After months of scheduling issues, we finally got the chance to sit down with the final candidate running for District 40 this year–the incumbent Mathieu Eugene. We came with a mixture of our own questions and those submitted by readers, and got some answers from Eugene, former Chief of Staff David Suarez who is back on full time, and two other staff members who were each filming the meeting.
Read along, and see if your vote is swayed by what he had to say.
We started the meeting by inquiring a little as to the Councilmember’s background–specifically, his switch from physician to politician. We asked what he specialized in, and why he decided to leave the field.
“I am a medical doctor,” he says. “I didn’t decide to leave the field. Let me tell you, in addition to that–before I was elected, I created a not-for-profit organization in the community to help youth, children, and their families. I was there in the community doing exactly what I’m doing now as a City Councilmember, helping the community, serving the community, serving the people. I didn’t want to go into politics. I didn’t want to.
“People from all communities, they were pushing me because of what I was doing–serving the children, serving the people, and I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go into politics,’ and they said, ‘You’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.’ Finally I said, Okay, alright.’
“I started thinking about it. I rejected them several times, and I said, ‘Okay, okay,’ and I was elected. Not one time, not two times, not three times–several times–because people know what I’ve been doing.”
One of these several times was in a Second Special Election after Eugene initially failed to prove his residency in the district. That people voted for him a second time may prove their confidence in his leadership potential.
What was the not-for-profit?
“It was a not-for-profit organization providing to the youth in the community, to the children in the community, the opportunity to become positive citizens. Many of them became professionals. They became activists, teachers–as a matter of fact,” he says, “some of them are working in government right now.
“The reward is when I’m walking in the street and people say, ‘Doctor Mathieu, you know, your son is in college now, your daughter is in college.’ You know who they’re talking about? They’re talking about those children who have been part of my organization. We were able to make a difference in the lives of so many children in the community. We provide after school programs to them, programs for them to improve their academic achievement, we’re doing sports also, music, tennis–you name it!
“I think, because of what we have been doing, we’ve taken the young people from the negative spots and we’ve brought them to the positive spots,” he says. “We had an opportunity to do something positive, to improve their self esteem, to improve their confidence… I’m going to give you one example. I remember his name, his name is Nell–he was living close to my headquarters, my organization headquarters. I was about to present the trophies to the winners of basketball, because we had basketball tournaments, football, soccer tournaments, karate tournaments… I remember I was giving the trophy to the winners, and one kid said, ‘I want to speak, give me the microphone.’
“And he said, ‘Thank you, Sensei’–they used to call me Sensei because I teach Martial Arts. Sensei is ‘Master’ or ‘Teacher’ in Martial Arts. And he told me, ‘Let me say something in front of everybody.’ He said, ‘I want to thank you for what you are doing for me–for all of us–because a troubled kid like me, if I was not into basketball, I would be in jail.’ I was doing it in the community.”
He asks if we remember when he said he didn’t want to go into politics.
“Now, I love it. And let me tell you why I love it–I love it because this is an opportunity God gave me, and the people in the community give me to continue to do what I’ve been doing for many years, to continue to do what I love doing–serving the community, making a difference in the lives of the people in the community. That’s the reason I love it,” he says. “It is a continuation of what I’ve been doing. And I’ve got on tape many people, all of them said when I was running, ‘We don’t see any person better for this position than Mathieu Eugene.’
“And let me tell you that–I love it because I’m doing it with more resources. Before I was doing it, but now I’ve got resources that allow me to make a bigger difference in the life of people.”
Eugene clarifies his non-profit name, Youth for Education and Sports (YES). According to a Times article in 2008, when he earmarked City Council funds for YES soon after he came into office, the organization was denied those funds after city auditors voiced some concerns about its contracts and record-keeping. He told the Times that while he was in charge, the agency didn’t have any problems.
“And by the way, education why? I believe in education, because I was a teacher myself before I went to medical school. I was teaching Latin… I know that education is a tool to open all the doors to all success. And that’s the reason I’m here–it’s to advocate for education in City Hall.”
Since we were talking about the importance of education, it seemed like the perfect moment to try and return to the question that was actually asked in the first place about his medical background.
“Mexico,” he says, and waits for the next question. But where, exactly?
