The two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in a State Senate district agree that a housing crisis is the gravest issue facing the Brooklyn neighborhoods they seek to represent.
They disagree on whether the now defunct Independent Democratic Caucus amplified or alleviated that problem, whether Mayor de Blasio’s housing policies play a role in it, and how to interpret the thousands in developer donations that one of them has received.
Among the most contested races on the September 13 primary ballot is the battle in the 20th district, which serves parts of Brownsville, East Flatbush, Crown Heights, Gowanus and a handful of other neighborhoods. Jesse Hamilton has represented the area since his election in 2014. Zellnor Myrie, a lawyer and former City Council staffer, is challenging Hamilton—highlighting the incumbent’s decision to join the IDC in 2016, a move Hamilton announced after that year’s Democratic primary.
The IDC has aligned itself with Republicans in the state Senate since 2011. A Democratic majority might not have existed anyway, but the IDC’s association ensured GOP control of the legislature’s upper house.
Appearing on Max & Murphy on Wednesday, Hamilton depicted his move to join the IDC as a practical effort to bring resources to the district—including legal services for tenants facing eviction. For his part, Myrie said siding with Republicans betrayed Brooklyn voters. The challenger has deplored Hamilton’s acceptance of tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from landlord and developer interests.
The IDC is just one of the overlapping story lines in the 20th district race, one of several in the city where the candidates contest who owns the mantle of “progressive.” Brooklyn politics was shaken earlier this summer by the narrow primary victory of Rep. Yvette Clarke, whose district overlaps the 20th. And the race has split erstwhile allies: de Blasio made his first endorsement of the season by backing Myrie, while Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has donated to Hamilton’s campaign and created a peculiar participatory budgeting project that at least indirectly benefits the incumbent. Hamilton told Max & Murphy that he blamed de Blasio’s development policies for some of the district’s housing woes.
In other words, all those broader political themes intersect with local policy issues. Below, hear the candidates talk about housing policy, development, charter schools, anti-violence programs and more.
Correction Friday, August 18: The original version of this post incorrectly stated that Mayor de Blasio backed Hamilton. He has endorsed Myrie.