By Sam Bojarski

Residents of northern Staten Island will elect a new city council representative next year, with term limits preventing current Councilmember Deborah Rose from running again. Thirty-year-old Philipe-Edner Apostol-Marius is running in a crowded field that already includes at least eight candidates

While Marius, a Haitian-American, did not collect the necessary number of valid signatures to make it onto the ballot for the previous election in 2017, his campaign has received a boost this summer, with an endorsement from the Staten Island Progressive Action Network (SIPAN) – a dual chapter of New York Progressive Action Network and Our Revolution, which work to elect progressive political candidates. 

Phil Marius, near the Staten Island Ferry dock. Photo by Leonardo March

Marius, an activist and founding member of the Staten Island Democratic Socialists of America branch, plans to run in the city council race as a Democrat. SIPAN is the first major organization to endorse the Marius campaign. 

“This endorsement definitely shows that there are people living in the district, right, who are politically engaged and who believe in the values of the North Shore New Deal,” said Marius, a resident of the Stapleton neighborhood, who works as a community liaison for Democratic state Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, who represents Manhattan. 

“It also means that from here we can build the grassroots, we can build the base that will come out and help us get on the ballot and then help put us in the seat,” Marius said.

City Council District 49 encompasses the northern Staten Island neighborhoods of Arlington, Clifton, Clove Lakes, Concord, Elm Park, Graniteville, Livingston, Mariners Harbor, New Brighton, Port Richmond, Randall Manor, Rosebank, St. George, Snug Harbor, Silver Lake, Stapleton, Sunnyside, West Brighton and Tompkinsville. 

While there are still 10 months left until the June 2021 city council primary, several candidates have already put forward policy ideas. District 49 hopeful Amoy Barnes, who has worked in state and local government for years, including as Staten Island Borough Director for Mayor Bill de Blasio, disputed the notion that other candidates have not put forward a platform. 

“I’ve been engaging the community to articulate a platform that represents the needs of the North Shore. I invite the community to visit my priorities page, where I talk about what I will fight for in City Council: Housing, Education, Economic Prosperity and Healthcare,” Barnes said in a written statement. 

Other Democratic candidates in the race include Selina Grey, who served as campaign manager for Councilmember Rose, and Troy McGhie, who currently works as a community liaison for Rose. Kamillah Hanks, president and CEO of YOUTHBuild Staten Island and founder of the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership, has also announced her candidacy. 

Barnes said the crowded field will allow people to consider a variety of approaches and perspectives. 

Given that the election is still 10 months away, “I believe there is plenty of time for other candidates to articulate a platform; in fact it’s quite possible that more people will enter the race,” Barnes said. 

Marius, whose parents had immigrated separately to Brooklyn and Queens by the early 1980s, before they married, is the only Haitian American in the District 49 race so far. 

“There is not a large Haitian community in a congregated area per se, but there are Haitians and Haitian Americans living on Staten Island,” Marius said. 

Elsewhere in New York City, Haitian politicians have shown an ability to win in areas that do not have a high Haitian population, including Mathylde Frontus, who represents south Brooklyn in the 46th state assembly district, and Phara Souffrant Forrest, who last month won the Democratic primary for Assembly District 57, which encompasses the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. 

“They’re going beyond their own ethnic group,” said Francois Pierre-Louis, a professor of political science at Queens College. 

“They have a bigger appeal than just their own group, but it also tells you a lot about Staten Island, because Staten Island was a bastion of the Republican Party in New York City and the whitest, most conservative borough of the city,” Pierre-Louis said, referring to the District 49 race. 

Most of the candidates currently running for the seat are Black, and Councilmember Rose is the first Black person to hold the District 49 council seat. 

Phil Marius in front of Staten Island Borough Hall. Photo by Leonardo March

Marius’s platform includes proposals to raise wages and strengthen the power of workers through unions and cooperatives. In Staten Island Community District 1, 21 percent of residents fall below the city’s poverty threshold, compared to 19.8 percent citywide. Nearly half of all households are considered rent burdened, five percentage points higher than the city average. 

The North Shore New Deal includes proposals to increase the number of people who earn a living wage, or the minimum wage necessary for a worker to meet basic needs. It also calls for investing in socialized housing and nonprofit, publicly funded health care. 

Marius has proposed seeking authorization from the state, for city council to set its own minimum wage laws. According to MIT research, the living wage for a single adult in Richmond County, which includes Staten Island, is $17.99, which exceeds New York City’s minimum wage of $15 per hour. 

To encourage higher wages, “I want to support and encourage the creation of new worker-cooperatives, because this arrangement puts business decisions in the hands of the workers, and the workers know how much they require to get paid in order to pay their bills on time, and they wouldn’t make decisions against their own interests,” Marius also said. 

In response to recent demonstrations against police brutality, Marius has also proposed police reforms, including the Punish Police Terror Act, which would make suspension without pay an immediate punishment for abusive use of force by police officers. 

Marius said his North Shore New Deal is a living document that is subject to updates. “I have also committed to defunding the NYPD and using that rescued money to invest in permanent housing and adequate healthcare services for constituents,” he added. 

“It’s important to remember that individual council members do not create or pass legislation alone and getting things done is about building trust and leaning into what each proposal means for your district. A platform itself can not do that work,” said Barnes.

Thus far, Marius said his campaign has raised about $2,000 in total. Campaign volunteers have also begun promoting Marius’s policy ideas in their respective neighborhoods, including Port Richmond and St. George. Volunteers have been advised to avoid public activity and mostly speak to friends, family members and immediate neighbors about the campaign, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Citing his experiences canvassing the North Shore for progressive political candidates like Bernie Sanders, Marius said residents are ready to support his platform. 

“People here want progress, they want policies that will help them pay their bills on time –  housing bills and health care bills. And they want Medicare for All … and they don’t care whether or not it’s coming from a democratic socialist or some (other) political party,” he said. 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America fellow. He has covered Haiti and its diaspora since 2018. His work has also appeared in USA Today, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Haiti Liberte. Sam can be reached at sam@haitiantimes.com or on Twitter @sambojarski.

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