“Universidad del Noreste. But let me tell you something–I’m not going to spend all the time on that because, you know, that’s not an issue. We discussed that many times. When I was running, they wrote a lot about that. They went to the university, investigated me. I’m not going to talk about that, because the race is not about medicine.
“I’m the only candidate who has a medical degree. None of them have that. If it was about medicine, none of them would be qualified to run. I’m the only one that has a medical degree, so this is not an issue. The issue is what I’ve been doing–what I can do, and what I’ve been doing.
“My opponents,” he says, “they have been doing nothing. They were not there in the community. Nobody knows them. I’ve been there in the community, doing the job. And now, with a track record of six years, seven as a City Councilmember, I have more experience now.
“I know how to do it, I’ve been doing it, I know how to provide resources for my community, I know how to work with my colleagues to have things done, and I’m the only one with this type of experience. I’m the only one who has been there, serving the community, and I’m the only one who has been doing it with the passion that is necessary… The other ones, what have they been doing? I’ve heard that they have been walking somewhere in the community, but I’ve been there too.”
Eugene talks more about his presence in the community, turning a photograph around on the conference table to show he was at a recent rally for immigration reform. He talks about his work with New York Communities for Change, making appearances at rallies for fast food workers and tenants.
There’s no question he’s good at public appearances. After joining them in a protest, Eugene invited the tenants of 119 E 19th Street and their landlord, Moshe Piller, to his office on August 5 for a meeting, but was called away to make another appearance, this time because of a fatal shooting on Nostrand Avenue and Erasmus Street.
The Councilmember called in on speakerphone at the beginning of the tenants’ meeting. David Suarez reiterates what Piller agreed to at that time.
“So that means I’ve been in the community, working for people,” Eugene says. “I’m doing it now, and I’ll continue to do it. And by the grace of God and the help of the community, I’m going to do it for another four years.”
He says it’s not his first time dealing with a situation like the one at 119 E 19th Street, and that money comes out of his budget for tenant advocacy organizations. He says thanks to him, a Regent Place building with a neglectful landlord now has a 7A Administrator.
“So in a lot of ways,” he says, “I’ve been there fighting for people.”
Eugene has not been back to 119 E 19th Street since the meeting. But he insists, if nothing happens in four to six weeks, he will follow up with Piller.
“This year I did the same,” he says, “marching with kids in the street, and fighting at City Hall to restore the funding. And if you go to all the schools in my district, all the schools in my district receive funding from me, for computer labs, art, for renovation of classrooms, air conditioning systems, because I believe in education. And I think in a great country like the United States of America, we should be able to give to our children the best education possible. This is the era of technology, and we’ve got to ensure that the kids have the right technology.”
He says he’s given millions of dollars to schools in District 40.
“I fought also, I fight every year to restore money for school. For Teacher’s Choice, for libraries, you see what I’m saying? Every single year. I don’t believe in the United States that we should have good schools and bad schools–all the schools should be good.”
He won’t say explicitly whether he’s against charter schools, simply repeating, “All the schools should be good.
“When you talk about schools, you say, ‘This school is bad–we have to close it. This is nonsense, and this is a shame for the United States of America, and this is a shame for New York. I cannot accept that we don’t have the knowledge, the expertise, and the resources to have good schools. We have to close a school because it’s bad? We’ve got good teachers. We’ve got the resources. All the schools should be good.
“The school doesn’t work? Let’s come together, put our resources together, and find out what is wrong, because the children have the right to good education. We cannot close a school. We should be opening schools.”
Photo via CAMBA
“Another thing that I want to say–health. I’m a strong advocate for health, also. The reason why? My background in medicine.”
In this moment, the election is about medicine.
“I believe health is the most crucial thing that we can receive from God. I say that all the time, I love this sentence. Let’s put it this way: You may be powerful, rich, beautiful–if you don’t have health, what can you do?
“I think it is the responsibility of the government,” he says, “the responsibility of the society, to ensure that everyone gets access to healthcare–especially preventative medicine.”
Returning to his medical roots, he says, “I remember we said in medicine all the time, ‘The best medicine is preventative medicine.’ That means people should have the opportunity to go see doctors, to go to the hospital when they don’t feel good–they should not wait until it’s too late,” he says, harkening back to his expertise, “because if not provided right, medical care to all constituents, to the people, you know what will happen?
