It's Crown Heights Versus Clinton Hill In The Assembly Primary Between Phara Souffrant Forrest and Olanike "Ola" Alabi

It's Crown Heights Versus Clinton Hill In The Assembly Primary Between Phara Souffrant Forrest and Olanike "Ola" Alabi

In Assembly District 57, this year's primary pits first-term incumbent Assemblywoman Phara Souffrant Forrest against a longtime community activist and former District Leader Olanike "Ola" Alabi. Souffrant Forrest, a former nurse and tenant leader, has the endorsements of DSA and Working Families Party. Alabi has the support of the presidents of the large NYCHA housing developments in the district and DC37 Union.

The new district lost Prospect Heights.

The two candidates' platforms are so similar that Souffrant Forrest says Alabi is "running on my platform."  Like in the neighboring Assembly District 43 that covers Crown Heights and PLG, it comes down to personalities and community support, and to an argument over whether a candidate backed by the party's progressive wing is delivering for the poorest people in her district.

Tyree Stanback of NYCHA's Lafayette Gardens Resident Association told me, "Ola has been around here for a long time. Everyone knows Ola around here. Ms. Forrest is not well known. But how well known is Ola in Crown Heights?"

And that name recognition, and where each candidate is showing up, may be the biggest challenge. The last primary, between Moseley and Souffrant Forrest, was decided by 3,000 votes. Moseley lost with 44.5%  of the 28,366 votes cast, a close race at a time when many older residents were hesitant to leave home due to COVID.

Phara Souffrant Forrest campaign photo

Phara Souffrant Forrest is from Crown Heights and is a well-known tenant organizer. She was a nurse, elected during the height of the COVID pandemic. During her two years at the Assembly, she has focused on passing bills related to health. Her signature bill - Less is More - focused on criminal justice, originally introduced by her predecessor, former Assemblymember Walter Moseley, in 2018, was signed into law.

"This is not a popularity contest. I'm running on my platform," Souffrant Forrest says. In the next term, she hopes to keep amplifying the movement and to work on the "Treatment not Jails" bill and a bill to increase access to gynecological services for, as she put it, "incarcerated cervixes." She did not vote for the NYCHA trust, saying she saw problems with the Section 9 to Section 8 switch.

Why should voters vote for her? "Well, voters should vote for me because we are the New Deal. That's it. We can do it. This is about us."

Olanike Alabi Campaign photo

Olanike Alabi is from Clinton Hill. She has been Community Board 2 district manager and Female District Leader in AD 57 for 12 years. She last ran for Assembly against Moseley in 2012. Alabi lost her District Leader seat to Shaquana Boykin in 2020.

Alabi is running because she sees a "lack of leadership at the assembly level" and believes she would be a more responsive elected official. "We live in a virtual world now, with Zoom and text messaging and there's no reason why people should not have their needs and concerns addressed."

Why should you vote for her?

"You should expect me to continue the work that I have done, town hall meetings, legal clinics, workshops, toy drives, food drives. I look forward to introducing any legislation that would work in the best interests of all New Yorkers. But I also feel that there's so much legislation on the books that's not enforced, and we've got to look at complying and enforcing those as well. Health care is an issue for me. We should be looking to expand our public hospital system. We should also be looking to provide more aid for public education or educational facilities. And, of course, our transportation system, making it easier for seniors, making our streets safer, in particular for children and seniors. So I will continue to be a public servant, community serviant and someone who wants to make a difference by providing real and responsive leadership to that community."

Shaquana Boykin is supporting Souffrant Forrest, saying that she is willing to listen. Stanback is supporting Alabi, opting for someone who keeps showing up for his community. He says Souffrant Forrest has been willing to listen when reached - they spoke about the NYCHA trust last week - but that over the last two years, he's seen her "less than maybe three times" at the development and that he would have expected more from a socialist representative.

For him, the DSA rhetoric about helping the 99% rings hollow. "They need to put up, or shut up," Stanback says, as the times are only getting harder for the less fortunate.

Both Boykin and Stanback agree that the district needs someone who can bridge the two communities - the rich and the poor, the Crown Heights homeowners and NYCHA residents, the affluent newcomers, and longtime residents. As Boykin put it, "If we don't have Assembly leaders, Senate leaders, council leaders working together, we will never get anything done for our communities."

Who it will be determined on June 28.