In the Brooklyn Borough President Race, Is Southern Brooklyn Being Left Behind?

In the Brooklyn Borough President Race, Is Southern Brooklyn Being Left Behind?
The four frontrunners for Brooklyn Borough President: Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Robert Cornegy Jr., Assembly Member Jo Ann Simon and former Brookdale Hospital Executive Khari Edwards.

The next Brooklyn Borough President will have to represent communities across our complex borough, from Gravesend to Greenpoint. But campaign contribution data shows that, in the race to fill the seat, not all parts of the borough are equally engaged.

Data from the New York City Campaign Finance Board shows residents in the swath of neighborhoods stretching from Bensonhurst to Sheepshead Bay have made far fewer campaign contributions than those in other parts of the borough. In many parts of those neighborhoods, not a single contribution has been made.

(For an interactive version of the below map, click here.)

A map showing campaign contributions to all candidates in the Brooklyn Borough President’s race. A darker shades of green means more money has come from that election district.

That may change when more recent campaign finance disclosures are released on March 15th, but if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising. The top four candidates in the race all come from other parts of the borough: Council Member Robert Cornegy hails from Bed-Stuy; Council Member Antonio Reynoso is from Bushwick; Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon lives in Boerum Hill; and former Brookdale Hospital executive Khari Edwards is from Crown Heights.

So far, the candidates have had the strongest financial showings in their home areas: most of Simon’s contributions have come from brownstone neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Boerum Hill, for example, while Reynoso has raised money from north Brooklyn neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

But where does that leave the southern portion of the borough, which tends to be more conservative than the rest of Brooklyn?

To date, few of the area’s elected officials have endorsed in the race. One who has, Assembly Member William Colton, is backing Cornegy. In a Facebook post announcing his endorsement, Colton, who represents parts of Gravesend, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst, cited education policy as his motivating factor.

“He understands the Department of Education must provide quality programs to all these children in every part of the city.” Colton said of Cornegy. “He strongly supports expanding gifted programs as well remedial and enrichment programs targeted toward matching programs with the broad range of needs, which educators can not simply leave to chance or lottery.”

Both Cornegy and Colton have criticized the decision by Mayor Bill de Blasio to phase out the gifted and talented programs in city public schools.

Cornegy’s fundraising is strongest in predominantly Black Bed-Stuy. But his more moderate political posture on issues like education and policing may make him well-suited to whiter, ideologically diverse southern Brooklyn neighborhoods.

“As Brooklyn Borough President, I’ll fight for South Brooklyn every single day,” Cornegy told Bklyner in a statement. “We will ensure responsible development to create jobs and economic growth as we recover from COVID; strengthen schools for every student and expand Gifted and Talented programming; and dramatically reduce crime and violence in our communities.”

In the absence of backing from elected officials, other candidates cited endorsements from advocacy groups and community leaders.

Simon, for example, has picked up endorsements from two Bay Ridge politicos—64th Assembly District Leader Joanne Seminara and her predecessor Ralph Perfetto—as well as from the Bay Ridge-based Union of Arab Women of NYC, who called her “a lifelong community activist who has kept up the fight for racial justice and equality.”

“As Borough President, I am committed to advocating for every neighborhood,” Simon told Bklyner. “And I will continue to fight for coastal resiliency, small business recovery, and responsive government agencies that prioritize every region of Brooklyn.”

Edwards cited endorsements by Sheepshead Bay Houses Tenant Association President Barbara McFadden and a group called Coney Island Empowered Citizens. Edwards told Bklyner he had been “organizing food and personal protective equipment deliveries for tenants in these neighborhoods since last March.”

“Over the years, in particular last year, every southern Brooklyn resident shared the same concerns: lack of transportation, infrastructure issues at NYCHA facilities, and that we have not properly invested in protections against the next Superstorm Sandy which ravaged southern Brooklyn,” Edwards said.

Reynoso, meanwhile, who has sought to position himself as the progressive in the race, cited endorsements from citywide entities like the Working Families Party and the Teamsters Joint Council 16 union that he said “represent a particularly broad constituency of Brooklynites.”

“I plan to be a Borough President for all working families, most especially those historically neglected by government — including southern portions of Brooklyn,” Reynoso said in an emailed statement. “From cleaning up the Coney Island Creek, to providing better transit options, to supporting local businesses, we have a lot of work to do when we get to Borough Hall.”

Still, said Hunter Rabinowitz, Southern Regional Vice President for the borough-wide club Brooklyn Young Democrats (which has endorsed Simon), the fundraising statistics nevertheless made clear that there is a “rising disconnect between Southern Brooklynites and Brooklyn Democrats.”

He said he hoped to see borough president candidates engage more proactively in the area, and pointed to current Borough President Eric Adams and his predecessor Marty Markowitz as possible models. Rabinowitz said he has seen Adams, who is term-limited and is now a leading contender for mayor, distributing PPE in his Homecrest neighborhood, and attributed Adams’ presence in southern Brooklyn as the reason he has managed to successfully fundraise there.

“I believe that if any of the candidates came down here to chat with the voters in this district, they wouldn’t just find the swarm of red that you see on election result maps,” Rabinowitz said, citing small business support and luxury housing development as two key concerns.

Meanwhile, local political clubs continue to weigh their options. Democratic District Leader Ari Kagan said his Bay Democrats club in the 45th Assembly District, which includes Homecrest, Brighton Beach and Gravesend, would endorse later this month.

Kagan (who is currently running to replace his boss, Council Member Mark Treyger, in the City Council) said three candidates had been courting his club: Cornegy, Simon and Edwards. Reynoso, he said, had not reached out.

At a recent Bay Democrats virtual meeting attended by those candidates, Kagan said homeless shelter policy, affordable housing, accessible subway stations and community boards were key topics of discussion. He also said climate resiliency and post-pandemic recovery were important to his members.

He said he did not yet have a sense of which way his members might vote, but encouraged the candidates to continue campaigning in the area.

“We don’t want to be the outer borough of the outer borough,” Kagan said.

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