The National Action Network (NAN) house of justice hosted a lively debate between City Council District 9 candidates last Friday, June 9. The seat is currently held by Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan, who has technically dropped out of the running.
Candidates Assemblymember Inez Dickens and Exonerated Five’s Yusef Salaam were present to answer questions and elaborate on policies. Assemblymember Al Taylor, who was in Albany advocating for the passage of the Clean Slate Act at the time, was unable to attend.
Dickens and Salaam are on opposite sides of the age, gender, and experience spectrums, but they appear to have an amicable relationship when it comes to their visions for Harlem. Where Salaam was often poetic, Dickens was assertive. When Salaam spoke theoretically, Dickens was cut-straight-to-the-bone practical. But they both passionately advocated for the future of the community, and for changing the current conditions for residents and securing resources for Harlemites.
The contrast in speaking styles made for a debate that was more of an inspiring church sermon from competing pastors than a political forum, complete with hearty crowd participation and outbursts of applause.
Dickens’ main talking point was already knowing the system and being experienced in negotiating for adequate funding. She repeatedly said that the community asked her to run because they voted in someone new before and it didn’t work out.
“I am born and bred Harlem. I’m a lifelong resident that’s remained in Harlem, never left,” said Dickens. “I was asked by many members of the community to come back from Albany and run for the city council.”
Salaam was appreciative of “old ways,” but also repeatedly pointed out that the leadership that’s been operating in the community for years—meaning his opposition—has not been able to address the root issues of housing, homelessness, and public safety in Harlem.
On June 2, the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) approved public matching funds payments for city council races. Dickens has raised a total of $49,933 and received $162,435 in public matching funds; according to the CFB, 48% of the funds are in-district and 78% are from small donors. Salaam has raised a total of $63,937 and received $116,607 in public matching funds, of which 15.9% are in-district and 88.1% are from small donors, noted the CFB. Taylor, meanwhile, has raised a total of $37,729 and received $174,032 in public matching funds, of which 41.2% are in-district and 89.6% are from small donors, according to the finance board.
Dickens and Salaam shared similar views on the needs for housing and lowering the area median income (AMI) level to match the salaries of people in the district. They agreed that they would have negotiated the One45 For All housing development deal, a three-tower building with 915 units on 145th Street, differently than Jordan did. And that they would protect the historic NAN building in any new plans.
“A lot of the land grab was given to people like Donald Trump,” said Salaam. “When I think about what we need, I’m telling you we don’t need politics as usual.”
The debate covered many other topics including infrastructure problems at Esplanade Gardens, their stance on Close Rikers, solving the gun violence crisis, autism in Black and brown communities, supporting the arts, bringing revenue and services into Harlem, gentrification, and housing solutions.
Despite a friendly rapport between Salaam and Dickens at the debate, on Tuesday, June 13, Taylor and Salaam solidified their alliance by officially announcing their cross endorsements days before early voting begins. Being that the city council races use a rank-choice voting system (meaning a voter can choose up to five candidates in order of preference), Taylor has alluded to teaming up with opponents on numerous occasions. Salaam and Taylor will rank one another No. 2 on their individual ballots, and encouraged supporters to do the same.
“The stakes in this election are very high,” they said in a joint statement, “which is why we are proud to cross-rank each other for City Council. Harlem is our home and we’d be proud to represent it in the City Council and to bring hope for a new and brighter future for all.”
They both agreed Harlem is facing many challenges and that it’s time for change.
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.