From being a concerned Harlem resident to becoming the chief-of-staff for one of Harlem’s political giants, Cordell Cleare says that even with her various career changes, she maintains her commitment to making sure that her beloved community is taken care of.
Cleare currently serves as chief-of-staff for state Sen. Bill Perkins. She’s worked with him for the past 15 years since he was elected to City Council and has served as his chief-of-staff for the last 10. She said her job allows her to fight for the community she pledged to help many years ago.
“My work related to everything to this community,” she said. “I can be an advocate and be an activist and I have a wonderful opportunity to make change in the community I love.”
Born and raised in Harlem, Cleare said that she’s been through all of the phases that the neighborhood has been through–from the dark days of violence and drugs that plagued Harlem to the current revitalization the area is seeing. She started her work in the community as an outspoken and involved resident, addressing various issues going on in her neighborhood, like housing conditions. She points out that she had an issues with lead paint in her building, which launched her passion for being an advocate. She previously served as chair of the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning.
“My family was affected by lead poisoning. That’s when I noticed how vulnerable we are as a people and how much is left to be done,” she said.
She met Perkins at a press conference at City Hall but said she never saw herself working for an elected official. Cleare recalls that Perkins noticed her from her work on housing issues and was organizing tenants who were concerned about the same thing. Perkins asked her to work for him in 1996 after he was elected to the City Council and to act as his director for constituent services.
“It was amazing, but it was also challenging during that time,” she said. “People were dealing with welfare reform and the need was very heavy. But it was also exciting because I was in a position to help people and even empower the community on how to navigate the system.”
After Perkins’ failed to be elected Manhattan borough president in 2005, he was elected to the state Senate. He brought Cleare with him, appointing her as his chief-of-staff. Her day-to-day duties include running the senator’s office, keeping track of events the office sponsors and staying on top of the issues.
Along with working for the senator, Cleare has served as a Democratic District leader, a delegate for President Barack Obama, a Community School Board member for District 3 for six years and as president of the first CEC in District 3 when school boards were abolished. She has also won various community awards.
“I’m not tired of serving,” she said. “It has been a constant learning experience and constant fulfillment providing leadership for this community. I wake up everyday thinking about this job.”