In District 36 Council Race, Will Bed-Stuy’s Political Old Guard Hold Firm?

In District 36 Council Race, Will Bed-Stuy’s Political Old Guard Hold Firm?

Progressives versus moderates. Insiders versus outsiders. A generational battle.

Candidates and stakeholders have used all those framings to describe the Democratic primary for Brooklyn’s Council District 36, which includes Bed-Stuy and northern Crown Heights. The contest hinges not just on concerns about housing and public safety, but also on broader questions of experience, relationships and a shifting local political climate.

The term-limited incumbent, Council Member Robert Cornegy, has largely positioned himself as a business-friendly moderate. He’s also taken a more cautious line on police reform, sponsoring legislation to ban police chokeholds but pushing back on the “defund the police” movement, which he called a form of “political gentrification.”

Cornegy, who is now running for Brooklyn Borough President, won the Council seat in 2013 after serving as president of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), a long-time neighborhood power broker that also elevated Cornegy’s predecessor in the Council, Al Vann.

This time around, another VIDA president is vying for the seat. But the demographics and politics of this majority-Black district have shifted in recent years; an influx of new residents, many of them younger and whiter, have become more politically engaged, and last year Jabari Brisport, a leftist supported by the NYC Democratic Socialists of America, defeated the establishment-backed Tremaine Wright in a State Senate race that included Bed-Stuy along with other brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods.

“The district has changed,” said Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Bed-Stuy-based Brooklyn Movement Center. “And while VIDA is still important and still popular, it's definitely seen as an establishment at a time when establishment in central Brooklyn just does not carry the same weight as perhaps it used to.”