“The people who are working, they’re providing for their families and their children because they’re healthy, right? But it they become sick and they don’t have the right medical care, what’s going to happen? They won’t be able to work to provide for their families. We, government, we will be obliged to take care of their families. And they won’t be able to pay taxes that the government needs to provide services, and the government will have to take care of those people, too. So that means we are going to pay more money after.
“And that’s the reason why I stand against the closure of the hospitals. Because we should keep the hospitals open–I don’t know if you have seen me, also, on the TV? In the newspapers? Together with the 1199, the Nursing Association, fighting against the closure of the hospital. I was there in front of Downstate Medical Center also, fighting against the layoff of the workers, because I believe health is a right–it’s not a privilege.”
“And that’s the reason,” he continues, “I gave a lot of money to Kings County Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Maimonides Hospital–for them to buy state-of-the-art, life-saving equipment, and for them to have the resources to provide the best healthcare possible.
“The Biotech Incubator of Downstate Medical Center–I gave funding to the hospital, because this is the only one in New York, where we can get people, doctors and medical professionals, to go do research, to discover more medicine for disease, because in medicine, we don’t know the mechanisms of all the diseases; we cannot treat all the diseases. We can’t. That’s the reason I believe we, government, should invest money in research. To discover more treatment, so we can save more lives.
“And that’s the reason I introduced several pieces of legislation that were voted overwhelmingly by the City Council–one of them about stroke. You know stroke, right? It is a very devastating disease. Stroke can be treated.”
He explains that with more resources provided for research, the incidents of and damage from strokes can decrease, and that the same holds true for hospitals and medical services organizations that he’s provided money to.
He moves on to other projects he’s funded.
“In terms of quality of life, if you go to PS 92, you will see a beautiful park right there that I gave funding for–about $2 million. Because we are talking about crime, we see the young people, they need opportunities. This is a beautiful park–if you go there every single day, there are a lot of kids that play basketball or handball or chess, so they’re doing exercise–they’re doing positive things that will prevent them from going toward negative things. This is improving the quality of life.
“The Caton playground; I gave millions of dollars to the Prospect Park Alliance, also. When you go to the park, you see so many people, young people playing soccer, football, American football, baseball–this is improving the quality of life.”
Eugene breaks ground at the PS 92/Parkside Playground, via Senator Eric Adams
How does the Councilmember suggest we deal with issues like littering, graffiti, and sanitation problems? Is there a way to prevent it before it happens? He instructs the crowd, including his staffers with cameras, to come see a photo hanging in his waiting room. Sure enough, there he is, painting over a tagged wall with members of COPO.
“You name it, you say it, I’ve been doing it,” he says. “I give them funding for that.”
“In addition to that, I’m working with the Church Avenue BID. They are doing a wonderful job. I gave them funding to remove graffiti, to clean Church Avenue. I also gave funding to the Flatbush Development Corporation, and part of the funding is for the Cortelyou Road Merchants Association and Newkirk Plaza. I work together with organizations, with wonderful people in the community–we work together to keep the community clean and improve the quality of life in the community. I’ve been there, doing it.”
That’s fantastic–but how, specifically, can we discourage tagging or littering to begin with? He continues to talk about the money he’s given to painting over what exists.
Finally, he says, “Education. For the young people, teach them that they have a responsibility also, to keep the community clean; they have a responsibility to empower the community.
“That’s what I’ve been doing for many years–giving them self-esteem, a sense of responsibility, ownership to the young people. That’s what I do right now. I give funding, also, to many of the organizations that teach the young people what I just said: ownership to the community, responsibility, do the right thing.
“And also, there’s a new program that I’m going to do in my next term–I’m not going to talk about it now. You will see. We will continue to make a big difference in the community, we will continue to make a big difference in the lives of the children… This is a great program–I don’t want to talk about it yet–I gave the money already, the funding is there to start it, this is going to be remarkable for the community.”
So what, specifically, are the programs that Eugene and these organizations are doing with kids to teach them to take responsibility?
“In all the programs I give funding to, let’s say for example, Boys and Girls Club, I went there–it is remarkable what they are doing. As a matter of fact, we just came from another organization–the Pakistani community. They are teaching the young people, number one, to take a responsible position or attitude for the community. To clean the community, to support other people when they are in trouble, when there is a disaster–they were talking about Sandy.
