Democratic State Assembly candidate Kate Cucco has been interested in public service since she was a child in her native Ohio, when she often tagged along with her grandfather to United Steelworkers Union events.
The 31-year-old, who now lives in Bay Ridge with her boyfriend Jonathan Yedin, a longtime political operative, and her dog Bella, is most recognized as former Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny’s chief of staff — a position she held since graduating college in 2008.
Though she initially sought to replace her former boss in the special election that followed his resignation in the summer of 2015 (winning strong endorsements from Brook-Krasny, Councilman Vincent Gentile, and the Independence Party), the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s powers that be gave the nod to her current rival, incumbent Assemblywoman Pamela Harris.
The September 13 primary will determine whether Cucco or Harris will be the Democratic nominee for the 46th Assembly District in November’s general election. We sat down with Cucco to chat about about how she got into politics, public versus private education, policing, and the district she has grown to love.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you end up in New York and what motivated you to get into politics?
I moved here from [Lorain,] Ohio right after college to take a job with Assemblyman Brook-Krasny. I’ll always remember the day. Jonathan [Yedin] had the job with the assemblyman before I did. I was in Ohio, because I went to Ohio State and they were playing in the football national championships — I’m not the biggest football fan, but it was a big deal at school — and I had flown back to Columbus that day. Anyway he called me and said, “The assemblyman wants to offer you the job, but you have to be back — this was Saturday — but you have to be back Monday by like 5 o’ clock in the evening for this huge meeting” — something like rezoning, I don’t remember — “if you can’t be back for this meeting, you can’t have the job.” So like, I was in Columbus, I said goodby to my friends, packed the car up, drove two hours to where my family lives, and like dumped the car on them. My mom bought me a ridiculously expensive one-way ticket to New York and I’ve been here ever since. It all happened so fast; I never really got a chance to think about it.
My family is really big in local government. My grandfather was in the union — United Steal Workers — and when I was little, I stayed with my grandparents while my mom was working, so during the week I was always there. So if he went somewhere, he just took me along with him. My mom wasn’t in the union, but she worked very closely with the community and dealt with UAW (United Automobile Workers Union). When I was 10 or 11, my uncle ran for a local judicial seat in the area, and I was basically putting lawn signs in people’s yards, and it was always really interesting to me. In school, history and government were always the subjects I flocked to. Then, when I applied to college, you don’t usually know what you want to do, but government was the most interesting thing to me. Honestly, I don’t love the politics of it, but I want to govern, like I like the legislative end — that’s definitely, by far, my favorite part — I loved going to Albany with the assemblyman.
But I’ve also just grown to love this district so much — now it’s home. We had three offices that I worked from at different points. When I first started, I was at the Coney Island office, near the Luna Park Housing. Then we had an office down the street in Councilman Vincent Gentile’s office, and then, after two years, I started going down to Albany.
When people talk about the 46th District, it’s often described as divided, geographically, racially, and socioeconomically. What do you think are the issues facing both the Bay Ridge side and the Coney Island side of the district?
Truthfully, the issues, while they make look at them differently, comes down to quality of life on both ends. Everyone wants to feel safe in their neighborhoods, and everyone wants their child to go to the best school possible for their child, that is close and accessible, but they are also getting a quality of education. I think that’s a major component.
On the Bay Ridge side, I think there’s a lot of quality of life issues — they want a speed bump put in; they want a stop sign — it’s a little more smaller level issues. Also, in Bay Ridge, one thing I’ve heard a lot, is they feel like they haven’t really had a seat at the table in the assembly. I think 1944 was the last time a state assembly person lived in Bay Ridge. It’s something I think people are very excited about. We do have a Republican congressman and state senator, but the people coming in are a lot more liberal, and neighborhood is becoming much more Democrat.
