into the mainstream Flatbush, Brooklyn community, because 90 percent of the issues that we face are the same issues that are facing the Caribbean, the black and even the white community,” he said.
“Everyone is concerned about housing, education and well paid jobs.”
John Wasserman, president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, said Pierre was one of the most dynamic, up-and-coming leaders King’s County had to offer and that the group’s membership was fully behind him.
“We were very impressed with Josue’s vision for the future of not only the party, but the country. He recognizes the income inequalities currently that we’re experiencing here in Brooklyn. We really like what Josue has to say about solving those issues, including rent increases, including college affordability, including fixing our broken transit system,” he said.
“Part of that is bringing a diverse group of community residents to run for the county committee in the 42nd Assembly District, and if you go to any events he holds, you’ll recognize the diversity in the room. You’ll see young people, old people, parents, people from all economic backgrounds. He works on building bridges and brings people together.”
Voters will be deciding between re-electing Pierre or voting for one of his two challengers: Victor Jordan and Chidi Eze. Jordan is a professor and economist who has been a political operative in the district for decades, running for many local positions over the years. In addition to this race, he is also challenging Bichotte for her seat. Eze is a longtime civil rights lawyer in the community.
Jordan did not respond to requests for comment, and Eze would only confirm that he is running, declining to answer any questions about his platform or views on important issues.
Wasserman said he “hadn’t really heard of his opponents,” but added that Pierre was “at every community board meeting, at your block party, at your train stop. Everywhere.”
“I’m a big believer in taking the message to where people are. I’ve gone on to Haitian radio to talk about civic engagement. I also use social media to communicate with Haitian groups,” Pierre said. “You can’t be a civic leader and expect them to come to you. You have to take the message to where people are.”