“See what I’m saying? You know, this is the type of program that I’m talking about. Each not-for-profit organization, this is an opportunity for them, for the children, to be responsible and be positive people.”
What’s the most common issue constituents bring to the Councilmember, and how has he been solving that?
“There are many, but let me choose one. My district is a very vibrant and diverse district, a beautiful district–I am so privileged to serve as a City Councilmember…” He continues for a bit without answering the question.
“So let me see just now. One of the issues that I’m very concerned about is housing. It is sad to see, in addition to people living in apartments and the landlord of those apartments don’t want to make repairs–this is not acceptable–but in addition to that, it is sad to see a father, a mother, a couple come into my office and say that they are going to be evicted.
“That means what? They’re going to be out. Not only that, but their children, too. I’m talking about families being evicted. The children have to go to school, they’ve got to survive, and some of them, when they come over here, what we do is we contact those organizations that we give funding to to address these types of issues. There are many organizations.
“But some of the time, there is nothing they can do. Because of the economic situation of the family, they don’t have money to pay, and so this is another issue. Two main issues–jobs and housing. But let me talk about the housing one. Section 8 is gone, and the waiting list for government housing is about now to ten years. And the saddest part is, people have been working in the community. People have been working for 20, 25, 30 years, paying taxes, being part of this country, supporting this system.
“Because of the difficult situation or whatever it is, now they don’t have a job. They’re being evicted after working 30 years, 35 years, supporting the system, so what we do for them, some of them, is we try to help them get shelter–just for emergencies. But you know, the City Council doesn’t have any type of resources to give them houses to live.
“But let me tell you what I’ve done. I’ve supported affordable housing in my district. As we speak, people are in the process to buy their apartments for $2,000.” This is the case, he says, at 265 Hawthorne Street.
“I went there yesterday,” he continues. “This is what we call a Third Party Transfer. Those people, they are going to buy their apartments for only $2,000. I work together with partners to make it happen. Yesterday they had the training to teach tenants how they should manage their apartments, how they should be partners, how they should handle the situation.
“This is not the only one. Sterling Street–when I was elected in 2008, I gave some funding for affordable housing in my district… But this is not enough. Now, together all the partners in government… we just created 208 affordable units. CAMBA Gardens, I gave funding to that, too. 208 affordable housing units. People are going to pay based on their income, below market value.
“This is Phase One. We’re going to Phase Two. More affordable housing.
“On Crooke Avenue, I also gave millions of dollars for that to create affordable housing in my district. To address the issue of housing, anytime that I see an opportunity, I seize the opportunity and I do everything that I can do to make sure that apartments and housing remain affordable for my constituents.”
There are a lot of new businesses moving in to Ditmas Park, and it’s fast becoming a more “desirable” neighborhood that people know about. How does one support and protect the people who have been here a long time, both living and running businesses, while encouraging the new ones that are coming in?
The first thing Eugene does is invite me to his Small Business Forum happening the next day. He calls a staffer into the room with flyers.
“We’re going to have the Small Business Department,” he says, “New York Chamber of Commerce, we’re going to have banks, we’re going to have Sanitation, the Health Department… all of those city institutions related or connected to businesses.
“I have been supporting businesses all the time. We held a public hearing in the City Council to force the city to make sure they do everything possible to help the small businesses. I’ve been in the forefront, fighting for the small businesses.”
He returns to talking about the upcoming forum, calling small businesses “the backbone of the community.” Then he discusses trying to help merchants fight summonses he says are “killing their businesses.” He’s said this before at Community Board meetings, when he’s mentioned helping businesses on Cortelyou and beyond.
“Last year, I had to go to Newkirk Plaza with Robin Redmond of the FDC, because people on Newkirk Plaza are receiving so many summonses for little things, for no reason. So we fought against that, and finally, what we did was we voted on several pieces of legislation to ask the City of New York to appoint a liaison. The liaison should be a small business owner who knows the challenges of the small businesses, and he will have the responsibility to advocate on behalf of the small businesses and to raise to issues of the small businesses.
“The other thing we asked was for the City of New York to review all the summonses, to go backward, and to see if they’re valid, and if they’re not valid, to dismiss them.
“And another thing I want to say, speaking of small businesses, is about the Caton Market on Caton Avenue and Flatbush. I just gave $600,000 for the renovation over there. They are human beings; they should have a nice place to do their business, and I support them. I think I’ve been supporting the small businesses for all the time that I’ve been here, and I will continue to do that.”
