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Candidates for NY State Office Take Aim at Political Establishment in Albany and D.C. During Flatbush Forum

The candidates squared off over affordable housing, education and tenants' rights while also calling on Democrats to unite against Trump

Flatbush Candidate Forum

Calls to initiate the next "blue wave" rang loud and clear at a candidate forum hosted by the Flatbush Tenant Coalition on Saturday at P.S. 6 Norma Adams Clemons Academy. Among the eight hopefuls running for various NY state positions were State Senator Jesse Hamilton and his progressive challenger Zellnor Myrie; Councilmember Jumaane Williams and Green Party candidate Jia Lee, both running to unseat incumbent Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, and Public Advocate Tish James who is in the race for NY attorney general against attorney Zephyr Teachout.

Zellnor Myrie at Flatbush Tenant Coalition Candidate Forum
Zellnor Myrie is challenging Sen. Jesse Hamilton for State Senate District 20

Already under fire for his affiliation with the Republican-aligned Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), Sen. Jesse Hamilton fielded accusations from opponent Zellnor Myrie of accepting campaign contributions from real estate lobbyists, including the Real Estate Board of New York.

Myrie also made a gibe at Hamilton for blocking the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which would require the state to fully fund the $4.2 billion owed to public schools, including $36 million owed to schools in his district. "When this was submitted for the State Senate to vote on, we had eight Democrats walk out of the room," Myrie said, referring to the eight-member IDC which disbanded on April 4.

Hamilton deflected jeers from the audience by recounting past victories for the community - the establishment of The Campus in Brownsville, which provides after-school programming to low-income students, and his fight to protect the historically black Medgar Evers College Prep last November against an admissions overhaul by the Department of Education. It was enough to placate a cluster of his supporters seated in the front row, who erupted into chants of, "Go, Jesse, go!"

Sen Hamilton rebuts his challenger Zellnor Myrie.
Sen Hamilton rebuts his challenger Zellnor Myrie.

Hamilton and Myrie seemed to agree with each other on the affordable housing front. Both want to eliminate preferential rent and vacancy decontrols and make MCIs, an increase in rent after a major capital improvement, temporary. But when asked repeatedly by the audience whether he would decline future contributions from real estate lobbyists, Hamilton again digressed by listing his past accomplishments.

Meanwhile, the two candidates for lieutenant governor, Councilmember Jumaane Williams and public school teacher Jia Lee, have yet to spar with incumbent Lt. Gov Kathy Hochul, who was absent.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams wants to unseat imcumbent Lt. Gov. Hochul.
Councilmember Jumaane Williams wants to unseat imcumbent Lt. Gov. Hochul.

Williams called upon Democrats to unify. "We don't have this orange madness because of Republicans," he said, referencing President Trump. "We have this orange madness because of coward Democrats who are afraid to step up and step forward."

Lee, who is running on a Green Party ticket to represent the "99 percent," pointed out that the role of the lieutenant governor, whose main function is to chair Senate meetings, is "shrouded in mystery," and that this was done on purpose to maintain the status quo of "five men in a suit behind closed doors making decisions."

Williams concurred, saying he wants to revamp the role into one responsible for holding the governor accountable. "Someone has to be able to step up and say, 'You are being deceptive to the people of the state of New York,'" he said.

Attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout
Attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout

Both candidates want to impose a "billionaire's tax" to fund public education, in opposition to Governor Cuomo's 2 percent spending cap on the state budget. If elected, Williams believes his task first and foremost would be rectifying "Cuomo's MTA" and "Cuomo's educational crisis."

Also Public Advocate Tish James is running for NY attorney general.

Also in favor of overturning Republican control is lawyer Zephyr Teachout, who is running for attorney general against Public Advocate Letitia James. Teachout wants to impose criminal rather than civil sentences on wrongful landlords and appoint an ombudsman to arbitrate on tenant's rights violations.

James, who sued NYCHA in 2015 for keeping tenants in dangerously cold apartments, wants to oust U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson as well as President Trump.

"Democratic AG's across this nation are the firewall against this illegitimate president," she said.

The New York State primaries will take place on September 13, 2018, followed by the general elections on November 6, 2018.