To prepare for tomorrow’s primary election, DPC talked with the incumbent Democratic State Committeeman (aka Male District Leader) Josue (aka Josh) Pierre of the 42nd Assembly District; the district represented by Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte and covers parts of Ditmas Park, Flatbush, East Flatbush and Midwood.
“I’ve been interested in politics since I was a kid, and I’m a history buff and followed international politics,” Pierre said. “I was one of those people that could point out any country on a map.”
But his passion for local politics burgeoned in 2010, when he took the position as (now Assembly Member) Rodneyse Bichotte’s campaign manager. “I realized that all of that stuff means nothing if you’re not engaged on a local level,” he said. “That’s when I saw the local political infrastructure, and all the potential as well as the failure of that infrastructure.”
Pierre is an intelligent, articulate, Haitian-American Democrat who grew up in Flatbush. With a degree in accounting, Pierre works as a financial analyst and economic developer. He is also the chairman of the 42nd Assembly District Democratic State Committee and a founding member of the Shirley Chisholm Democratic Club. In 2012, he ran against Ed Powell for Male District Leader — and although Powell won the position — both men developed a good working relationship. When Powell retired last month, he nominated Pierre as his replacement and was unanimously voted in as the new District Leader.
Though his background is diverse and his education extensive, Pierre told us that he’s always been a Democrat at heart.
“I’m a liberal, progressive, yet very pragmatic democrat. One of the traits that separates the Democratic party is the idea of empathy. I don’t have to be white, black, Jewish or any particular sexual orientation to understand their struggle. At the DNC you see a broader more diverse America, whereas in the Republican party you see America’s past power structure fading away,” Pierre said.
Read more Q & A with Pierre below:
What does the District Leader do for the community?
“Generally, the job of district leader is to hire coworkers, help petition, galvanize voters to get people elected. It’s an unpaid position, but gives you the leeway to do more than expected.
I meet people who say, ‘yea I vote, but what does that do for me when I want something done in the neighborhood?’ That’s where civic education comes in. It’s about connecting community members with the right level of government for their issues, whether it’s drainage on your block or immigration issues. I believe that the end goal of the democratic party is to make people self-sufficient and independent through civic education.
My plan is, over the next two years, to register more voters, get people involved in democratic clubs, precincts and community councils.”
In your opinion, why should disenfranchised voters re-engage in local politics, and how can they start?
“In our district, there are first and second generation immigrant populations who aren’t yet civically engaged. There’s curiosity there but there’s a question of ‘okay, how do I do this?’
The vast majority of the district leans Democrat but there are citizens that aren’t registered to vote. A lot of people who do vote do so in the general election only, but have yet to understand the power of the democratic primary — especially in a district where whoever goes on to win the primary, wins the general. That’s part of my gospel; the civic education aspect of things that I want to do. If we have more people from the district understanding the system and voting in the primaries, then it projects influence.
Today, I was meeting voters in Newkirk Plaza and people asked about getting more trash cans. If you want more trash pick up it’s important to know who to go to — that’s not the job of Obama or the governor. For these day-to-day quality of life things that either stress us or make us feel better about our community, you’re looking at local politics.”
What are the biggest issues in the community and what is your plan for improving those issues?
“I would say the biggest issues are affordable housing and jobs. There’s not enough affordable housing, the way I see it is that the demand to want to live in Brooklyn is far more than the supply that’s available, and the various frictions that come with that.
My entire agenda is called Opportunity For All: affordable housing, small business development, education, jobs, and safer streets — adding up to the basics that help people become self-actualized, like in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.”
How can people learn about local elections and how to raise their quality of life?
Going to the Community Board meetings and Precinct Council meetings, said Pierre.
Join the Shirley Chisholm Democratic Club, of which he is a co-founder with Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte; come out to the Community Board meetings (CB 14 or 17, depending on your district) which cover almost every aspect of civic life from education to sanitation. “That would give them a voice, and see that it’s a two-way street; they’ll understand how it works and project what their needs are,” said Pierre.
Public safety issues are also a pressing concern in the community, and the best place to engage with those issues are the 70th and 67th Precinct Council meetings. Gun violence is an issue that Pierre takes to heart, especially after his mom, Laurita Pierre, was hit by a stray bullet in her home in the middle of the day.
“You don’t expect these things to actually impact you, and when they do it takes it to another level. Your perspective changes as you go through life and experience different things,” Pierre said.
How do you feel about the issue of quality of life policing?
“We have quality of life issues around crime in parts of our community that need to be addressed. I push more people to attend Precinct Council meetings because it educates people on what’s going on, and allows them to give feedback to the officers.
I’ve observed the interactions between police and parts of the district, and the relationship is different. I respect the fact that [officers] put their lives on the line all the time, but everybody deserves a certain amount of respect.
If you’re coming into predominantly black community and engaging them as community partners, and they’re taking up their part of the task, they’ll be able to discern the criminal element from the community allies. I see that partnership in the more middle class, affluent, and — let’s say, the white part of the district, that doesn’t yet exist to the same extend in the black part of the district. Both sides need to work on that, we don’t have to be enemies. This is a service we pay for through tax dollars, and we have a part to play and the officers have a part to play.”
What role does your Haitian-American identity play in working with District 42?
“There is a significant Haitian-American population in this district and in central Brooklyn in general, a population that hasn’t been as engaged because of language and cultural barriers. That disengagement is hampering the overall community. So for me as a Haitian American, it’s helping me to bridge that gap.
I understand the issues, I’ve grown up here and worked the district since 2010 with Assembly Member Bichotte, I can also articulate the Haitian perspective. There’s a very strong interest and desire to participate, but if you’re not Haitian and don’t speak Creole, how do you go on a Haitian radio station and articulate the current issues, how to vote, the realities and untruths of what’s going on?”