In the city’s most crowded primary election this year, seven candidates are competing to replace East Brooklyn state Assemblyman William (Frank) Boyland Jr. who was convicted in March of bribery, extortion, and fraud.
A member of the dynastic clan that has held various elected positions in East Brooklyn for decades, Boyland — who blabbed while riding around with undercover agents “I own all this” — had been the assemblyman since 2003. His father, William Boyland Sr., an unindicted co-conspirator in his son’s case, had held the seat for two decades before that.
Pledging to cleanse the public’s palette of Boyland’s waywardness, the candidates competing in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary include Latrice Walker, counsel for Congresswoman Yvette Clarke; Lori Boozer, a political newbie running with significant union support; and Ineisha Williford, an aide to Councilwoman Darlene Mealy who is also endorsed by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
Rounding out the field are three candidates who ran and lost two years ago — Anthony T. Jones, Anthony (Tony) Herbert, and Bilal Malik (who ran in the general election as an Independent); as well as David Miller, a former school board president in District 16.
The 55th Assembly District covers Brownsville and Ocean-Hill, and slices of East New York, Crown Heights, and Bushwick.
Two lead in money, endorsements
Several political observers say Boozer and Walker are the front-runners.
Having worked for Clarke for seven years, Walker, 35, a former public housing resident and a member of Wayside Baptist Church in Ocean-Hill, has spent several years learning the legislative ropes and working with tenant leaders, clergy, and others in the area.
Two years ago, she also boosted her name recognition by campaigning district-wide for female district leader. She lost to Mealy.
But even though Boozer is a political newcomer, the 34-year-old is being given a puncher’s chance because of her support from the Working Families Party, SEIU Local 1199, CWA District One, SEIU Local 32BJ, former Congressman Ed Towns and others.
“It’s going to be low voter turnout,” says political consultant George Arzt. “Everyone expects it to be a close race between Boozer and Walker … Williford will be the spoiler in this race. (But) who she takes away votes from, no one quite knows.”
Boozer and Walker lead the field in fundraising. According to their Aug. 7 campaign filings with the Board of Elections, Walker had raised $52,605 and had $16,395 on hand, while Boozer had raised $34,641 and had $22,813 left in the bank.
The only other candidate with a significant amount of money was Herbert, who had raised $12,555 and had $8,800 left in his campaign kitty.
Williford’s campaign reported raising only $3,283, including a $1,000 donation from Mealy and $150 from Adams, and having $1,796 on hand.
A Boyland shadow?
Besides Congresswoman Clarke, Walker’s endorsements include Clarke’s mother, former Councilwoman Una Clark; Assemblyman Nick Perry; former Councilman Al Vann; state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery and Transit Workers Local 100.
But some believe another big name should also be associated with Walker—that of the disgraced Boyland. Jones, among others, is reminding voters that when Walker ran for female district leader two years ago, she announced her bid for the post at a joint rally with then-assemblyman Boyland.
Walker argues that her brief political alliance with Boyland is inconsequential and says she hasn’t spoken to the disgraced pol in years.
“If there is any alliance, I am allied with Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who I’ve worked for with many years, whom I respect as a legislator and who I’ve learned most of my political knowledge from,” Walker says. “Letitia James (now the public advocate) was our quasi-campaign manager (for the female district race). That’s my alliance. Those are my mentors.” Walker served as campaign treasurer for James in her campaign to become public advocate. James endorsed her this week.
A graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and Pace University Law School, Walker says if elected, she will focus on New York City getting its fair share of state school funding, creating job programs that lead to actual work and making investments to bolster local community organizations and hospitals.
A product of public housing, Walker lived at the Prospect Plaza development in Brownsville before it was demolished several years ago. During a recent visit with seniors at the Breevort Houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Walker related that former tenants at Prospect Plaza are still waiting on the replacement housing the Housing Authority promised to build.
Union ties help Boozer
A resident of the Langston Hughes public housing development in Brownsville, where she lives with her great-aunt, Boozer left her job with Housing Court Answers, a nonprofit that advises people on housing court matters in December and started to put together a campaign in January.
She was an elected United Auto Workers delegate in that previous job, which helped her land the Local 1199 endorsement in March.
Of the three candidates the union interviewed, Boozer had the “most progressive track record,” says Helen Schaub, the union’s vice president for policy and legislation, noting Boozer’s “track record as a housing activist, and activism as a union member.”
Besides Boozer, the union interviewed Williford and former candidate Lamont Carolina.
