A long-time East Harlem native, Edward “Eddie” Gibbs, 53, said the whole experience of campaigning for former Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez’s seat was surreal, rewarding, and educating given the controversy.

Following Rodriguez’s resignation and nomination to become secretary of state by Gov. Kathy Hochul, East Harlem’s Assembly District 68 voted in their new assembly member in a special election on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

Gibbs was previously a district leader, community organizer, actor, comedian, and as a product of his harried past in his hometown, a formerly incarcerated individual. He grew up with a single mother and five siblings, one of which was a child his dad had with another woman, he said. Around age 13, Gibbs said he began hustling for drug dealers, packing groceries, and doing any odd jobs in the neighborhood he could to earn money.

“As boys of a single parent, we get older and form our opinions,” said Gibbs. “We want to have money in our pockets but none of us had jobs and moms couldn’t keep up with us. We hit the streets and started hustling. Growing up in East Harlem was kinda rough, and it was real.”

His lifestyle eventually led him to being incarcerated for manslaughter. Gibbs said it was an act of self-defense but he turned himself in and accepted the plea bargain, receiving a lenient sentence of three years. At the time, he said his representation from Legal Aid pushed for the plea bargain.

After his release, Gibbs launched himself into stand-up comedy and entertainment while cooperating with STRIVE, a job training and career development service, in an effort to stay busy and grounded in his humanity.

“When you have that title, manslaughter, murderer, and you come home from prison, the streets see you different,” said Gibbs, “First thing I did, I wanted to make people comfortable around me. I wanted people to see my humor.”

Gibbs’ criminal attorney Murray Richman and his daughter helped him file a Certificate of Good Conduct (CGC) with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), which basically states legally that a person is now reformed after a conviction. With Richman’s encouragement, Gibbs ran for office and kept running for various positions over the next decade or so.

According to Board of Elections (BOE) results, Gibbs overwhelmingly beat out Republican candidate Daby Benjaminé Carreras with 80.43% of the votes to secure his assembly seat. He is the first Black male candidate to win in the district, where Latino political clout is legendary.

The assembly seat has traditionally been held by a Latino, particularly Puerto Ricans. Raul Reyes, of Nuevo Caribe Democratic of El Barrio/East Harlem, said that there was a somewhat difficult time corralling a unified front for one of the Hispanic candidates. Reyes said that three people were expecting backing from Rodriguez going into the county committee meeting to select a Democratic nominee for the special election but it just didn’t pan out. Patch reported that Gibbs ended up winning more than half of the 153 ballots cast, beating out runner-ups John Ruiz-Miranda, Wilfredo Lopez and Hilda Candy Vives-Vasquez.

Gibbs said he had a fairly friendly, albeit adversarial, working relationship with Rodriguez during his term in the assembly due to Rodriguez backing out of an alleged “deal” to support him in a city council campaign years ago.

He aims to employ Latino community members that adequately represent the huge chunk of the district they make up, and eventually learn Spanish fluently. He said he felt lucky to have been chosen in a field of “fine candidates.”

He also maintains that he is the product of a “fair” criminal justice system, and a true story of redemption with nothing but patience and perseverance to stand on

“I am scared, I’m nervous. It’s a huge responsibility. You can’t fail and I don’t want to fail because people say I told you so,” said Gibbs about the pressure to succeed as a formerly incarcerated individual. He hopes to
be an inspiration for ex-offenders looking to change their lives around, advocates for criminal justice and bail reforms, and is largely in support of the new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1

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