He reiterates that he’s worked with the Cortelyou Road Merchants Association, Newkirk Plaza, and the Church Avenue BID. He talks with great excitement about the historic streetlights on Church Avenue, and says he’s given money to the Flatbush Avenue BID to beautify the avenue and make it attractive to shoppers.
Parts of Ditmas Park are undoubtedly attractive to shoppers, visitors, and ultimately, people who want to move into the area–but the question is, how does he maintain the balancing act? How does one attract money to an area–say, to fill vacant storefronts with restaurants that happen to appeal to new families moving in from, perhaps, Park Slope–without rapidly forcing some of the population out?
“It’s not a one man show,” he says. “No one alone can do it–it’s teamwork. We should team up–myself, the businesspeople, the organizations, the BIDs–all of us working together to find the right solution. Some of the regulations are city, some are state, some are federal.”
At which point he returns to the issue of home prices, and how sad it is that people are being forced out of the neighborhood. He says he’s helping a woman on Flatbush Avenue who is getting close to being pushed out, but he can’t tell the landlord to decrease the price.
“I believe that the federal government should intervene to do something about housing,” he says. “This is a crisis. People in the community are suffering from that.”
But what exactly should they do, and how will he communicate that to them?
He talks about bank and automotive bailouts, and says residents and small businesses here should receive the same amnesty as the corporations. “The federal government should do something to alleviate the burden,” he says, and notes 80/20 for affordable housing isn’t enough in the district.
He discusses how intertwined housing and jobs are–how you must already have a home to list on a resume or job application. He acknowledges it seems simple, but how that revelation was huge to him.
“So we’ve got to do everything possible to make sure everyone has a place to live, the businesspeople don’t have to take the burden of the rent and have to close their businesses–and again, the federal government, the state, and the city should altogether address this issue.”
Is it a priority for Eugene to develop more buildings, like CAMBA’s, meant specifically for affordable housing?
“It is a priority for me. As a matter of fact, I’ve got a program that I started–we have to follow up, I am not going to give details on that–to increase affordable housing in my district. I started the conversation with government partners to create more affordable housing in my district.”
Onto police accountability. Eugene discusses the 70th Precinct having the highest number of stops without summonses or arrests in all of New York City.
“Stop and frisk could be a very good tool,” he says. “We need safety in the community. When you see the number of guns in New York, it’s huge. You may know that I sponsored a gun buyback program at Saint Paul’s Church. I provided the funding for that. We collected 69 guns in one day.
“But when you see the number of black young people, Spanish people being stopped and frisked, something is wrong. We’ve got to correct it.”
He points out that he voted for and supported the Community Safety Act, but won’t say whether he thinks stop and frisk should be completely eliminated, or simply implemented differently.
“Let me put it this way: You know I supported, I voted for the Community Safety Act–and I’m going to vote for it again. I believe the safety of the community is not only the business of the police department–it’s the business of each citizen, each one of us, to make sure we establish a good relationship with the police department and the community.
“And let me tell you that, before I was elected, I was part of this movement. The 70th Precinct that you’re talking about, whenever there’s an issue in the community, I usually receive a call from the police, 70th Precinct or 67, to come because you’ve got to understand that New York is home to so many people from different ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures–it is very important that the police department review the training they’re giving police officers to be sensitive to people, to understand the culture of the people, and to be closer to the people, and that will decrease the conflict in the community, and that also will encourage people to be part of the safety of the community.
“Number two. There are good police officers, too. I remember that one of the inspectors from the 70th, Inspector [Raymond] Diaz, he became a commissioner (he retired as Chief of Transit in 2011)–I mention Inspector Diaz because he’s a tall guy. This is the tallest inspector I know, and when he walks in the communities, he’s the tallest guy. He used to ride his bicycle down Church Avenue.”
Eugene talks about how residents would shout hello to Inspector Diaz as he rode down the street, and how his presence inspired neighbors’ confidence. He says we need to do more things like that, to help residents feel closer to the local authorities.
But when we ask if he thinks whether the new NYPD tower on Church and E 18th is an effective tactic or an alienating one, he says he doesn’t want to go into details about the practices of the police, what they should and shouldn’t have to do.