On the Coney Island/Seagate side, I think a huge issue that I’ve seen, working for the assemblyman during Sandy, is the repairs since Sandy. There are still temporary boilers in a lot of places, and there are still a lot of buildings that don’t have a plan going forward, you know, should another natural disaster of Sandy-scale happen again. I think there is still a lot both on the long-term planning of that, but also still from the recovery. I mean people have kind of forgotten — 2012 seems like a long time ago — but if you drive through Seagate and Coney Island, you still see huge temporary boilers on the schools and everything. If you go through Seagate, especially closer to the water, there’s houses have been demolished, or were never been repaired, or are just vacant because someone took a buyout and left. So I think that concept of fixing what happened, but also going forward, what if this happens again? That’s a big fear.
According to recent reports, your campaign has been targeted for support from a super PAC pushing for a controversial education tax credit that would benefit private schools — legislation that has been backed by Brook-Krasny. Where do you stand on the legislation and on whole public/charter/private school issue?
I fully support our public schools and will fight to ensure that the state forks over the billions of dollars still owed to New York City Schools and that mayoral control is extended indefinitely. Additionally, I will seek to increase funding for STEM and STEAM education and after-school programs. Private schools are free to operate as long as they aren’t taking space or funding away from public schools.
Over the years working for former Assemblyman Brook-Krasny, we received a tremendous amount of calls and letters in support of Assemblyman Cusick’s bill (A.2551A). This is really a win-win piece of legislation, which would allow for a tax credit for donations to public and parochial schools as well as a tax credit for educators who spend their own hard earned money for supplies and materials for their classrooms.
I know you are currently vice president of the 68th Precinct’s Community Council. There is a national conversation happening around policing, particularly in communities of color. What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement that is happening right now?
The one thing I dislike right now about the conversation is that you are either “pro-police” or you’re pro other movements, and whereas I appreciate them both. I respect the fact that 98-99 percent of the men and women are putting their lives on the line every day; I think they are good people, and I think they care about the communities that they work in and they’re not going to do anything wrong. I respect them and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for doing everything they do. I also think there’s issues, and whether it is a bad apple or an issue happens, I think they should be held accountable, and I don’t think they should be above the law. And if, for example, police wore body cameras, I think would be a level of consciousness on their part that any action they take is being recorded.
And also I think having the local police in a particular neighborhood be representative of that neighborhood, I think it helps situations, by all means. I’ve spoke to so many residents, especially in Coney Island, and they want police there, they want a presence there, they want crime to go down, they are worried about violence — especially in the summer months — but they want cops who can relate to their communities and understand how to deal with them and speak to them, and that’s something I absolutely support.
Two sore topics in this corner of southern Brooklyn is the city’s construction of the Southwest Brooklyn Marine Transfer Station and Coney Island’s Riegelmann Boardwalk, which is being turned into what looks like concrete — though it was supposed to look like wood. Do you have strong feelings on either of these projects?
In years past, with the assemblyman, I was at the rallies — well, I was there with the staff in support of it — but at this point, I think it’s built. I don’t think they are going to suddenly tear it down after spending millions of dollars building it. I think, at this point, it’s more about switching from fighting against it — and prior I was absolutely against it — but it’s there, and I think now it’s about how it can benefit the community. What we can ask from the city for. Will the mayor provide jobs for people who come from our community to work there? Will they put money to put parkway ends nearby? You know, what incentives can we get? It’s there; it’s not coming down.
When it comes to the boardwalk, the law is very clear on what the wood was — tropical rainforest wood — when it was put down. It’s illegal; we can’t use it anymore. I think possibly if it’s fiscally and environmentally sustainable to use a different type of wood, I would be in support of that.
Over the years, there’s been some bad blood reported between allies of Assemblyman William Colton and legislators on the Bay Ridge side of the district. If you do win the seat, will you be able to work together for the community?
I would absolutely strive to have a strong working relationship between the offices. There is campaigning and there is governing. The needs of the constituents and communities must always come first. I would do everything within my power to work together and provide joint leadership that provides the residents with the resources needed. I’m hopeful that Councilman Treyger would extend the same courtesies and respect to myself and my office.