By Sam Bojarski and Larisa Karr
Two days after the guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, three candidates for New York City Council District 45 called for police reform, proposing defunding the police as one approach.
“My position on policing has been to defund half of the police budget, the overall police budget, over the next four years,” said candidate Louis Cespedes, a building professional and community advocate.
For Cespedes, money shifted from the NYPD would be funneled into youth outreach and jobs programs. The two other candidates who participated in the April 22 virtual forum hosted by The Haitian Times supported the idea of diverting financial resources from the police department.
Candidate Cyril F. Joseph, a nonprofit leader and member of Community Board 4, said that money should be reallocated for mental health services. Community activist Anthony Beckford called for diverting resources into mental health, vocational training and after-school programs. He said the shift should come with accountability measures, like docking the pay of officers who commit civil offenses.
Law enforcement reform occupied nearly half of the 90-minute forum, a spirited affair that saw the candidates raising their voices at times and making passionate appeals to change guard.
“We have to look at the fact that what we do here in New York, many other cities and states do follow,” Beckford said. “So with us doing what is right, as legislators, as true activists, as true advocates, and vital voices out there in the community, we’ll be able to make an impact in New York City and have it expand out throughout this country.”
The candidates also discussed discretionary spending inside the district, a topic that The Haitian Times has been reporting about since March. The series has examined how City Council incumbents serving Haitian-American enclaves choose to use their discretionary budgets.
“A primary role of a city councilperson is to control, one, a discretionary budget,” Cespedes said. “If you’re not using that discretionary slush fund to invest in the infrastructure in your community that’s the first problem.”
If elected, Cespedes said, funding would go to build senior services centers to help them acclimate to digital devices, building a dedicated team to address the district’s garbage problem, and implementing youth tutoring and mentoring programs.
Like Cespedes, Beckford and Joseph both supported using their discretionary spending budgets to help youth programs and vocational training. Beckford also singled out the issue of food insecurity within the district, while Joseph emphasized the importance of protecting the area’s greenspaces in listing which groups they would fund if elected.
Top legislative priorities
Beckford, Cespedes and Joseph also discussed their approach to governing and listed what their legislative priorities would be.
“Right now, I am building a coalition of other candidates throughout other districts who are like-minded, who agree on many of the issues,” Beckford said, about his approach to passing legislation, if elected. “It takes bringing a lot of organizations in the community to the table.”
Priorities for Beckford include a housing justice bill with rent rollbacks and a “cop watch” bill to bring enhanced police accountability, he said.
For Cespedes, turning his plans into action would require more than legislation alone.
“We cannot legislate our way to solving every problem,” said Cespdes, adding that his approach would involve advocacy and education, particularly for business owners hard-hit by the pandemic.
If elected to the City Council seat, Cespedes’ priorities would include ending rezoning measures and educating residents about the value of their homes.
Joseph emphasized the need to protect the district’s small businesses, stating that many local stores are struggling because of skyrocketing rents. He said that it is crucial to stand up to developers who are trying to do whatever they want.
“Let the politicians know that it is time to stop going into the developers’ pocket,” Joseph said. “And if you’re an honest and truthful politician or legislator, you’re going to stand your ground.”
Absent incumbent’s supporter criticizes forum
The Haitian Times invited all candidates for the seat to the forum, including the incumbent, Council Member Farah Louis. After initially saying she would accept, the Council Member’s representatives did not confirm nor return follow-up messages.
After Thursday’s forum, a person identified as Louis’ sister took to Facebook to criticize it. She alluded to The Haitian Times report in the ongoing series about Louis’ discretionary funding.
The Haitian Times discretionary funding article did not mention any misappropriation of funds.
Out of an allocated budget of $1,626,500 for Fiscal Year 2021, Louis has provided $209,000 to organizations inside of her district and $1,381,000 to groups outside of her district, the March 9 article reported.
Within that roughly $1.4 million, about $434,088 went to outside organizations that have programs benefiting District 45 residents, according to the article.