“I think we should respect the rights of people, and we as a society, as elected officials, we’ve got to sit down together.” He returns to City Council’s vote for the Community Safety Act. “This is a good step,” he says. “I’m supporting that.
“From my side, I’m doing everything possible to make sure that we, as a city, as a country, can demonstrate respect for everybody, where we are not profiling people because of their race, because of their color, or anything.
“I think this is a major issue. We should come, and do more, and see what we can do to make sure the United States–not only the City of New York, but the United States–is a great country that everybody loves, and everybody’s respected, everybody’s confident, and believes and feels that they’re part of the society.”
Since the Councilmember mentioned Inspector Diaz riding his bike down the street, we asked how he planned to make the streets of Ditmas Park safer–specifically, what about bike lanes, and the constant issue with the Cortelyou-CIA intersection?
“I’m glad you mentioned that. You name it, I’ve been doing it. We have been taking measures, working together with the DOT–I don’t know if you know about it–to take safety measures on Cortelyou Road and Coney Island Avenue. Because, as a matter of fact, there’s a new traffic light in, after the effort of working together with the DOT, and also following the requests of the people in the community. Now we’ve got a new traffic light, and we have several measures that will be taken, also, by the DOT to make Cortelyou Road safer and Coney Island Avenue safer.
“I don’t know if you know, when you go down Cortelyou Road, when you reach Coney Island Avenue, the street is not straight. We’ve got people double-parked, doing repairs; we work together with the police department, with the DOT, with leaders in the community, Community Board 14, to try to find the right thing to do for the safety of the community. As a matter of fact, I give funding to the DOT for them to get the resources to create safety measures in the community.”
He continues on about the intersection of Parkside and Ocean Avenues–how it’s been a dangerous intersection since before he was elected. He says he and the DOT have also collaborated there to improve safety at the intersection, and that he is currently working to make streets safer near a senior center on Albany Avenue. The road is not fit for speed bumps as buses travel down it, and a traffic light isn’t ideal–but Eugene and the DOT are working on another design to slow cars down so that seniors may safely cross the street.
This is a problem with the Coney Island Avenue and Cortelyou Road intersection as well–an initial idea to make it safer with a left turn arrow in the southbound lane of Coney Island Avenue was rejected by the DOT.
We asked what can be done at that intersection until the DOT finds a design that works. Does it come down to more enforcement of violations for drivers and/or businesses that double-park cars on Coney Island Avenue?
“One thing that can be done is, we can start having community forums, education for the people. Speeding is no good–people should have some sense of responsibility. When you go to Cortelyou Road, where there are children, you don’t have to speed.
“As a community, we can do public forums to educate the people, put more signs.” He says this is what he can do, as the DOT are the real experts–but educating and motivating people to be more responsible is also important.
Eugene at the New Independent Democrats Reception, photo by Steven Aiello
Finally, we asked for three specific things the Councilmember is most proud of having done in the Ditmas Park area, and three specific things we can expect if he’s re-elected.
“I’ve got many things that I’ve done,” he says, “many things. But since we’re running out of time and you only asked me for three, let me give you one–I believe this is very dear to people in Ditmas Park. Victorian Flatbush designation, historic Flatbush designation. You see, we have so many beautiful houses over there–gorgeous houses–I’m so pleased, so delighted, so privileged to be the one who represents this area. And beautiful houses, we don’t want people to come and and demolish the houses and build big boxes, and I was there three years ago to advocate, I went in to testify before the Landmarks Preservation Committee, and to make sure we have the designation for Victorian Flatbush, to protect the area.
“That was not enough. I keep doing more. We have six other areas that are not protected, and I commend those leaders in the community that came to my office to ask for my assistance in getting the designation for the six other areas. I already sent a letter to the commissioner of the Landmark Preservation Committee. I asked him to do everything possible to protect this area. And he already put in the resources, he’s doing a survey, to make sure we move forward to protect the area, and he told me in his letter that by the end of the summer, he will have the result, and then we’ll move on.
“I think this is something huge for the people in the Ditmas Park area, and I will continue to work with them to protect Ditmas Park, and to make sure that it’s safe. But one thing I usually say, and I love saying that–an elected official can do this much,” he gestures a small amount. “But working with the community, we will be able to do that much.” His gesture is bigger.
So what can people do if they have an idea, and they want to work together on it?