“We did endorse her (Boozer) relatively early because we thought in crowded field it would be good to put our chips down early,” Schaub adds. The union has nearly 2,100 members in the district.
If elected, Boozer wants to “rebuild the community infrastructure on the ground” based on an “organizing model” that would bring “more people from the community into the dialogue” and educate “people about the process of change.”
Boozer says she found inspiration to make the run for office by reading about the Biblical figure Nehemiah who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
“That book just always inspired me to think about the art of rebuilding in special way,” she says. “You have to build the walls, but you also have to build the people. He (Nehemiah) goes on to become the governor.”
The two Anthonys in the race – Herbert and Jones – both tell stories of overcoming great personal odds to explain why they are running for elected office, and why, they say, voters can trust them to be fierce advocates for the district.
Jones, 48, freely admits he was a “bully” as a kid who “did different things on Pitkin and Belmont avenues.”
By the time he was 14, he was locked up by the New York State Division for Youth and from there he went to live in a group home. But by 1998, he had righted himself and graduated from Medgar Evers College with a degree in public administration, and subsequently became a youth counselor.
“My family grew up on welfare, (now) here I am now running for New York State Assembly,” he says.
In the seven-candidate primary scrum two years ago, Jones came in second to Boyland, 638 votes to 1,595.
Jones says his name recognition in the district is high and he shouldn’t be written off just because he has less than $100 in his campaign coffers.
“Two years ago I had $40,000. That clearly did not win for me,” he says. “Money doesn’t vote.”
If elected, Jones says his priorities will be to bring “truly” affordable housing to the district and creating jobs for young people.
Herbert, 50, the current president of the Brooklyn East chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, also had a hardscrabble upbringing. For 8-and-a-half months as a teen, he and his family lived as squatters in a Prospect Heights apartment building.
Pleas to politicians for assistance fell on deaf ears, Herbert says, sparking his lifelong passion for community service. He has worked as director of community relations for former State Senator Martin Connor, special assistant to former Congressman Ed Towns and special assistant to former Councilwoman Priscilla Wooten.
Two years ago, he came in fourth in the 55th Assembly District Democratic primary contest, garnering 510 votes.
In an episode he attributes to anger at the Democratic Party establishment, Herbert ran as a Republican against Letitia James for City Council in 2005. He got clobbered, receiving less than 7 percent of the vote.
“They totally disrespected me,” Herbert says of the Democratic Party leaders at the time. “They infiltrated my campaign. They sent people to mess up my petitions.”
If he had won, he says, he was prepared to stick with the Republicans “one or two years.”
He says he has no plans to re-up with the Grand Old Party. “I would get out (of politics) altogether before that would happen,” he says.
Miller says if elected, education would be his top priority. The 65-year-old has run for state Assembly four times before and once for Congress against Shirley Chisolm in 1980.
“I am against this core curriculum – a model of children being taught to take an exam as opposed to teaching kids to think,” says Miller, who served eight years as school board president in District 16. “It doesn’t make sense. You are handcuffing the teachers.”
As president of the school board, Miller says he hired Frank Mickens, who went on to become the legendary leader of Boys and Girls High School, as a principal in the district. And under his watch, Miller says, math scores at P.S. 21 made one of the highest jumps in the state.
Shooting spike fuels crime concerns
Several of the candidates expressed concerns about of public safety. The number of shooting victims in the 73rd precinct, which is wholly contained in the district, is up 47 percent so far this year over 2013.
Walker says the Bloomberg-era stop-and-frisk strategy has left relations between residents and police officers at an “all-time low.” She believes that a “holistic approach” to the crime problem that includes “adequate affordable housing” and “good jobs” is the ultimate solution.
Boozer laments the fact that the NYPD has set up strobe lights at several public-housing developments and has flooded the neighborhoods with cops. The tactics send a “subliminal message to kids,” she says.
“I’m all for safety, but we have to work to find a better approach. Over-policing is not a long-term approach,” Boozer adds.
Millers sees a double-standard in policing, saying that in black neighborhoods, police officers arrest children for riding their bikes on sidewalks and sniff the soda cans and bottles young people might be holding to check for alcohol, even if the young people are sitting on the steps of a private home. “They aren’t arresting people in Park Slope for riding a bike on a sidewalk,” he says.
Herbert says there are good cops and bad ones, and he’s always prided himself on praising and befriending the good ones, so much so that he’s been endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association in this race.
Williford declined to be interviewed for this article and Malik could not be contacted.