By Jonathan Greig
The election to replace Jumaane Williams as councilmember for the 45th District has reached a fever pitch as we get closer to the May 14 poll date.
Six candidates — Monique Chandler-Waterman, Farah Louis, Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, Adina Sash, and Rickie Tulloch — received public matching funds for their campaign but Louis and Chandler-Waterman have emerged as the frontrunners, racking up big name endorsements across the district in the weeks before the election.
Most analysts say the race will come down to Louis and Chandler-Waterman, due in no small part to their connection to Williams, the district’s previous councilman and current Public Advocate who had widespread support throughout the community’s different ethnic groups and unions.
Many assumed Williams would knight Louis, his former deputy chief of staff, as his choice to replace him. But to the surprise and anger of the district’s Haitian community, Williams on April 17 opted to endorse Chandler-Waterman during a speech on Toussaint L’overture Boulevard in the district’s Little Haiti area.
“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,” Williams said, adding that he’s known Chandler-Waterman for 10 years through her work with her nonprofit organization East Flatbush Village Inc.
“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.”
About 188,000 people live in the district, 61 percent of whom are Caribbean American or African American. The Haitian community is a sizeable part of the Caribbean American electorate but there have been grumblings recently about the alleged outsized political influence Haitians and Haitian-Americans have in the district.
Louis, who is Haitian-American, has not let the lack of an endorsement from her former boss stop her from racking up big names to back her.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and prominent Haitian-American assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn) have publicly stumped for Louis and she has also managed to pick up crucial support from the United Federation of Teachers and the Brooklyn Young Democrats.
John Wasserman, president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, said Louis was the best choice by far.
“Farah Louis has been deeply involved, on the ground, in the community for the last 6 years. She clearly has the most experience because she worked directly with Jumaane Williams as his deputy chief of staff, so she was really directly involved with pivotal pieces of progressive legislation,” he told The Haitian Times.
“From criminal justice reform to public education to affordable housing for our communities, we trust that Farah Louis is the best choice to carry the mantle and to also be really ready on day 1 to be an effective council member for our diverse communities here in the 45th district.”
Wasserman said the candidate forum held last month showed that Louis had a firm grasp on not just policy issues but ways to address them.
“Farah Louis really stood out at the forum. She was able to articulately speak on the issues at hand and delve into nuances, not just highlighting what the issues are but also providing solutions to people’s problems, and that’s not something the audience saw from all the candidates,” he said.
Bichotte told The Haitian Times in an interview with Bianca Silva last week that she was very disappointed in Williams’ decision to back Chandler-Waterman and said The Haitian community would have to rely on its own efforts to get Louis elected.
“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,” Bichotte told Silva.
“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.”
Francois Pierre-Louis, Professor of Political Science at Queens College, said Chandler-Waterman and Louis were neck and neck partially due to the popular people backing them.
“I think the fact that Jumaane Williams [endorsed Chandler-Waterman] has made her a very important candidate and a real contender. Farah Louis is a strong candidate who has been endorsed by Rodneyse Bichotte,” he told The Haitian Times.
“The question that we have to ask is about the role of the Haitian community in these elections. The 45th has many Haitians. What percentage will vote for Louis or Chandler-Waterman? I don’t know. Any of those two candidates can easily win the race. It will depend on which of them obtains the most votes from the Haitian community.”
In spite of the controversy over Williams’ endorsement and minor scandals from both candidates involving past instances of poor word choices, Louis and Chandler-Waterman have largely made it out of the race unscathed, allowing voters to decide between them by measuring their preparedness and plans for the district.
Both women live in the district, which covers Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, Midwood, Canarsie. Both share many of the same policy views but differ on congestion pricing, which Louis said she was against and Chandler-Waterman said was a reality that had to be accepted regardless of her views on the issue.
“The 45th district is home to my family, myself. This is the community that helped me become the woman that I am today. I want to ensure that the community is continuing to thrive and that we’re at a better place when it comes to our housing, our education and our healthcare,” Louis said to The Haitian Times, touting the years she spent working on progressive legislation under Williams.
