By Jonathan Greig
Farah Louis won a hard fought victory in the special election last month for the 45th district’s city council seat and did it again last night, winning the Democratic primary race for the same position. The win all but secures Louis as the district councilwoman for the next four years.
“A Unified 45, A Unified 45,” Louis roared as the crowd welcomed her to the microphone at her election party on Tuesday.
“This election was about the residents of the 45th district. This election was about my vision — and our vision — for the future of our community. I am proud to be the people’s choice.”
Louis won 50.3 percent of the vote on Tuesday, more than seven points ahead of her main opponent and bitter rival Monique Chandler-Waterman. The win comes a mere month after Louis won by an even bigger margin in a special election to replace famed former district councilman Jumaane Williams.
All of the candidates who ran in the special election also ran in the primary, but Louis had already cemented herself as a boots-on-the-ground councilmember in just a few weeks on the job.
“She is already doing incredible work,” said 44th district Councilman Kalman Yeger.
“[Councilman] Haim will tell you, they’ve already worked together to address traffic situations. She’s already signed on to bills that I’m presenting in the council to make life better in the community. She’s hard at work. My parents live in the 45th District. I wouldn’t give you a councilmember I didn’t trust.”
Last month, Louis managed to win a tough, acrimonious race against a crowded field, securing nearly 43 percent of the vote in the special election to choose Williams’ city council replacement.
More than 4,500 45th District residents voted for Louis in a race that was initially prompted by William’s win in another special election to select a new Public Advocate. Williams himself was replacing Letitia James, who won her race to become New York’s Attorney General last year.
The race for the 45th was extremely contentious, mostly because of the dueling endorsements secured by Louis and Chandler-Waterman, who managed to secure about 3,800 votes.
Williams surprisingly decided against endorsing Louis, his former deputy chief of staff and the engine behind many of his legislative efforts. He instead gave his support to Chandler-Waterman, setting off a confusing and divisive feud that some thought would tip the election in her favor.
Williams was wildly popular with voters in the district and rode his reputation into the Public Advocate position just a few months ago. Most assumed he would tap his former deputy Louis to take over for him but when he decided to back her opponent, some analysts thought his magic would rub off on Chandler-Waterman.
But she quickly proved she didn’t need her mentor’s endorsement, securing her own heavyweight backers in popular Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte, Borough President Eric Adams and Brooklyn Democratic County Leader Frank Seddio.
“She did so much work for the councilman when he was there. We’ve got to do this with the people who have worked and earned it the old fashion way,” Seddio said at Louis’ election party on Tuesday.
The snub from her former boss had little effect on Louis, who proved to be a shrewd and unifying figure in the district, managing to galvanize deep support from the district’s Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Orthodox Jewish and Carribbean communities throughout her campaign.
“Farah Louis ran a campaign that was focused on uniting all of the diverse communities in the 45th council district and she was very successful in bringing leaders together, from the Christians, from the Muslims and from the Jewish communities,” said John Wasserman, president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats.
David Greenfield, CEO of the Met Council and former city council member himself, highlighted the successful efforts Louis made to secure the vote of the Orthodox Jewish community during an interview on NY1 after the special election. Jewish leaders in the district backed Louis over Adina Sash, an Orthodox Jewish woman who ran and only received about 400 votes.
“The Orthodox piece is interesting because the community did something strategic which is that in the past, they would have said ‘OK, identity politics. You’re Orthodox, we’re going to support you.’ In this case, the leadership, including Councilman Chaim Deutsch and Councilman Yeger, have both decided that they are going to get together with Farah and the Haitian leaders and create a Haitian-Orthodox Jewish bloc,” he told NY1’s Errol Louis.
Greenfield continued: “It will be very interesting so see how that plays out. Not just in this race, but in the race a few weeks from now. And also in the future in New York City, which I think is very sophisticated and folks haven’t been paying attention to that. The Orthodox Jewish community is supporting a Haitian Christian woman for city council when they have their own candidate in the race.”
