Local ‘Berniecrat’ Running For State Assembly In District 44

Local ‘Berniecrat’ Running For State Assembly In District 44
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(Photo by Ditmas Park Corner)

In the wake of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, it’s commonplace to get bludgeoned with news about the upcoming presidential election. But NY voters have another election coming up — one whose outcome will affect policies right here at home.

The Democratic primary for New York State Assembly in District 44 is September 13, with three candidates on the ballot, each seeking to replace former Assembly Member Jim Brennan who represented District 44 for 32 years.

The 44th District includes sections of Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Victorian Flatbush and Midwood — stretching as far north as 6th Avenue and down to Avenue I. Of the roughly 125,000 people living in the district, 60,587 are active, registered voters according to the state’s Board of Elections.

This race is important because whoever wins the seat not only represents our area, but also joins the large Brooklyn delegation to the legislature. Brooklyn’s 21 members make up around 14 percent of the entire New York State Assembly.

Each of the three Democrats running for Brennan’s seat — Robert “Bobby” Carroll, Rob Curry-Smithson, and Troy Odendhal, identifies as a progressive reform candidate. But what does that mean for voters?

In order to move beyond the rhetoric, Ditmas Park Corner will be talking to each of candidate, asking for specifics about their legislative agenda if they make it to Albany, and why they feel they are qualified to represent the 44th District. If there’s a question you’d like to ask a candidate, please email editor@ditmasparkcorner.com.

Read our Q & A with Rob Curry-Smithson below.

Courtesy of Rob Curry-Smithson.
Rob Curry-Smithson with his girlfriend, Ashma Patel. Photo courtesy of Rob Curry-Smithson

Educator Rob Curry-Smithson is an upcoming contender for Jim Brennan’s seat in the NY State Assembly. He moved to the district about two years ago, and has lived in Brooklyn for nine years.

Rob Curry-Smithson identifies a Berniecrat, which is loosely defined as a candidate for public office who mobilizes local communities around the issues of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, according to The Berniecrats Network. And with Curry-Smithson, it’s not hard to see the overlap.

The headline of his soon-to-be-finished website states that he is “an educator, not the establishment” echoing the hottest buzzword from both the Democratic and Republican campaigns.

Curry-Smithson told Ditmas Park Corner that he’s running in part to uphold the tenets of democracy at the local level. “I realized that, while much of what Bernie stood for might be difficult to achieve on a national level, here in a supposedly progressive state we might be able to achieve those goals,” he said.

“The Assembly Member position is primarily about legislating for the State, but also serves residents as an access point to State services — like providing guidance and raising awareness of programs — and a watchdog for them — like ensuring the government is operating as it should. I have a great deal of experience serving in these roles as UFT Chapter Leader of my school, NEST+m,” said Curry-Smithson.

Why are you running in the Assembly Race for District 44?

“I had been an active campaigner for Bernie Sanders, and was outraged when 126,000 voters were purged from the voting roles prior to the April 19th primary. This got me interested in running for District Leader, and then I heard about Jim Brennan stepping down and that the party was intending to run a candidate unopposed for his seat [for State Assembly Member]. As a believer in democracy, I realized we were missing an important component of democracy: choice. Public office should be awarded by the people (bottom up) not handed to you by political insiders (top down),” he said.

On Running For Two Local Offices

As of this publication, Curry-Smithson is running for both 44th District Assembly Member and District Leader, an unpaid volunteer position whose responsibilities include vetting potential judges and overseeing district elections.

Curry-Smithson said that he doesn’t believe that running for both positions is a conflict of interest, and says that he will step down for the District Leader position if elected to represent Democrats in the State Assembly.

What are the most important issues in your campaign? 1. Ethics Reform in NY State: “The political machines wield too much power, it’s Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed all over again. There needs to be easier ballot access for candidates (hiring an election lawyer shouldn’t be a requirement to run for any office), non-partisan redistricting, fewer elections, elections with mail-in ballots to increase voter turnout, a non-partisan and professional Board Of Elections, strict ethic rules that make it impossible to buy influence in Albany, term limits on offices, and campaign finance reform. Our campaigns should rely on small donors of $100 or less and public funding to remove special interests.” 2. Free College Education: “I want to make CUNY and SUNY free for all New Yorkers. No student in our K-12 public schools is asked to pay tuition, nor should they be asked to do that in order to get a college degree. Beyond making CUNY and SUNY affordable, we need to fully fund them so that we don’t have crumbling schools and overworked and underpaid faculty and staff.”3. Reduce over-testing in K–12 Schools: “In the last two decades, the relentless focus on tests doesn’t create a environment where students want to learn or teachers want to teach. For example, in grades 9–12, we have spent nearly a month of time taking and grading Regents exams — which translates to less time for learning in the classroom. I would like to reduce the testing culture and put more authority in the hands of our teachers and parents.”4. Single-Payer Healthcare System: “The Affordable Care Act has made many great strides forward, but NY State should lead the nation in creating a single-payer system that treats health as a public right instead of as a for-profit commodity. “Curry-Smithson plans to run his campaign true to his ideals as a political outsider. “I realize that I am not the average candidate. [Jim] Brennan worked for his predecessor and was chosen to be his replacement. I am not politically connected, but I am a teacher who knows the impact of education laws,” he said.Curry-Smithson’s campaign strategy reflects his grassroots, volunteer-based message. “I’ll avoid glossy direct mailers and instead get out there and meet with and talk to as many residents as I can. Instead of taking contributions in dollars, I ask for volunteers,” he said.[Additional reporting by Sarah Crean]

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