After Brian Benjamin was selected to serve as New York state lieutenant governor under Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, all eyes were on the 30th District state senate seat he vacated and who would replace him. Three candidates are now vying for the spot with a special election scheduled during the Nov. 2 general election.
Democrat Cordell Cleare, Independent Shana Harmongoff and Republican Oz Sultan are the candidates looking to fill the seat held by Benjamin since 2017 before his appointment. The 30th District covers portions of East Harlem, the Upper West Side, Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights, and Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. The district is 39% Black, 31% Hispanic, 21% white and 6% Asian.
A large majority of residents in the district, nearly 80%, are registered Democrats with just 4% registered as Republicans. A quarter of residents in the district live below the poverty level and the median income is $48,000.
Late last month, Cleare was named the Democratic nominee for the race by members of the Manhattan Democratic Party. Assembly members Inez Dickens and Al Taylor were also vying for the nomination.
In an interview with the AmNews, Dickens said that she decided to get out of the race last Friday and the district needs someone who has experience in budgeting and legislation. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the district has seen several small businesses close, which Dickens says is the heartbeat of Upper Manhattan.
“We’re coming out of an awful situation where so many of our small businesses have closed and not been able to reopen,” she said. “If the district had a more experienced person that could think out of the box [and] think in terms of the small business owner, that’s what could lift the community is the availability of small businesses.”
With a strong history in activism, Cleare has been involved in politics for several years including serving for nearly 20 years as chief of staff for former State Senator Bill Perkins. A Harlem native, she was also New York City district leader for District 70. This year she ran for City Council to represent District 9 placing fourth.
Cleare told the AmNews the top three issues she’s concentrating on are housing, education and small businesses.
“This is a beloved and special district that contains my home community,” she said. “We have to get on the road to economic recovery. In parts of the district there was already an imbalance and now it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic. Someone has to go in there and fight but we can only do this together. I want us to be able to bring some equity and level the playing field in the areas of housing and education and small business.”
Shana Harmongoff is running as an Independent. The Harlem native served four and half years as Benjamin’s district office director and director of community affairs. Harmongoff holds a law degree. She entered politics when she met Benjamin while she was serving on the board of directors for Esplanade Gardens apartments and helped him during his senate run.
During her time in his office, Harmongoff, started out as a community liaison and was promoted every year. With a passion for senior citizens, she started the Senior Steering Committee, which consists of executive directors of senior centers and nursing homes. Harmongoff is also passionate about mental health services and awareness.
“Just being in community, serving and giving back made me want to keep doing what I was doing, not necessarily politically, but still staying out there in the community.,” she told the AmNews. “I can make a difference, regardless of having a title of state senator or not, but having the title of state senator definitely helps.”
Harmongoff is a Democrat running as an Independent. She decided to run on the line after the Manhattan Democratic Party nominated Cleare.
Oz Sultan is the Republican Party candidate in the race and has run for the seat before. A native of Pittsburgh, Sultan spent over 20 years in the corporate sector in the tech industry working in marketing and directing. He’s also an adjunct faculty member at CUNY focusing on marketing technology and blockchain.
Politically, Sultan was district leader for the 70th Assembly. Issues he’s passionate about include creating jobs in Harlem in the tech, environmental and cannabis industries, creating more affordable housing, fixing NYCHA and protecting safe gun ownership rights.
The AmNews was unable to interview Sultan about his campaign at press time.