On a fall Saturday at the Greenmarket in Fort Greene Park, a young, first-time candidate in a suit is shaking hands. Some shoppers, tote bags full of fresh fruit, stop to chat.
Jabari Brisport smiles, introduces himself and hands them a flyer. The Yale-trained actor is hoping to unseat incumbent Laurie Cumbo and represent the 35th City Council District. Comprising Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Crown Heights, the district is a mosaic of wealthier recent arrivals among a long-established community, who are together navigating the complexities of gentrification.
For many New York City politicians, winning the Democratic primary makes the Nov. 7 election a mere formality. On Sept. 12, Cumbo won 58 percent of the 13,473 votes cast—the city’s second-highest turnout—in the Democratic primary, holding off a strong challenge from Ede Fox. Brisport won the Green Party primary decisively—32 votes to four.
Brisport, 30, is counting on the thousands who voted against Cumbo in the primary. He has the endorsement of the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. And thanks to the city’s public campaign financing, his campaign has more cash on hand than Cumbo’s, which spent heavily in the primary.
Like another Brooklyn native, he describes himself as a socialist underdog against an establishment Democrat. “I consider myself part of Bernie Sanders’ movement,” he says. “He made me believe in electoral politics again.”
So he’s shaking hands and knocking doors, raising his profile in the constituency he hopes to represent. At the Greenmarket, he asks people what issues are most important to them.
“The rent is too damn high,” says Alex Asher, 36, a musician visiting the market with Gabriella Agranat-Getz, 35, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.
Without fail, everyone Brisport speaks with mentions affordable housing as one of their primary concerns.
Shadows lengthen and vendors begin packing up. Brisport takes a clipboard from his backpack, with lists of registration information from the NYC Board of Elections. He crisscrosses the blocks of brownstones around the park, knocking doors and ringing buzzers.
It’s a pleasant afternoon and many of the names on the list aren’t home.
But there are small successes. When Margot Otten, 33, comes to Brisport on the doorstep of her brownstone, she says a friend has already told her to vote for him.
Brisport laughs and asks what issues concern her. The same refrain: as an architect, Otten explains, she is most concerned with affordable housing.
Brisport’s socialism has gotten considerable coverage for his campaign. But he hopes to show that it is more than a novelty, and particularly suited for the issues facing the community.
“Capitalism is putting a price on things that shouldn’t have a price on them,” he says over vegan food after canvassing. “Gentrification isn’t caused by white people, it’s caused by capitalism.”
He hopes that message proves a winner in this diverse district. “I say that to a room of white progressives and they stand and clap. I say it to a black crowd and they do the same.”