The retail worker and father of two believes his experiences as both a renter and public school parent have prepared him to potentially unseat incumbent Stefani Zinerman in the June 25 primary election.
State Assembly candidate Eon Huntley may be new to the political scene, but he is not new to Brooklyn.
Huntley, who launched his campaign in December, is running to represent the 56th Assembly District which includes the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights and Crown Heights North.
Raised in East New York, Huntley spent the early part of his childhood living in the Pink Houses, part of the New York City Housing Authority. Now, the retail worker and father of two daughters believes his experiences as both a renter and public school parent have prepared him to potentially unseat incumbent Stefani Zinerman in the upcoming June 25 primary election.
Huntley’s campaign has raised just over $30,500 in contributions, according to financial disclosure records filed last week; Zinerman raked in a little over $12,000 during the most recent reporting period, state data shows.
According to Huntley’s team, more than three quarters of the population in District 56 are renters. More than half of the district has a household income of less than $100,000, and 24 percent are earning an income below the poverty line.
City Limits spoke with Huntley, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), at a coffee shop in Bed-Stuy and over a subsequent phone call. Topics included his political inspirations and legislative priorities, like giving unregulated tenants the right to challenge evictions filed without an established “good cause” and rent increases above a certain threshold.
These conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.
What comes to mind when you think of NYCHA?
There’s the good and the bad. I think about the sense of community. People are taking care of each other, thinking about each other. I think about the ways that things are not addressed. How the living conditions are unacceptable for any person: broken elevator, broken lights, and sometimes the feeling of just feeling unsafe. That also goes with divestment in communities where these things are concentrated, especially in places like East New York.
In recent years, NYCHA has rolled out the Permanent Affordability Commitment Together (PACT) program and Preservation Trust—two efforts to raise capital repair funds for the system’s deteriorating housing stock. What are your thoughts on these models?
I know that residents are starting to make these decisions themselves which is important, but I do think that it’s really important to fully invest in public housing and not just private-public partnerships. With many things, it’s a well-intentioned idea of trying to create private partnerships while in public space, but…I think the incentive is different. If it’s totally public, I think a lot more could be done.
What inspired you to run for office?
I’ve been the PTA president [of a local district school] for the past three years. We are involved with a partnership with the Food Bank For New York City. We’re grateful to be a part of this, but it’s part of a continuous story for me. Prior to this I was a unionist and labor guy. I’m no longer part of the union. I worked at Barney’s. Their Madison Avenue store was part of a union. I had the pleasure and honor of being a part of the bargaining committee.
I’ve sought to be engaged in democracy. Whether it be at a space in a union…or being PTA president fighting for my community, my school community but also for the community at large.
What are your priorities when it comes to housing policy?
Housing is something that is really important.
My family has had every single living situation in New York. They started from NYCHA and into apartment buildings and then into homeownership as condo owners. They didn’t jump straight into being homeowners or condo owners. They had to go through the process of actually having affordable housing.
There was a New York Times article that just was released that talked about the early days of the pandemic. There was an increase of…wealthy individuals leaving the city but now that’s reversed. Now, it’s mostly the middle class who are making this exodus. They still work here but they can’t afford to live here. It’s crazy how you can work in this city but not be able to afford to live here. There are people who may have been tenants here a long time. They may be working towards that step of buying their first home but we’re not securing them.
I think that Good Cause [legislation] would make a huge difference, especially for District 56. It is 77 percent renters and above the average of the city. This is something that would go a long way to keep people secure being in their homes.
How has your connection to public schools informed your politics?
My wife was a public school teacher for over 18 years. She resigned just this year. I am also a product of the New York City public school system. We need to be fighting for a better, more well-funded public institution. This is part of a larger conversation. A more fully-funded NYCHA, that’s through the state but also fighting for more federal dollars. The same with education.
Right now we have a system that is not working for people. We have tried different things like patches that people seek… like a charter school. That’s not to say that all charters are bad, but we do know that charters stifle dollars from public schools and that they don’t provide the same neighborhood protections that unions have fought for. It doesn’t really advance an agenda that’s good for the people.
What other policy priorities come to mind?
For healthcare, I for a long time had the benefit of having my wife’s benefits. Amazing benefits that were fought for and earned by fights that laborers and unionists have fought for. Now those state benefits are amazing—the kind of healthcare coverage where I could pretty much go to the doctor and not have to worry about it.
Recently, because she’s retired, we’ve had to navigate the healthcare market and my healthcare is trash.
We need to be doing more to expand public institutions like Medicare. Access to all through the state. Something that is going to have to be universal healthcare.
You are one of three new state legislative candidates endorsed by DSA, along with Jonathan Soto in the Bronx and Claire Valdez in Queens. What inspired you to join DSA?
I joined DSA because they represent to me a counterbalance to Democratic establishment’s mission in politics. They’ve shown that not only do they have great and progressive politics but there’s also a place for people of color like me.
I think that DSA as an organization acknowledges where their base of power comes from and they do everything to really support that. I think that this campaign, me being a working class father—I’m not a homeowner, I’m a renter. I’ve got student loan debt, all these things that are very much the millennial and younger experience and not those of the privileged class. I’m speaking to that. That’s my identity and that’s the reason I’m with DSA is because that’s something that’s valued and I think that’s something they’ve elevated.
In terms of Zinerman, is there anything you would want to keep or change from how she’s represented the district?
I think she has a great connection with the legacy generation of Bed-Stuy and that’s something I want people to know that I’m not trying to walk away from. I may be from East New York, but I see myself in this space, in this community and the legacy of politicians who are fighting for the community.
Your district includes NYCHA’s Marcy, Tompkins, Roosevelt and Sumner Houses. How do you plan to reach these tenants during your campaign?
One of the allies that I’m seeking to ingratiate myself with are tenant groups and associations, some of which are engaged and active in NYCHA. When you live in public housing, many times people like to think about you as a forgotten individual in society. These are all great and decent people—our neighbors, friends and family.
I think it’s really important to have them engaged and active and also give them that voice to let them know that there’s someone who’s advocating for them. You don’t have to be a homeowner to have a voice and say.
Read Zinerman’s interview here.
Editor’s note: If you’re a candidate running for state office in the upcoming June primary election, we want to hear about your housing plans! Email firstname.lastname@example.org
To reach the reporter behind this story, contact Tatyana@citylimits.org. To reach the editor, contact Emma@citylimits.org