In the special election to fill the New York City Council seat left vacant by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, former Williams staffer Farah Louis emerged victorious, proving that she didn’t need the endorsement of her former boss to win. But Louis’ election also suggested that the political power of Haitian-Americans is steadily growing in New York.

A handful of Haitian-Americans – most of them first or second-generation Americans – have been elected to office in recent years. In 2012, Michaelle Solages was elected to represent New York’s 22nd Assembly District in Long Island, becoming the first Haitian-American to join the state Legislature. Others quickly followed suit, including Assemblywomen Kimberly Jean-Pierre from Babylon, on Long Island, and Rodneyse Bichotte from Flatbush, Brooklyn and Assemblyman Clyde Vanel from southeast Queens. In the New York City Council, Louis will join fellow Haitian-American Mathieu Eugene of Central Brooklyn.

Erica Dumas, a vice president at the government-focused public affairs firm Mercury, who worked on Louis’ campaign, said that the political rise of Haitian-Americans across the state is only just beginning. Dumas, who was born in Haiti and moved to the United States when she was very young, said that Haitian-Americans have long been involved in politics, but it’s only fairly recently that they’re starting to hold political office themselves. “For so long, we have been working with different administrations more behind-the-scenes and leading the strategies, running the campaign strategies,” Dumas said. “Now, it’s time for us to sort of be the leaders at the forefront of a lot of these conversations that are going on, especially in New York City.”

The Haitian-American community in New York City has traditionally been concentrated in Brooklyn, with most of New York City’s population of Haitian immigrants residing there (more than 61,000 foreign-born Haitians lived in Brooklyn in 2011). After Florida, New York state as a whole has the second largest population of Haitian-Americans, with over 195,000 recorded in 2013.

As the current crop of elected officials prove, Haitian-American political power is spreading across the state. In 2014, Jean-Pierre replaced Robert Sweeney in the state’s 11th Assembly District on Long Island, and a Haitian-American named Carrié Solages serves as a Nassau County legislator. Within New York City, the community is moving beyond Brooklyn, as evidenced by former Manhattan Deputy Borough President Rosemonde Pierre-Louis and Queens officials such as Vanel.

Francois Pierre-Louis, an associate professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, said that as Haitian-Americans move to the suburbs and other parts of the state, their political power begins to spread there as well. “We have a large Haitian-American (community) in Spring Valley, in Nyack, in Nassau County,” he said, referring to towns in Rockland County, and the suburban Long Island county.

Pierre-Louis attributed some of the community’s growing political power to the fact that the children and grandchildren of Haitian immigrants are reaching voting age and registering to vote. “I think it’s a trend that is on the rise, because you have an increased number of Haitian-Americans that have become citizens,” he said. “You also have new generations, the second generation, rising up, and then you also have the fact that they are registering as Democrats, or some of them as Republicans.” All Haitian-American elected officials in New York are Democrats, though in Florida and other locales outside the state, the population can be a little more politically diverse. A former congresswoman from Utah, Mia Love, was not only Haitian-American but was the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Continue reading

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