Though Harlem Senator Cordell Cleare has been in office a little over a year, her numerous supporters lauded her as a long-time public servant of the community worthy of an official position many times over. She finally held her swearing-in ceremony this past Sunday to commemorate her first full term.
“Harlem does need to unite, now more than ever, because there are people outside of Harlem looking in at ways to capitalize on and ways to move in,” said Cleare. “We have to turn that around and that’s what I’m fighting for in Albany.”
As a staunch advocate and district leader, Cleare had fought to keep the historic Wadleigh School for the Performing Arts and Visual Arts open in Harlem when former Mayor Bill de Blasio and the education department had opted to close it down despite the school’s reputation for fostering talented Black youth. Cleare chose the school’s auditorium to host the swearing in and excitedly spoke about the now “100% graduation rate” among its current students.
School supporters, members of democratic clubs, elected officials, and community leaders filled the aisles while the stage was occupied by heavy weights, like fellow Harlem native Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals Rowan Wilson, Mayor Eric Adams, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, US Senator Chuck Schumer, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assemblymember Inez Dickens among others.
“There’s not a moment that Cordell is afraid to ask the question or make the statement on behalf of the community she represents,” said Stewart-Cousins fondly. Cleare represents District 30, which comprises Harlem, East Harlem (El Barrio), the Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights, and Morningside Heights.
Cleare follows in the footsteps of former Senator Bill Perkins, whom she worked with for several years as his ‘second in command,’ and former Senator Constance Baker Motley. Cleare is the second Black woman elected to the state senate from Manhattan, Motley being the first. She was also an instrumental advocate on behalf of the Exonerated Six, a group of young Black and Latino boys from Harlem falsely convicted for the rape of a white woman in Central Park decades ago.
The proceedings were hosted by Valerie Jo Bradley and Judge Machelle Sweeting. The event began with prayers from religious leaders of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths, before launching into speeches.
Schumer spoke movingly about Cleare’s late son, Jordan Emmanuel Nieves who passed in 2021 and was one of the driving forces behind Cleare’s earliest community activism in the 1990s. Her son had tested positive for lead poisoning as a child, prompting Cleare to crusade for safe housing and eliminating lead poisoning risks for children citywide. She was eventually named Co-Chair of the New York City Coalition to End Lead Poisoning in 1997.
“She is continuing to fight but now she’s in the room as a state Senator she has a voice that no one can ignore,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, “because of that when Cordell speaks everyone listens.”
Wilson administered the oath of office to Cleare as she was joined by her family members on stage. Cleare wore a lavender suit in honor of her mother’s favorite color, she said.
“I take you with me to Albany,” she said to the crowd, “When we’re talking about public housing, jobs, and unemployment, I’m thinking about you. Small businesses, I am thinking and advocating for you.”
Throughout the event, Wadleigh student performers Juan Cotto, Damiah Howell Best, Malaya Williams, and Jada Mojica wrote and sang original music; singers Amanda Saldana and Dez Turner wowed with vocals; dancers Angelina Marin, Frabel Almonte, Wynter Gray, Juvanique Henriquez, Jennelis Lantingua, Analese Palanquet, and Jayleen Vasquez choreographed a West African and Dominican dance; and on instruments were pianist Nami Nizar and jazz soloist Allen Robinson III.
“You saw those children today,” said Cleare in her speech after the official swearing-in, “remember them. We throw away our children too much.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics 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.
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