By Bianca Silva
Leaders in the Haitian community are up in arms after Public Advocate Jumaane Williams officially endorsed Monique Chandler-Waterman in the special election to fill his vacated council seat under Toussaint L’overture Boulevard on April 17. Several leaders have seen his endorsement, which took place in Little Haiti, for a candidate with no ties to the community, as a slap in the face.
“I chose this location for a reason,” Williams said last week. “I am going to have a serious conversation why. We are under Toussaint L’ouverture Boulevard in ‘Little Haiti’ and now my hope is that when all of us when we’re finished is to make sure we have a unified 45th District. I will be honest to say that there has been bias against that community and I have done my best to make sure we remain united.”
His endorsement comes after weeks of speculation that Williams had been quietly endorsing Chandler-Waterman who worked with the public advocate as a community liaison for the 45th district and met her ten years ago through her nonprofit organization: East Flatbush Village Inc.
Williams explained he’s endorsing Chandler-Waterman due to her “community work” with her organization and had actually encouraged her to run for office prior to his campaign for Lieutenant Governor in 2018.
The endorsement seemingly serves as a blow for his former chief of staff, Farah Louis, who is also running for the vacant seat and worked for him for six years. Her most notable supporters include: Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn), Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and has recently picked up endorsements from the Brooklyn Young Democrats and the UFT (United Federation of Teachers).
Despite the bubbling tensions in the Haitian community from leaders who have been pressing her to comment on the public advocate’s decision to support Chandler-Waterman, Louis is solely focused on running a successful campaign.
“If a comment on his endorsement would make a difference for our community, I’d comment,” Louis says in an email to The Haitian Times. “But it won’t. What matters is that we have a housing affordability crisis. We have schools that are crumbling as our kids try to learn. And we have shrinking, not expanding, options for holistic healthcare in our district. In addition, a population of immigrants that live in the district for years are desperately seeking a pathway to citizenship.”
An underrated aspect of the race beyond the drama as Williams points out is the number of women in the community along with Louis and Chandler-Waterman who are also running for the seat.
“There are a lot of good people who are running right now and our community should be proud we have so many black women stepping up and having shown real leadership in this community,” he tells The Haitian Times.
For Bichotte, a long-time ally of the public advocate, she feels that he’s turning his back on a community that has not only embraced him and elevated him but is especially turning his back on a longtime employee who helped open up those very doors.
Williams had also reportedly signed a waiver expressing his support for Louis explaining that a person of Haitian descent should take over the seat once his term was up due to its large Haitian population in all of the city council.
“We didn’t vote for a public advocate to react on feelings,” she says. “We didn’t vote for a public advocate to say one thing and turn around and do another thing and think that our community is not important. We have a lot of callers on the radio who’s very disappointed in Jumaane. The Haitian community loves Jumaane but they’re seeing another side.”
Williams believes the accusations that he’s anti-Haitian for not supporting Louis is unfair and hyperbole given the current state of the U.S “where hyperbole is dangerous and we can’t afford that” and explains there were never any malicious intent to discourage Louis from running for his seat.
“I tried to make sure I treated everyone fairly in my office,” he says. “I never tried to hamper anyone from doing what they want to do. When Farah finally came to me very late last year, in order for her to run, she has to have permission to legally work for the city council and run to be a councilman and I’ve always said that I would never stop anyone who wants to grow.”
Williams has stood in solidarity with the Haitian community by being present at the renaming of the street corner to Toussaint L’overture Boulevard in 2018 and played a role in the controversial co-naming of a Brooklyn street after Jean-Jacques Dessalines who was instrumental in successfully leading Haiti’s slave rebellion in 1804. He’s also supported and led a number of efforts meant to strengthen the Haitian community. For example, in 2016 he introduced a language access bill that would have all New York City websites translated into seven of the most commonly-spoken languages in the city, including Haitian Creole. He also spoke against the 2013 Dominican Republic court ruling stripping thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their citizenship, and most recently advocated for the extension of TPS designation for Haitian nationals.
“I have a lot of love for the Haitian community,” he says. “I’m very proud of the work we did. I feel a lot of love back. My biggest thing is to make sure that this community stays unified and it’s unfortunate that this election seems to be tearing a lot of good work that we’ve done.”
But according to Bichotte, his decision to ultimately endorse Chandler-Waterman stems from allegedly being upset at not being allowed to speak at a Haitian event and used the designated “Little Haiti” street corner to announce his endorsement as a retaliation of sorts.
“Jumaane did the announcement at Toussaint L’overture Boulevard out of personal attack, but there was a significance there where in doing so he recognized that the Haitian community is important,” she says. “A community that you can’t take advantage of.”
Williams explains the decision to make his announcement there was intended to show the community that their voice will continue to be heard although he’s no longer representing the district.
“I still have people from the anglo-caribbean questioning me why I supported Little Haiti and I’m still proud of it,” he says. “I thought it was important that we do it there to show that Monique will continue those same efforts.”
For Louis, she hopes that her time getting to know the district will lead her to victory.
“After six years working on behalf of the district in the City Council, for all persons from every neighborhood and background, I have the best experience to bring real change to the 45th on these issues,” she says. “To help unify any divides. To push funding to organizations that actually make a difference in the lives of folks in our community— organizations such as WIADACA, Caribbean’s Women’s Health Association, Brooklyn Arts Council and their Caribbean Cultural initiatives, CASYM Steel Orchestra and FJCC— just to name a few. Any goal is to ensure that the 45th is represented full-time in the City Council.”
Bichotte is confident that Louis will succeed since she’s running on a platform of uniting different communities within the district including the greater caribbean community, Jewish and LGBT groups.
“We have everything because that’s who we represent,” she says. “We represent everybody. We have a pretty good campaign. No drama, knocking on doors, voter contact and it’s been great. We look to win this.”