PARK SLOPE — Brooklynites voted overwhelmingly to extinguish the torches of former Independent Democratic Congres (IDC) members this past November 6 election, allowing for a new slate of progressive state lawmakers. Bklyner spoke to one of those freshman state senators about what he wants to achieve as he prepares for the January 9 swearing-in session in Albany.
Currently, State Sen. Zellnor Myrie is hurdling all the transition formalities. Staff hires, inauguration preparation and finding a new constituent office. Landlords at his predecessor’s district office, at 1669 Bedford Avenue, decided against renting to the incoming senator.
While Myrie was running off to interview a new communications director, he gave Bklyner a peek into what his cabinet is shaping up to look like. As of Thursday, January 3, his staff includes:
Edline Jacquet: Chief of Staff
Paurcha Edwards: District Office Director
Godfre Bayalama: Director of Public Affairs
“I feel very good about the folks that we have thus far because as you know, you are only as good as your staff,” Myrie said adding that he’s happy to have included a woman of color as his chief of staff.
Last month, Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins named the 32-year-old Myrie chair of the Elections Committee, replacing Fred Akshar, a Republican lawmaker in Binghampton.
“As I told you before, I was very excited to get elections because voting is a right that protects many of our other rights,” he said. “And quite frankly, the history of voting rights, in this country and also in this state, has not been great and I think that for communities of color, for those who have been historically discriminated against, the tool that people have often used to suppress those rights have been at the ballot box.”
Reflecting on how the original Constitution evolved from disenfranchising everyone except white male property owners to the 1960s literacy tests which targeted African American communities, Myrie wants to vie for early and automatic voting throughout the state to tap into another voter block he feels has been disenfranchised—residents of New York City Public Housing (NYCHA).
“If you look at something like automatic voter registration which would allow NYCHA tenants—everytime they have a lease renewal and interact with a government agency—to be automatically registered, then we’re talking about a constituency that holds new political power. As I’ve said before that political power often times transfers into policy that helps those same communities.”
Myrie suggested collaborative registering with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Health Department as well.
On education—a platform Myrie ran on during his months-long campaign to unseat former State Sen. Jese Hamilton—he sees funding inequity as a major problem impacting his district. Zellnor said the state owes his district over $36 million and equal funding would help some of the problems facing those schools. The freshman senator had the honor to speak at his elementary school’s graduation and said PS 161 The Crown has the same auditorium as when he attended during the early 1990s.
“It was a good memory to have, but I also feel it’s a real testament to how much our schools have not received,” he said.
Reconfiguring the “school to prison pipeline” is also at the top of his agenda where he’s looking to change the conversation from a discipline-first model to rehabilitation-first. He plans to visit each school within the district during his two-year senatorial term. During his transition weeks, he’s sat down with community-based organizations such as Make the Road, a Bushwick non-profit seeking to improve schools by rallying against overcrowding and restoring ineffective punitive policies, according to their website.
“What we have is the over-suspension and the over-discipline of the black folks in our communities,” he said. “We should be looking into alternative methods to see what’s really going on.”
With large development planned for much of the Myrie’s district especially along Atlantic Avenue and the Franklin Avenue Rezoning in Crown Heights, residents are looking for the new legislative body to protect them from displacement.
“Rent-regulation is our largest source of affordable housing and I think we have a moral responsibility to stand up for tenants during this session,” adding his district is at the epicenter of the affordability crisis.
Here’s how he’s looking to “push the envelope on preservation”:
As it pertains to the state, addressing The Division of Housing and Community Renewal and its oversight of the Major Capital Improvement process which often dictates rent increases for rent- stabilized and rent-controlled tenants.
Some lawmakers argue major capital rent increases cause “unjustified hardships” for tenants. State Sen. Liz Krueger introduced legislation to extend the time in which capital improvements are recovered as early February 2017. The bill never made it to the House floor and had had no movement since January 2018.
But there’s also a push for more regulation over the administrative process in which landlords get to pass off their capital improvement costs to tenants.
“It is ripe for fraud,” said Zellnor. “I know that there are smaller landlords who are not trying to rip their tenants off but we also know—pretty definitively—that there are people that are submitting fraudulent receipts and this is strictly used to raise the rent and get people out.”
Zellnor will attend a short initial New York State Senate session on January 9 and then return to Albany on January 14 for a full legislative session.
Brooklynites can celebrate with the Senator at his upcoming inaugural ceremony to be held at SUNY Downstate on Feb. 10 from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm.