Assemblymember Tremaine Wright says she feels like a fish out of water campaigning in the COVID-19 environment.
“The loss of human contact is difficult, because it’s something that you can’t match, talking to a person face-to-face– the warmth, the laughter in that moment,” said Wright, who serves Brooklyn’s 56th Assembly District. “It’s the human touch that allows people to see who you are, and for you to understand what is important to the other person.”
Wright is competing against Jabari Brisport and Jason Salmon for state Senate District 25, a seat that will open with Sen. Velmanette Montgomery’s retirement. The district includes the gentrifying neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, which could become a political battleground in the tension between longtime Black leaders in those communities and the wave of progressive insurgents.
The pandemic forced Wright to adapt her campaign style.
“We are Zooming and relying on paper mail and word of mouth,” Wright said. “I participate in Zoom conversations and make sure I am connected to organizations and going through them to make contact.”
Wright was elected to the New York Assembly in 2016, representing Northern Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. The Brooklyn native, a University of Chicago Law School graduate, has deep family roots in Bed-Stuy where she still lives. In addition to her community activism, Wright also owned and operated Common Grounds, a neighborhood coffee house for nearly a decade.
In this campaign battle to replace Montgomery, Wright has racked up a who’s-who list of prominent Brooklyn supporters. In addition to landing Montgomery’s endorsement, Wright has endorsements from U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who holds the no. 5 leadership position in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke.
State legislators who support Wright include Brooklyn Assemblymembers Diana Richardson and Rodneyse Bichotte, chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. Her New York City Council supporters include Councilmembers Robert Cornegy of Bed-Stuy and Brownsville’s Alicka Ampry-Samuel.
Several unions are also backing Wright, including Transport Workers Union Local 100, Doctors Council SEIU, and local chapters of the Communications Workers-America.
With so much entrenched political power behind Wright, some have anointed the candidate as part of an old-school establishment; a shoe-in.
However, Wright rejects that label, saying that she is no old-school liberal.
“I don’t consider myself the establishment candidate,” she insisted. “I think it’s very interesting that a Black woman who has come out of community organizing and community service and activism is now painted as the establishment after three and a half years in office.”
Wright added that she is a community member who has chosen to serve her neighbors from the halls of government. She pushes back against the establishment candidate characterization by telling her story.
“I tell my truth, how I was trained by my community, working in unpaid positions in my neighborhood, and learning how things work,” she explained. “I have not changed my narrative.”
Wright’s opponents are part of a nationwide movement to push the Democratic Party to the left. Salmon describes himself as a progressive Democrat. He grew up in Clinton Hill – Fort Greene and has family roots in Bed-Stuy that go back several decades. His list of endorsements includes the local United Automobile Workers union, New York State Public Employees Federation and the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats.
Brisport, a Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidate, is a native Brooklynite and public school teacher. His campaign site says that he’s “part of a movement of working-class New Yorkers fighting for a more just and equitable state.” His endorsements from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and state Sen. Julia Salazar add to his left-leaning credentials.
Senate District 25 has long been a stronghold for Black liberal democrats. But the influx of White residents into the community, who tend to be progressive and young, are changing the political dynamics.
This will certainly be a race to watch this year and in the near future.