Democratic Liaison for 57th Assembly District Renee Collymore is ensnared in a battle with longtime poll worker Linda Sunderland. The situation over polling site preferences came to an explosive head in October right before the general election. Sunderland sent threatening and insulting emails as well as messages to Collymore, telling her that she was a “nigger old maid” and to “drop dead.”
Collymore is a lifelong Brooklyn resident, often boasting about her family’s ties to the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill community. Collymore most recently ran for election to City Council in District 35 in Brooklyn, but lost the 2021 June primary to Regina Kinsey.
Collymore is also no stranger to dust-ups with other community members and Twitter wars when she’s trying to get a point across. She admits that for some she is not the most popular or most liked, but she expects a degree of respect. She adamantly feels that Sunderland crossed a line and is calling on an investigation into her poll working number, her firing, and a commitment from higher-ups to never assign Sunderland again.
Sunderland said that the spat really began when Collymore was made democratic liaison and therefore had the authority to assign poll worker positions this year. The two weren’t familiar with one another despite Sunderland’s decades of being a poll worker.
Sunderland told Collymore that she was previously a coordinator in the district for eight years, but she switched from being a Democrat to a Republican and then back again. The switch prevented her from being a coordinator. Collymore said that she has a certain select amount of jobs to assign and approve poll workers for. Due to a miscommunication, the Board of Elections had filled a coveted slot that Sunderland wanted and took a training for.
“It’s my job to be accommodating for poll workers which is a lovely thing to do; however it started going rocky when she asked me for early voting days,” said Collymore. “Then she started complaining to me about it as if I did something to her. I said no, she just really wanted to work. But guess what? Everyone wants to work. This is a great opportunity to get financial assistance.”
Sunderland said that because she was “the only white person that went to the meetings” that she was being discriminated against by Collymore and couldn’t get placed at the East New York polling site for early voting. Working early voting days equals higher pay.
“By no stretch of the imagination is she the only white woman and there are middle class white folks that are in need just like everybody else. There’s also pockets in our communities that are financially stressed, NYCHA poll workers, and we have a lot of senior citizens who are people of color who need the money,” said Collymore.
The Kings County Dems confirmed that Sunderland never made any official claims or complaints against Collymore for abusing her power before resorting to harassment and vile language.
Sunderland brazenly questioned why there weren’t more white people working at the poll sites (in a historically Black district) and assumed Collymore kept her from a job on purpose. She acknowledged sending the hostile email out of frustration and that it was a “little stupid” on her part. She denies anything she said was racist or harsh, and said she didn’t realize she had used the N-word in her email.
“There are white people that are niggers as well. There are white niggers and Black niggers. It’s not a racist word. It’s a word like slang for a lowlife person,” said Sunderland as to her reasoning. “I’m a college grad. I went to graduate school for a year. I’ve been a teacher in my profession and I don’t want to be told by some Black woman—or white woman—that I’m not going to be given an early election job because she has to take care of her community.”
Collymore reached out to the BOE to report Sunderland. In an email from Commissioner Rodney Pepe-Souvenir on Oct. 6 that Collymore provided, Pepe-Souvenir expressed her “apologies” on behalf of the BOE. “Please know that the BOE by no means condones this type of behavior. We are working to investigate and appropriately handle the matter,” wrote Pepe-Souvenir.
Additionally when the Amsterdam News reached out to the Brooklyn County Dems, Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn denounced Sunderland’s choice of language.
“That is utterly offensive, disgraceful, racist and sexist, all in one,” said Bichotte Hermelyn. “There’s another political party where that kind of language and attitude might find a home but not in the Democratic party, and certainly not in Brooklyn.”
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 visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1