haitian candidates
From top left: Kenya Handy-Hilliard, Rita Joseph, Lt. Edwin Raymond and Josue Pierre. Photos courtesy of candidates' social media

In the heavily immigrant District 40, city council candidates shared solutions to integrate the community with local government ‒ including proposals to grant non-citizens voting rights. 

“We can give them the right to vote in municipal elections,” said District 40 candidate Kenya Handy-Hilliard. “There is no place where you should be paying taxes, but people aren’t supporting the types of funding and programming that [they] would benefit from.” 

All four candidates who shared their visions for the district in an April 14 virtual forum hosted by The Haitian Times voiced their support for allowing non-citizens to vote. The Democratic candidates in the race to replace term-limited District 40 Council Member Mathieu Eugene also shared their solutions for addressing issues like affordable housing, public sanitation and more. 

Rita Joseph, a teacher, distinguished herself as the candidate with the most on-the-ground experience, helping district residents. Josue Pierre, who works for the city Office of the Comptroller touted his budgetary prowess and work as an activist, while Lt. Edwin Raymond said his 13 years of experience in the NYPD gives him an inside view of how to fix policing. Handy-Hilliard, who has worked for Congressmember Yvette Clarke and city government said she has the most legislative experience of any candidate in the race. 

Thirteen total candidates are currently running in the race to replace Eugene.

Rita Joseph, teacher

During the virtual forum, Joseph said she has been on the ground with district residents since she was 19 years old. 

“I’ve always been on the ground, listening to their concerns and helping out in every way that I can,” Joseph said, citing her experience helping senior citizens deal with landlords in court and helping immigrants apply for citizenship. 

At multiple points in the forum, Joseph described how she would improve communication with residents and stakeholders, pledging to hold monthly meetings in-person or via video conference. 

Improving access to critical services for immigrants, Joseph said, means bolstering language access at public facilities like schools and hospitals. As a council member, promoting access to services would involve being active on Whatsapp, radio and in local churches, serving as a resource for community members. 

A series by The Haitian Times, examining how council members spend their discretionary funding, has raised the attention of community members. Joseph said she will make sure to keep people updated on how and when to apply for funding, while providing assistance in applicants’ native language. 

Last year, New York City’s sanitation budget was cut by $106 million, and candidates, including Joseph, addressed how to clean District 40’s streets. For her, part of the solution would involve funding business improvement districts (BIDs), or groups of businesses in a commercial corridor that contribute a small tax to fund sanitation. 

“Their budgets were slashed also during COVID-19, so they were not able to hire people that used to clean to clean the streets,” Joseph said. “As a future council member I would make sure they are fully funded.” 

Josue Pierre, Brooklyn borough director, Office of the Comptroller

Pierre, who is also a Democratic Party District Leader for Assembly District 42, touted his direct experience in affordable housing and hands-on budget work. 

“It’s not just about what we do in our professional lives, it’s what we do in our personal lives, to show that we care about the community,” Pierre said, touting his experience as an activist. 

Pierre spent more time talking about affordable housing than any other candidate. His proposals include creating a tenant protection unit, independent from the mayor’s office, to educate tenants about their rights. Part of the solution to making housing more affordable is working with nonprofit developers, who are less driven by profit motives, to construct more housing. 

Government-owned land that is being passed on to new owners, he also said, can be converted into housing that is affordable to residents of a given census tract. 

To improve community engagement, Pierre suggested holding office hours and consulting directly with residents on the budgeting process. 

“We should have real office hours where people can know they can come in and get help,” Pierre said. “Everybody has the same complaint, it’s that there’s no office hours, it’s hard to get to the council number.” 

Edwin Raymond, NYPD lieutenant

A member of the NYPD 12 Raymond has fought for change from inside the police department. While policing did not feature prominently in the forum, Raymond said this is his signature issue as a candidate. 

“We see this issue with policing, no matter how many times we try to reform it, it doesn’t work,” Raymond said. “I’ve dedicated 13 years of my life to fully understanding how this thing works, and exactly what’s needed to rectify it.”

But Raymond’s agenda goes beyond policing alone, as he described during the forum. Part of the solution to making housing more affordable, he said, involves working with the federal government to redetermine how area median income (AMI) is calculated. 

Some residents argue that using the AMI as a guideline for who can afford certain apartments is unfair, as suburban areas outside the city inflate the AMI of the metropolitan region. 

To expand participation in local government, Raymond called for more transparency in the city council. He said people should be invited to city council meetings, through text messages and phone calls, so they can be aware of when crucial decisions are being made. 

To clean up the district, Raymond proposed that the city pay volunteer residents a per-day rate to clean the streets.

“My solution is to empower folks who want to clean up by giving them some per diem income,” Raymond said. 

Kenya Handy-Hilliard, former director of intergovernmental affairs, NYC Department of Investigation

Handy-Hilliard, who is now running her campaign full-time, has wide-ranging government experience that has included a position as a legislative assistant for Rep. Clarke, of Brooklyn. 

“I have tangible experience where I’ve used legislative language, I’ve negotiated that language into law,” Handy-Hilliard said. “Although I’m not of Haitian descent, I understand and have lived experience with growing up in a diaspora community.” 

As a council member, Handy-Hilliard said she would continue to draw on her experience helping communities district-wide understand how government works. She was the first candidate during the forum to say that non-citizen immigrants, including the undocumented, should be given the right to vote in city elections. 

To expand housing affordability, Handy-Hilliard proposed getting rid of the 2016 Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) law that rezoned certain areas of the city, so that community residents can have a say in what types of housing come to the district. 

She also proposed reforming the CityFEPS rental voucher program, so that more families can afford housing. 

Due to MIH, “we’re creating these transient studio to two bedroom apartments that are not creating real roots in the community,” Handy-Hilliard said. “So you’re seeing new folks come in, year after year and they’re leaving and these private developers are raising the rents.” 

Candidates have just over two months to sway voters, before the June 22 primary election. The voter registration deadline, per the city Campaign Finance Board, is May 28. The general election will take place on Nov. 2. 

Sam is a reporter for The Haitian Times and a 2020 Report for America corps member. 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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