Starting out as a freelance reporter, Louis transitioned into community activism and eventually joined Williams’ office, quickly rising up the ranks to gain a bigger and bigger role.
“I believe I am the best person to ensure that we get there. The former councilmember did a great job providing fairness, equity and justice citywide and I believe that we need someone who will be vocal, that will be able to be boots on the ground doing the work, meeting the people and addressing the matters that are in the district,” Louis said.
Chandler-Waterman said her time running her nonprofit has given her deep roots in the community and prepared her for the role of councilmember.
“I am running to represent the 45th City Council District because after 20 years working side by side with residents and local leaders, I understand the needs of my community. I want to take my community’s voices to the tables where decisions are being made. I founded a 24-hour childcare program, then a non-profit organization called East Flatbush Village, Inc. to meet the needs of the children and families in our community,” Chandler-Waterman said in an email interview with The Haitian Times.
“I’ve stood with families whose lives were shattered by senseless violence and through East Flatbush Village Inc., I’ve provided youth activities, financial literacy and programs for seniors. Every day I spend time with the people who make up our community.”
In interviews with The Haitian Times, both candidates highlighted the district’s housing issues various ways to address it. Chandler-Waterman mentioned Mandatory Inclusionary Housing as an issue that she would try to address on day one.
“We have to fix Mandatory Inclusionary Housing because it does not reflect the income of people in our community. What is affordable on the Upper East Side is not affordable in our district so we need to review how the current program is implemented,” Chandler-Waterman said.
“Flatbush has the highest rate of evictions in Brooklyn, which is unacceptable. The tactics of the most notorious developers in our district were under investigation by the attorney general. They left members of our community in dangerous conditions, there were frequent fires in their buildings and two children lost their lives.”
Louis said her imprint is on dozens of pieces of progressive legislation and mentioned specific ways to address zoning issues for small business owners.
“We need to create a way to provide real accessible affordable housing to folks that live in our district. And we do not have that. We also have an increase in foreclosures in our district,” Louis said.
“I’ve worked for the council for over five years and none of my opponents can say that they’ve worked on the budget. None of my opponents can say that they know how to navigate the council budget. None of my opponents can say that they were able to spearhead or participate in creating groundbreaking legislation. None of my opponents can say that they’ve really understand the true issues that are happening in our community, in our district and all parts of the district.”
Chandler-Waterman touted her close work with Williams’ as his Community Outreach Director and said she has spent decades on the ground working to improve the district through her non-profit, which runs 11 after-school programs and holds classes or sessions on anti-violence, mental health and more.
“No other candidate in this race can match the volunteerism and activism that I bring to the table. I have stood up to giants for my community and I will continue to do so,” Chandler-Waterman said.
“As a nonprofit executive and a longtime community activist and advocate I’ve worked on behalf of the community with a host of government bodies to secure services. I’ve made it my business to understand to budget and legislative process. I’ve worked side by side with organizations I didn’t always agree but as an elected official part of the job is the build bridges to serve the community,” Chandler-Waterman told The Haitian Times, noting her endorsements by a number of women’s organizations in the neighborhood and the Working Families Party.
“These things and 20 years of service, activism, advocacy and organizing have prepared me for this seat. I am the best choice for District 45 because I know and understand the issues facing my community in a way that only someone doing grassroots work can. And, over the past 20 years, I have been an activist, advocate, educator, wife, and mother who saw and addressed needs in my community.”
Louis said her role as Williams deputy chief of staff put her in a unique position to get his policies across in easily digestible ways to the average district resident. Her on-the-ground contact gave her a close relationship with the community and experience translating politics to people.
“I ensured that policies were being implemented and pushed on behalf of the councilmember [Williams]. Ensuring that his methods were being pushed and that the constituents, the city and his colleges knew that he was there to be a partner with them,” Louis said.
“And ensure that the city was moving in the right direction when it came to fairness, equity and justice.
The winner of next week’s race will only serve as councilmember until the end of 2019 and will have to run in both the June primary race and the November general election. Whoever wins the race in November will serve in the position until 2021.