After her loss in the special election and in the run-up to the primary, Chandler-Waterman repeatedly criticized Louis for the diversity of her supporters — claiming in interviews that Louis was “dealing with Republicans and Trump supporters.” This was interpreted by many as a veiled shot at the overwhelming support Louis received from the Orthodox Jewish community centralized in Midwood.
Williams gave a speech on Tuesday night in front of a nearly empty room after Chandler-Waterman conceded. He eventually congratulated Louis on Twitter, writing that “the 45th District has clearly spoken again.”
“As the community begins to unify and heal after this election, let’s all work to help her serve the community we all love,” he wrote.
Bichotte was one of Louis’ first supports and took pride in her win during a speech at the election party. She was particularly incensed by Williams’ decision to back Chandler-Waterman because she personally chaired his campaign for Public Advocate and was with him onstage after his landslide win just months ago.
“It was a disappointment that Jumaane did not endorse Farah. As her mentor and former boss, it certainly was surprising but was also a wake-up call. Farah’s perseverance and the support of the entire community and beyond,” Erica Dumas, vice president of Mercury Public Affairs’ New York City office, said in an interview with The Haitian Times.
“Not only did she have the support of Bichotte, but she also had the support of Haitian-Americans across the state. Each day people were stomping the pavement from 6 AM to 10 PM knocking on doors and engaging the community on how significant this race was for NYC.”
The win is the latest for Haitians and Haitian-Americans in New York. Louis became the first Haitian-American woman elected to the City Council after the election in May.
Louis told The Haitian Times in an interview that she feels Haitians in Brooklyn are finally wielding the kind of political power they should have always had.
“I believe that the political power of Haitians and Haitian-Americans in Brooklyn has always existed, but in recent years we have taken our seat at the table to ensure that our voice and needs are heard.” Louis said.
“The special election on May 14th was a resounding message that the decision of who will serve as Council Member lies solely in the hands of the people. It was a reminder that we have the power to create real change when we are unified and work in one accord.”
New York already has the highest population of Haitians in the U.S. outside of Florida, with nearly 200,000 and the community has already elected a slew of Haitian Americans to local political office.
In addition to Bichotte, there is Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre from Babylon, Assemblyman Clyde Vanel from southeast Queens and Mathylde Frontus from Brooklyn’s 46th Assembly District as well as New York City councilmember Mathieu Eugene of Central Brooklyn.
With the increased political power, Louis said she was hoping to address a number of systemic issues plaguing Haitians in the district that ranged from gun violence to healthcare and housing.
“As a newly-elected council member, I will utilize public policy and legislation to expand services to all residents, particularly immigrants, like those in the Haitian community, who are often unaware of these resources due to language barriers,” she said.
“As a former staffer in the City Council, I regularly met with constituents facing evictions and tenant harassment. I know firsthand how the housing crisis in New York City has been detrimental to families within my district who are struggling to make ends meet and avoid being displaced from the only community that they have ever known.”
Louis added that she wants to work with local precincts to combat gun violence and collaborate with the NYC Economic Development Corporation to identify public partnership opportunities that would help Brooklyn’s Little Haiti district.
“Before winning the special election, I helped create a special advisory committee with Community Board 17 —a community board that represents a number of Haitian/Haitian American residents,” she said.
“We need to continue community conversations, combat unfair increases in commercial leases, address public safety concerns, initiate community beautification projects, and preserve the cultural footprint of the Haitian Diaspora.”
Louis now has to win the general election in November to secure her seat for the next few years and may face a challenge. But on Tuesday, she said she had already shown what she could do for Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, Midwood and Canarsie.
“When my opponents degraded me and defamed me, we took the high road and remained focused. We were unstoppable. One of the greatest strengths of our district is diversity and when everyone has a seat from the table, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. This was a grassroots campaign powered by hardworking, everyday Brooklynites,” she said on Tuesday.
“Our work has just begun. We have to address our housing crisis, gaps in education funding and hate crimes. We have to work in unison to ensure our community is a home and stays that way for everyone.”