The odds are against Lutchi Gayot and Isiah James in the June 23rd Democratic primary for Brooklyn’s Ninth Congressional District.
Neither has the advantage of incumbency that Rep. Yvette Clarke, who has represented the district since 2007, enjoys, nor the name recognition that Adem Bunkeddeko, who nearly beat Clarke two years ago, has achieved. They don’t have political operations like that of Chaim Deutsch, a two-term Councilmember who is also in the race.
While Deutsch’s $65,000 campaign account trails both Bunkeddeko’s $117,000 on hand and the $277,000 Clarke has in the bank, James and Gayot trail all three mightily, with $3,732 and $534 to spend, respectively.
The two appeared on Wednesday’s Max & Murphy Show on WBAI. (Deutsch did not respond to multiple invitations.)
While it’s safe to bet against both Gayot and James, there’s no such thing as a sure thing—especially not this year, when traditional campaigning has been shelved, most voting will be by mail and many voters are distracted by the COVID-19 crisis.
“I think everyone has their base,” said Gayot when asked about the risks that he, James and Bunkeddeko—all Black men—might split the vote of people who are looking to move on from Clarke but retain the district’s racial identity. The seat was the legendary Shirley Chisholm’s for 14 years, and Major Owens’ for 24 years, before Clarke won it.
“I already have a base of support and I’m just pushing and using my vision and electronic means in order to advance in this race,” Gayot said when asked about his limited resources. He ran as a Republican and Conservative against Clarke in 2018, losing with 21,000 votes to her 181,000.
Broad assumptions abound in politics, and they’ve been especially common in 2020 when discussing Black voters—a key Democratic constituency seen as vital to Vice President Joseph Biden’s chances, and the majority in the Ninth District, outnumbering Whites by a three-to-two margin.
“I can’t answer for all Black folks. But I know we’re not a monolithic voting block. No matter who it is, they have to earn our vote. Some would say our vote has been taken for granted,” James said. “There are millions of young black people in this country who do not identify with the older version of Democrats.”
Electoral strategy aside, each candidate offers a slate of interesting ideas. Gayot, a musician turned contractor, wants to revive trade education and make rent tax-deductible. James, an Army combat veteran, wants to end the Faircloth Amendment, which bars the creation of new public housing, and legalize marijuana. And James’ critique doesn’t spare his own party.
“All of our former presidents have been corporate presidents, including Obama, Bill Clinton, George Bush, all of them They’ve all given big windfalls to corporations and large multinational conglomerates while screwing workers on the back end. So, it’s not just President Trump, he’s terrible, but that’s just baked into the cake,” he said. “On our side, as Democrats, we have to get away from blaming everything on Trump. These problems preceded President Trump.”
Hear the rest of our conversations below, or the full show, which also features interviews with a youth baseball coach and high-school athletes on the impact of COVID-19 sports cancellations on New York’s young players. You can also revisit the previous week’s interview of Clarke and Bunkeddeko.
Lutchi Gayot, Democrat for Congress
Isiah James, Democrat for Congress
Max & Murphy: Full Show of May 20, 2020
With reporting by Anika Chowdhury