Molly Enking

Reform Party candidate Brian Cunningham speaks with a constituent while canvassing in Flatbush.

Entering the final weekend before City Council elections on November 7th, Reform Party candidate Brian A. Cunningham received five new endorsements from prominent progressive organizations.

In the last ten days, Cunningham was endorsed by Amsterdam News, one of the oldest Black newspapers in America, Black Lives Caucus, Brooklyn Progressive Action Network, Citizen Action and the Working Families Part. He is also backed by TenantsPAC and just received the endorsement of the Daily News.

Cunningham is running against incumbent Democrat Mathieu Eugene for City Council District 40, which is composed of parts of Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park South and Prospect Lefferts Gardens. These most recent endorsements add to a growing list of support for Cunningham from progressive organizations, such as Planned Parenthood NYC Votes, Young Progressives of America and the Stonewall Democratic Club.

George Albro, co-chair of Brooklyn Progressive Action Network, the local arm of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution PAC, said via phone that Cunningham had been the group’s unanimous choice. “Councilman Eugene is not regarded as particularly effective,” he said. “Brian is a true progressive. If he wins, he’ll join the Progressive Caucus, he’ll be pushing a progressive agenda like single-payer healthcare, voting rights and affordable housing.”

Despite Cunningham’s flurry of endorsements, Albro acknowledges, “it’s a tough race in that district. It’s a bit of a long shot, but not at all out of the question.”

The District 40 race is one of just a few highly contested races in this year’s election. If Cunningham wins, the third-party victory against an incumbent Democrat would be an historic one.

While canvassing near Newkirk Plaza on Halloween night, Cunningham and his aide, David Watkins, were animated in discussing the value of the new endorsements. “Brooklyn Progressive Action Network will be out here on the ground all weekend for Brian,” said Watkins, who currently spends hours each day canvassing. “We’ll cover a lot of ground.”

Albro confirmed, though couldn’t specify the number of volunteers. “We’re going to canvas this weekend and on election day. In this race, you have to have people cross over from the Democratic Party to vote for Brian who’s a Democrat on another line. So it’s very important to canvas the polls in this case.” Though Cunningham identifies as a Democrat, his name will appear on the Reform Party line on the ballot Tuesday. Eugene, the incumbent, will appear on the Democrat line. This presents a challenge as voters will have to find Cunningham on the ballot, and won’t be able to vote straight down the party line. It’s a common issue for third party candidates, says Albro.

Mathieu Eugene has been representing City Council District 40 since 2007, when he became the city’s first Haitian-born councilmember. ‘The Haitian Sensation’ has been endorsed by Democratic leaders such as Chuck Schumer, Bill De Blasio and Eric Adams, as well as many prominent NYC labor unions.

“Eugene has the nod, so to speak, from the Brooklyn Democratic Party,” said Dr. Jerry Krause, a Brooklyn College professor and author of books such as Race, Class & Gentrification in Brooklyn. “

The councilman is running for his third and final term on the Democratic line. If he wins, Councilman Eugene will have served District 40 for 15 years by the end of his term in 2021.

Lounging in an armchair on a Friday night at Brooklyn Commons, the co-working space where his headquarters is located, Cunningham explained the urgency he feels behind his campaign. “I was told by other Democrats to wait until 2021. They said, in 2021, the path will be clear for you. But life could be very different by then.”

Cunningham cites Eugene’s lack of progressive endorsements and record as the reason he didn’t wait to run. “We were honored to get Planned Parenthood’s support,” he said. That Planned Parenthood NYC Votes endorsed someone other than his opponent, though, he said is not a surprise. “Planned Parenthood has backed Mathieu’s opponent every single time he’s run,” he said. “He’s pretty conservative on women’s rights.”

Councilman Eugene did not reply to interview requests or with a response to Cunningham.

Cunningham and Eugene, along with conservative candidate Brian Kelly, will participate in a final debate sponsored by The League of Women Voters NYC before Tuesday’s election. The debate will take place at 4pm Sunday, November 5, at St. Paul’s Church in the Village of Flatbush.