After former Assemblywoman Diana Richardson went to work for the newly elected Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, her seat was quickly and without much fanfare filled in a special election. Just 3.2% of the over 94,000 registered voters showed up, and Brian Cunningham won on the Democratic line with 1,869 votes (62%). Jelanie DeShong had a respectable showing receiving 1,036 votes (35%) on the Working Families Party line. Mesidor Azor, who ran as Republican and Conservative, got just 88 votes.
Both Brian Cunningham and Jelanie DeShong are running in the June 28 Democratic primary, joined by Tim Hunter and Pierre Albert. DeShong will also be on the Working Families Party line in the November election. The last Democratic primary in 2020 saw 19,463 votes cast.
Who are they?
All of the men are lifelong residents of the district, raised by single mothers. Three are of Jamaican descent, and Albert has Haitian heritage. All care deeply about the district and are hoping to make it better.
Assemblymember Brian Cunningham probably has the biggest name recognition of the four, at least in PLG, having run for office against former District 40 Councilmember Mathieu Eugene in 2017. He started CAMBA, then became an intern in Senator Kevin Parker's office, working his way up to Chief of Staff to former Councilmember Laurie Cumbo. Here's what he's been doing the last few years in his own words.
Jelanie DeShong started as an intern for then Councilmember Jumaane Williams, followed by a stint as a legislative aide to Councilmember David Greenfield in Boro Park. He worked for SUNY Downstate during peak COVID and then went to work for Governor Kathy Hochul.
Tim Hunter, a community organizer, has served on CB17, represented CUNY student body on this CUNY board of trustees, worked as a special assistant for former Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, and as a spokesperson for state Sen. Julia Salazar, wants to be the youngest elected Assembly Member at 23. He is running "because I believe that a more equitable New York is possible." He's as close to DSA as you get.
Pierre Albert started as a driver for then-Senator Eric Adams, and has worked for former Assemblyman for 43 District Karim Camara and recently as a program manager at the Gov. Hochul's office of storm recovery. He is also a pastor.
What do they promise?
They all support passing the New York Health Act, passing the Good Cause Eviction law to protect tenants, bringing more resources to fight gun violence in the community, and supporting small businesses.
All of them have seen what the pandemic did to the community they come from and how disinvestment in the public hospitals compounded it and are staunch advocates for more resources.
Unlike the others, Hunter says, "I'm on the far left a lot of issues, especially as it relates to housing, health care, housing, criminal justice reform and education. I view myself in the same vein as Assemblywoman Mitaynes, Senators Salazar and Brisport."
In the runup to the Special Election, there were a couple of candidate forums; the one I have linked below is two hours long, but will give you a sense of the candidates.
Where do they differ?
"When you run against someone, usually you have to differentiate, what would you do differently. I wait for one of my colleagues to tell me what they would do differently if elected," Cunningham said, agreeing that there are no substantial differences among the platforms.
DeShong said that during the special election, what he believes cost him some votes in the Jewish community, was his position against bail reform rollbacks. "I constantly reminded people that we have to remember how we got to this point in the first place," he explained, "because if you give them more discretion, that kind of kind of opens up the slippery slope back to where we were before."
"I think that what sets us apart," Hunter said, "is our track record of service in the communities and our backgrounds. I'm the only educator that's in the race. I'm a former high school teacher. I'm the only person in the race that's worked in both houses of the state legislature and the only one that's worked in the legislature within the past five years."
DeShong wants to bring a new hospital to the district. Hunter believes there are enough hospitals already, they just need to be better.
Who supports them?
So to see the differences, it comes down to who believes in them. Both Cunningham and DeShong have impressive lists of endorsements.
Brian Cunningham has the support of Mayor Eric Adams, State Senator Kevin Parker, Council Member Rita Joseph, Former Assembly Member & Pastor Karim Camara, Former Council Member Robert Cornegy, Former Assembly Member & DNC Vice Chair Michael Blake from the Bronx, 1199 SEIU, DC 37, United Federation of Teachers, NYSUT A Union of Professionals, National Association of Social Workers, New York Communities for Change, New York Progressive Action Network, Brooklyn Progressive Alliance, The Jewish Press, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and New York State Nurses Association - a solid establishment list.
The Stonewall Democrats, Lamda Independent Democrats, and Brooklyn Young Democrats all supported Cunningham in his race for city council in 2017, and all have endorsed Jelanie DeShong.
Jelanie DeShong has the support of Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, Rep Yvette Clarke, Senator Zellnor Myrie, Carpenters Union, The Brooklyn Young Democrats, Lamda Independent Democrats, and Stonewall Democrats - a solidly progressive list.
DeShong has also been endorsed by the Working Families Party in this election cycle for AD43, the Working Families Party spokesman confirmed, despite not currently being listed among the endorsed candidates on their website.
Albert has the support of Manhattan Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Former Chief of staff to Rep. Ed Towns Albert Wiltshire, and Criminal Defense attorney Mark Pollard. Both Adams and Camara have endorsed Cunningham.
Why should you vote for them?
Cunningham: "I think because folks have a 20-year history of understanding who I've been as a person before I was elected and my commitment to my community. And I think they've seen over the last two months that I prepared myself well to be a state legislator and to effectively fight for them in Albany, and to bring home resources.
"In less than two months, we put $1.5 million in capital for schools, half-million dollars to non-profits who needed it. We passed three pieces of legislation. We have more legislation on the docket for next week, and we may end the session with ten bills. I think I have been a productive legislator, a thoughtful leader, and a community activist who has continued to advocate for my community and be true to what I tell them I am gonna do. From day one, whether they met me 20 years ago to now, I'd be the same person."
DeShong: "This district is used to independent advocates who will fight whether it's popular or not and put people above politics. That's what I've always been about. Any job I've had, I've always done to the best of my ability, and if I'm blessed to be elected on the 28th, I'll continue to be that person.
"That person is always available, always present, always, always a champion. No matter how, when the pressure gets turned up, when the screws get turned, I know that the people of the 43rd Assembly district sent me here to be their champion. I'm going to fight for them every day and make sure that their voices and stories are heard. And I'll continue to amplify the stories of our people and make sure that whether I vote for or against something, it has a beneficial impact on the people that I call my customers."
Hunter: "The people of the 43rd Assembly District deserve so much more than empty promises and words; they deserve resources and actions. We need an assembly member that will champion progressive causes, and fight for the working-class. There are so many families like mine in this district, and I want to give them hope that a brighter future is possible if we work together to hold those in power accountable. My vision is for our district to be able to be more involved in the process of governing, and view themselves as active stakeholders in our democracy rather than just as voters."
Albert: "If we work together, we can solve the problems of our time. If we teach and train people on the issues of today then we can close the socio-economic gap and provide more opportunities, better pay and real assets for everyone, not just the few. Together we can address the wealth gap in our community."
Note: This story has been updated to reflect the Working Families Party candidate endorsements in this AD43 race.