“Communicate with my office. Come to my office, let me know, and I want people to say, ‘You know what, Councilmember? That should be done.’
“I guarantee you, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’m looking for ideas, I’m looking for participation, support of the community, to better the community… and to make the community the best place, a better place for all of us, where we can live and raise our children. And this is what I’m going to continue to do, working together with the community. I don’t believe that, alone, I can do that job. I need the support of the community.
“And by the way, the safety issues we’re talking about on Cortelyou Road? I’m doing that because of the community. They told me it was needed, and I moved forward.”
We asked for the two additional specific things he’s proud of having done, and three he will do.
“You know, this is a country of immigrants,” he begins. “The United States is a country of immigrants. Each one of us, even those who were born in the United States, they can trace their roots to one or many other countries. Some people come before, some people come after. I think that the idea of the United States is to give to everyone the opportunity to live, to grow, and to raise their families, and to have the best life possible.
“I’ve been fighting for immigrants; I’ve been fighting to improve the immigration laws, to enhance immigration laws. I’m going to continue to do that, because immigrants come from all over the place, bringing their expertise and knowledge to this country, make this country so powerful. I’m going to continue to do that.
“And I want to let you know that I’m one of the co-sponsors of the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is the opportunity, let me put it this way–many young people who came to this country because their parents brought them, they didn’t know, they were kids. They go to school–when they reach high school, they cannot go forward. They cannot go to college. But this is a wasting of intelligence for this country. Those young people, whoever they will be–doctors, elected officials, professionals–they cannot go to college because they do not have immigration papers.
“You know what? They are susceptible to go toward any bad thing. They are vulnerable. Because they don’t go to school, what do you want them to do? They can go out in the street, do one thing–but if you give them the opportunity to go to school, that will give them a positive path. Some of them, they are very intelligent, good track record, good behavior–we have to give them the opportunity to go to college and become the leaders of tomorrow. I’m a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, and I think this is something–it has not passed yet–we will continue to do.
“We will continue, also, to fight against deportation, because there are people who have been living in the United States for many years, working in the system, helping the system, and because of any little offense–they are not dangerous for this city, they are not dangerous for society–they have been deported.” He says families shouldn’t be broken up because of minor offenses, and a great country like the United States shouldn’t accept it.
The Councilmember says we’re out of time, but in the next term, he’s going to continue to fight for affordable housing opportunities and jobs. He says the Kings Theatre will be a great cultural center and job hub.
He adds he’ll also create a vocational school for high school graduates who can’t or don’t want to go to college. He says that will afford young people the opportunity to be positive, and stay away from the streets–and that he’s already given some funding to this school. “There’s one program that’s going to start right by September,” he says, adding he will soon put in more funding for it.
We’ve heard from community leaders in the past who’ve expressed their faith in Councilmember Eugene, so it seems he must be offering them something of value–but much of what we got from him in our interview lacked substance.
Readers have been disappointed with the lack of specificity or hard stances District 40’s other candidates John Grant, Sylvia Kinard, and Saundra Thomas had to offer in their interviews–but the question at this point is, would it be more forgivable if a newcomer had given the above interview than someone who’s served multiple terms in a City Council office?
We felt the majority of specific details we got weren’t actually answering the questions asked. An experienced politician, the Councilmember danced around issues until “time ran out”–but it doesn’t take an experienced politician to postulate that all schools should be good, that it’s unfortunate when people lose their homes, and that speeding is bad.
Returning to his analogy about the educational system: When you take your car to the shop or yourself to the doctor, you already know something is wrong. It’s that doctor or mechanic’s job to identify exactly what is wrong, and what steps to take to make it as it should be. That’s why we ask elected officials for concrete ideas as to how to fix our educational system–not just the acknowledgement that there’s something wrong.
The same goes for the other issues facing our District. If the Councilmember won’t say he thinks stop and frisk should be eliminated entirely, and he doesn’t want to go into the details of NYPD practices and their implementations either, then it’s not exactly clear what he hopes to achieve by voting in favor of the Community Safety Act. Executing a step-by-step plan to improve our schools or relations with local authorities will likely be difficult–but for a man with the experience and resources he acknowledges he has, should simply devising those plans be a challenge?
We were left unsatisfied by the longtime Councilmember’s answers to our questions–but let us know if you were content, or even pleasantly surprised, by what he had to say.