Staten Island City Council Member-elect Kamillah Hanks is upholding the legacy of her predecessor, Council Member Debi Rose, by keeping the city’s 49th Council District seat in the hands of Black women.
Hanks defeated eight candidates during the primary, taking nearly 57% of the vote becoming the Democratic candidate. She defeated two challengers in the general election taking the same number of votes. Hanks is the second Black woman, after
Rose, to hold any political office in Staten Island.
The borough is known for being heavily Republican with GOP candidate Curtis Sliwa taking the majority of the vote during the general election. The 49th Council District, which is in Staten Island’s North Shore, is home to many Black and Latino residents.
This was Hanks second time running for the seat. A lifelong resident of the North Shore, she’s a mother of four and got into politics after being active in the community for nearly 20 years. Hanks founded the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership in 2012 where she works with civic leaders, community groups, and local schools to expand cultural and economic development in Stapleton and surrounding neighborhoods.
She pioneered Staten Island’s first YouthBuild program, which provides a pathway for out of school, out of work young adults with advanced vocational education, leadership development, job training and life skills. Hanks also served as executive director of the Downtown Staten Island Council.
In an interview with the AmNews, Hanks said she got into politics after leaving the corporate world in 2006 with her own public relations firm. She appeared in the Oscar-nominated short documentary “Ferry Tales,” about women commuting on the Staten Island Ferry. She would later be on the ground floor to launch Staten Island’s first film festival and eventually worked for the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation.
“I remember getting the idea that I love Staten Island,” she said. “I knew then that this place is so unique, very quirky, but unique. From being a publicist, and going on to working in economic development, which really is a person who’s marketing and promoting a district, it ducktailed really well and that’s when I got the bug.”
Someone asked Hanks if she was interested in politics and suggested she should run for City Council. While working at SIEDC, she learned about the inner workings of the community and the disparities. While working at the Historic Tappen Park
Community Partnership, things started to gel even more.
“We would address challenges through programming and initiatives,” Hanks said. “And that’s when I started to understand you can write legislation, it’s the same thing. You see a problem, you write a piece of legislation, and that solves the issue. I’m not like a lot of folks who are coming into the city council. I come from a corporate background primarily. I come from a business background. I have a different perspective.”
Hanks first ran in 2017 against Rose and lost. However, the experience afforded her the opportunity for exposure, for voters to know she had the best interest of the community at heart and that she understood the issues.
During her recent campaign, Hanks ran on a master plan that integrates a solid infrastructure and encourages sensible development, while respecting and preserving rich historic districts and neighborhoods. She also wants to create educational initiatives that build career pathways through union apprentice programs.
“The master plan is connecting all of the dots. There’s so many great institutions and a lot of great people and now we want to connect them and dig into that brain trust and figure out what is the best transportation and what is the best way to build neighborhood development. Let’s figure out what’s the best way so people know what the issues are, so I can then best represent them in City Hall,” she said.
As the borough’s second Black woman to hold public office, Hanks said she won the seat by speaking on issues that impact all Staten Islanders such as education, public safety and clean streets.
“We kept it very simple,” she said. “Politics is a very interesting world now because there’s a lot of ideology, there’s a lot of identity and I think that people kind of just want their government to work.”
A month after her election and a month until her inauguration, Hanks is in the middle of her transition to public office. She’s meeting with Councilmember Rose soon and is confident that the transition will be “smooth and seamless.”
In her first hundred days, Hanks plans to familiarize herself with the issues and understand what her constituents are thinking. She also plans on meeting with several nonprofit organizations and political groups.
“We really are doing a deep dive because that’s the underpinning of the master plan,” Hanks said. “We just have to get smart about the existing conditions that we are entering in. That’s why the transition with Councilmmeber Rose’s office is so important, so constituents don’t miss a beat in their services.”