Isiah James was having none of it. His campaign finance director had advised the candidate to replace the picture of himself wearing a hoodie on his campaign website.
“You’ll never get money from donors because they’ll think you’re going to rob them,” James, who’s competing to replace Rep. Yvette Clarke, recalled during a virtual Black Lives Matter advocates press conference on June 3.
“I remember him using the phrase Trayvon Martin Halloween costume,” James continued. “Needless to say, I fired him that day.”
James, a 33-year-old disabled U.S. Army veteran, explained that he keeps the picture on his website to start a conversation about the bias and discrimination against people of color in America. The picture also symbolizes his defiance against a system of oppression that targets Black men.
He was one of four progressive candidates on a Wednesday Zoom meeting for “Black Lives Matter Activists Running for Congressional Leadership.” The group assembled to talk about the uprising that the police killing of George Floyd ignited, as well as about replacing “do-nothing” Democrats they view as complicit in the repression of low-income families and people of color.
The Democratic primary race for Brooklyn’s 9th Congressional District, which includes parts of Crown Heights, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay, is crowded with a field of seven candidates.
Clarke, the incumbent, was first elected to Congress in 2006. In addition to James, a democratic socialist, Clarke also faces a rematch with Adem Bunkeddeko who came close to unseating her in 2018.
James’ campaign ran into a few stumbling blocks. In the weeks before the upcoming primary election, he reportedly battled COVID-19 symptoms. He spent just $3,341.90 in 2019 on his campaign (suggesting possible fundraising challenges). James also failed to file fundraising records for the first quarter of 2020, which prompted a warning from the Federal Election Commission.
James, the son of a Jamaican immigrant father and rural Mississippi mother, is a grassroots activist who has worked on tenants’ rights issues. His progressive platform includes increasing affordable housing, combating climate change and supporting a single-payer health care system.
At the virtual meeting, he railed against the “state sanctioned violence” of Republicans. He listed GOP policies that increase poverty, destroys the social safety net, proliferates for-profit prisons, and supports systemic bias against Black people.
“It’s not only the Republicans but also the do-nothing Democrats,” he said. “There are Black Democrats who use their blackness as a buttress against any criticism.”
If elected, James vowed never to let the establishment seduce him.
“The Democratic machine can only co-opt those who don’t have integrity,” he stated. James added that his military training and combat experience in Afghanistan taught him not to compromise his integrity.