Richardson - Civic Minded

Diana Richardson does Civic Minded September 28

On Saturday, September 28, I went over to P.S. 66 on Empire Boulevard for the latest installment of Assemblywoman Diana Richardson's Civic Minded, her monthly meeting with constituents to hear their concerns and encourage them to be informed and active. The meeting started with about 25 people but grew to double that amount within an hour or so. Richardson was also running a college fair that day at Medgar Evers High School on Nostrand; she said she would be going back there afterward. Before the meeting got going, she asked that people put up yellow stickers on a map of the 43rd District indicating where people live. This was also done by the latecomers. My impression from the result was that Richardson has coverage all over her district, north and south, east and west.

After this, the formal meeting got going. Richardson follows some familiar rituals. She asked people to come to the front of the auditorium and explained how the 43rd District is “gerrymandered” as it overlaps with many other geographic entities – precincts, Community Boards, and more. The focus of the meeting was on the upcoming elections in 2020, and the first issue was early voting. The legislature, with the full support of Richardson and Senator Myrie, had voted through a bill to allow early voting, which will be implemented next year. Richarson had two members of the Brooklyn Voters Alliance explain. From Oct. 26 to Nov. 3 next year, one can go to a special voting station and vote before Election Day. In Crown Heights the polling stations will either be at Clara Barton High School or St. Johns Recreational Center. Cards were passed out giving information about the dates and explanation. New York is the 38th state to implement early voting. The representatives also spoke in favor of a modification in the City Charter that would introduce Ranked Voting. In elections with more than two candidates, one would be able to list one's preferences. This way candidates would benefit some from being listed at number two or three. There would be a maximum of five preferences allowed. Thus would a candidate with wide support do better to the detriment of those with a narrow following. As Ranked Voting would take place mostly in primaries, the advocates urged people to register with a political party, something they can do now until February 14 next year. Indeed, most elections in Brooklyn are decided in the Democratic Party primary.

Next Richardson revealed that she had been approached by various Presidential Campaigns for an endorsement. She said she had held back from doing so partly because she want to hear more from her constituents. To that end she held a ballot with all the current candidates listed on it. When the meeting was over, the results were announced. Warren had 8, Biden 7, Sanders 5, Booker 4 and Harris 2. The rest either had one or none. Richardson said she would hold a mock vote again to see how the race was evolving in the 43rd.

Richardson also pointed out that New York would have a unified primary on June 25, 2020. Parties would not only choose delegates to the national conventions but would also pick all the candidates for state and city offices so there would be no vote in September. This would presumably mean a larger turnout.

Another issue that came up was filling places on the County Committee of the Democratic Party. Every election district has the right to elect members to the committee. In the 43rd District there are about 300 seats and about 150 are filled. Five members of the committee came forward and spoke about how to get elected. One must pass around a petition among one's neighbors. Getting fifty signatures would most likely assure election. The member complained that meetings can be very long and tedious, but they do not happen often and being a member is important for influencing endorsements and policy. All five of the committee member were white, but one said the 150 members make up a diverse group. Richardson stepped in and pointed at me; she told me not to write that all committee members are white. Indeed, a late arrival was a Black woman.

Richardson explained that committee members are important for choosing a candidate if a vacancy occurs. She pointed out that when Karim Camara stepped down form the 43rd District, there were only eight committee members. The candidate they chose failed to register properly, and this allowed Richardson to win on the Working Families line with no Democratic opponent. Another issue is proxies. The chair of the committee tends to collect large numbers of proxies and thus dominates the committee meetings. The best way to resist this domination is to have a full turnout of members. Petitions to become a member must be taken around in February, March and April.

The last part of the meeting was used to go over various proposals by the different candidates for President to try to understand them better. There was even some debate about their merits. Health Care, Climate Change, College Debt, Executive Authority (the power of the President to make decisions if Congress will not act), the NRA and other lobbying groups, Campaign Finance, Gun Violence and Gun Licensing, Criminal Justice, and Education were all mentioned. Richardson encouraged the audience to watch the next debate on Oct. 15 together and said she would join such a group in November.

At this point the meeting came to an end, and Richardson headed off to the college fair at Medgar Evers.


Civic Minded 5 – More on Housing

On May 18th I went to the fifth session for 2019 of Diana Richardson's “Civic Minded,” her monthly meeting with constituents on Empire Boulevard. This was the second meeting on housing issues. I drifted into the school auditorium at P.S. 61 early and took a seat. Someone passed out cards for one of the judges running in the June 25th Democratic Primary. Richardson did not like the implied idea that she was endorsing this judge and went around collecting the cards before the meeting got started. In any event, the cards were still be passed out in the lobby and on the front steps of the school. Right after this, Richardson began the meeting with a combination of congratulations for what had been done and urgency to do more. She mentioned that the current rent laws would expire in 29 days, and she went over the status of the nine laws that have been proposed to replace them. Five she considered to be in good shape to pass; these were – Reform of Preferential Rent, End of Vacancy Decontrol, Elimination of the Vacancy Bonus, Reform of the Four Year Rule, and Rent Control Relief. For four others there was more negotiation to be done and some opposition; these were Eliminate Rent Hikes Because of Major Capital Improvements, Stop Harassment and Deregulation Caused by Individual Apartment Improvements, Expand the Emergency Tenant Protection Act, and Good Cause Eviction.

She said more organizing and pressure was needed to push through all nine bills, and she had people stand up who had gone to Albany and also people who had gone to meetings like the Assembly and Senate hearings to collect testimony. She called for a round of applause for these people. Also she showed videos, including one of State Senator Julia Salazar calling for tenants' rights upstate. Senator Myrie was present also, and he spoke about the testimony at Medgar Evers College on May 14, saying that 2,000 people had showed up to testify and how important it is to have all these stories in the official record. Richardson talked about politicians who have not spoken up on the issues, one of them being Robert Cornegy, Jr. of the 36th Council District. She called on his constituents to let him know how they felt.

Then there was a video of the demonstrators who tried to block the Senate hearing. Richardson had found the man leading the “protesters” and paying for their services. She had followed him around taking video and asking him who he was and who was paying him. Myrie talked about how the Real Estate industry tries to hide behind workers in buildings to create confusion through their provocations. In testimony inside the hearings of the Assembly, Joseph Straley of the misnamed Rent Stabilization Association had said the rent bills would make all housing like NYCHA housing, neglected and in bad repair because the money to do upkeep would be gone. Myrie pointed out that honest landlords have nothing to fear from the nine bills. What those bills do is put a stop to the various forms of abuse and profiteering that have become rampant.

Again Richardson and Myrie called on people to go to Albany to put pressure on those who have not made up their minds. A representative of the Crown Heights Tenant Association solicited volunteers for a telephone bank. Brian Kavanaugh has been made co-chair with Myrie of the effort to get the nine bills through the Senate. Myrie said as a result that he would be in Albany for the next month, this after appearing in numerous events in his district. And so it is that the legislation is moving forward as a set of bills that might dramatically change the lives of millions of people in New York State making for a safer more secure environment in which they could conduct their lives with reasonable rents and without fear of harassment and abuse at the hands of landlords who will do the most despicable things just to make a buck. We are living in a time that may very well become one of the moments when the plates shift and a whole new world appears.

– John DeWind

UpdatesRobbie Klein