queens district 27
From top left: Candidates Marie Adam-Ovide, James Johnson, Al-Hassan Kanu, Rene Hill, Harold Miller, Kerryanne Burke, Nantasha Williams, Jason Clark. Photos courtesy of candidates' websites

From roundtable meetings to expanding office hours, candidates for New York City Council District 27 shared multiple ways to improve communication with constituents during a May 11 virtual forum hosted by The Haitian Times. 

“It’s very tough to hear when you knock on doors that ‘you only come when it’s time to vote,’” said candidate James Johnson, a community organizer. As a solution, Johnson proposed holding roundtable discussions in different neighborhoods, to hear constituent concerns. “As an effective elected official you [need] the reach to meet all different demographics … you also have to have a very diverse office as well,” he said.

Candidates shared different approaches to outreach. Marie Adam-Ovide, for example, said she would have a mobile district office, holding office hours at libraries, nonprofits and senior centers. 

“We need to go to the community,” said Adam-Ovide, a district manager for Community Board 8. “We need to go to people.” 

Other candidates who participated in the forum were business owner Rene Hill, Al-Hassan Kanu of the Southern Queens Parks Association, JFK Redevelopment community affairs manager Nantasha Williams, attorney Kerryanne Burke, Test and Trace Corps campaign director Harold Miller and attorney Jason Clark. The eight participants are among 12 candidates with active campaigns in the race, per the city Campaign Finance Board

The southeast Queens council district they seek to represent has a population of 275,000, according to U.S. Census figures. More than 22,000, likely an undercount, are Haitian-American. District 27 includes the neighborhoods of Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, St. Albans, Queens Village and Springfield Gardens. 

During the debate, candidates discussed multiple aspects of community engagement, from responding to residents’ needs, to assisting business and community-based service providers. Continuing his work as a candidate, Kanu said his staff would educate business owners on how to apply for pandemic assistance programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). 

“We have to make sure there’s a training, that there’s a process, that we teach them so they understand how to apply,” said Kanu.

Williams said she would undertake a community needs assessment as an early initiative in her term. Miller said he would leverage his experience in community organizing and his city government experience to connect the dots between people and government. 

“It’s about building that bond, that trust and I have that with a lot of those senior members of those agencies throughout the city,” said Miller. 

Community engagement priorities for Burke would include offering language access, including Creole and French speakers, in her office, she said. To leverage community dollars most effectively, Clark suggested public-private partnerships, exploring private financing for community-based organizations to supplement discretionary funding. 

Providing resources for families

Roughly 75% of households in District 27 are families, per Census figures. Candidates also shared resources and ways to improve family livelihoods district-wide. 

Hill said the community needs jobs, but she also stressed her advocacy against the proposed Intro 2186, which she said would destroy the character of the community by prioritizing multi-family over single-family homes. 

“As councilwoman, I would take it off the table … I would keep our neighborhood the same and make sure this overdevelopment stops,” Hill said. “It would affect our kids if our community changed to a more dense community.” 

For Clark, improving livelihoods for families starts with providing a consistent, quality education for children. He said that using federal pandemic relief money is a great opportunity “to make sure that we can get the changes we’ve been talking about for too long.” 

These changes include providing individualized education plans for students and increasing the length of the school day to allow for more learning opportunities, Clark said. 

Johnson said he wants to bring more staff into schools and bring community centers to the district. “We shouldn’t be a community center desert, it takes us two or three busses to get to the nearest community center,” he said.

Echoing some statements made by Johnson, Williams said she supports pre-kindergarten for all, introducing vocational training into schools and increasing staff like guidance counselors, to provide resources for children.

“I think about legacy, how do we sustain the existing legacy of our community but also bring us into the future?” Williams said. “We want to sustain the amazing community that we have and make sure that we can adjust to changes as they come.” 

Creating a brighter future for families involves fighting for livable wages, offering more funding resources for parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and bringing entrepreneurship hubs to the district, Burke said. 

“If you have a family structure that’s dysfunctional and you don’t have the proper money, you won’t have the proper access to things,” Burke said. “We can start now being sovereign over our communities, not waiting for someone to come build something here and then [asking] for a job.”  

To vote in the June 22 primary, voters must register to vote by May 28. Early voting begins June 12

Visit The Haitian Times Facebook page to watch the full forum.

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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