Disclaimer: All candidates were contacted for an interview, and these interviews do not represent any endorsement on the part of Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design.
Before I began writing for the Column, I wasn’t very interested in, or even aware of the importance of civic engagement and local politics. However, since I’ve begun, I have seen the importance of these things and now know that the people that are elected to local government are instrumental in bettering the community. Facing problems, big and small, head-on, our elected officials can make life just a little bit easier for everyone.
April is one of 8 candidates for the council of Brooklyn’s 33rd district. She brings an entirely different and unique perspective than the other candidates to the table. She highlights her experiences growing up saying, “I’ve been poor, I’ve been on the brink of not having a home, we had nothing…something that differentiates me really is that I understand the struggles of individuals and working families.” As you can see, growing up in poverty, Soumboun has seen the side of New York that not many of her peers have likely experienced first-hand. Because of this, she has become an advocate for the inclusion of everyone and knows just how important things such as affordable housing, education, jobs, and safer communities are to people in the city.
“On my contract with District 33 is my commitment to my community, and that is being 100% transparent. Having a website that has everything and being able to communicate and have a one-stop destination for information,” is what April says when asked how she plans to achieve her goals. Somboun is also willing to compromise in order to achieve the greater goal, using transparency and communication as ways to benefit the residents of district 33. She is also the only mother in the race, which gives her even more perspective. This gives her an understanding that could allow her to better adhere to the needs of people in the communities. She knows that she needs to work side by side with residents in the field to really be effective in inspiring change.
Benjamin is another one of the 8 candidates for the 33rd district’s council position. One of his main goals is to communicate with the residents of the community in order to properly address problems such as affordable housing and environmental issues. When asked about his main goals, his response is, “The first thing I would want to do is go into the community even before I’m sworn in and talk more deeply about what their goals are and what they want in the district.” He also believes that it is important to find a consensus on these topics and to him this means that you know exactly what you want and how to get there.
Benjamin has also spent the last 5 years in city government and spent the prior 5 years volunteering, which have given him a good background as a New Yorker and a public servant. When elaborating on how his experiences in volunteer work have better equipped him, Benjamin touches on some of his work with children in the community. He states, “I spent a couple years working with New York Cares, mostly doing reading tutoring for kids either in public schools or homeless shelters…once a week I lead a team of 4 to 5 people that would go to homeless shelters and read to kids from 5 to10 or so.” Benjamin then adds on that they would do other things than reading like just talking or playing games or going outside. He also touches on his time spent with formerly incarcerated people at the Fortune Society, stating, “Well my direct job wasn’t service to the formerly incarcerated, I was there and exposed to them and their stories, and heard a lot about the trials and how hard it was to get your life back on track as somebody coming out of the criminal justice system.” His past experiences and exposure to different types of people have helped condition him to be better prepared for the council position.
Elizabeth is a big advocate for protecting the environment. She says that one of her first goals would be addressing the climate crisis in the city, especially in black and brown communities that have been impacted disproportionally. In addition, Elizabeth says, “Our neighborhoods in the 33rd District, particularly have a long history of environmental abuse along Newton’s Creek and along the waterfront, and there’s been a lot of toxins in our soil and our air,” and she then goes on to say, “I want to address our climate justice needs through more green space, more parks, community composting, more green roofs, and looking at ways that we get off fracked gas, fossil fuels, infrastructure and shift to renewable energies.” As you can see she wants to find solutions for specific problems in the city. She then adds that she wants to bring in younger people and people from different generations to aid the solutions for these problems in their communities.
Elizabeth aims to inspire change by bringing community organizing into policy making, because they see first-hand what is going on in the communities and would be able to give insight on how to improve things. With her being the youngest person in the race, Elizabeth’s roots in the district and overall activist’s approach is what differentiates her by giving her more perspective on certain issues in the communities. She also believes that it is important to find new ways to reach people in the communities and become more accessible, whether it be on social media or any other platforms, because she says government has cut itself off for too long. To be exact, Elizabeth states, “Social media is expanding in all sorts of different ways. We have lots of ways that people have connected online, through Whatsapp groups, and all these different spaces that I think are really incredible tools for communication and for organizing and activism on local issues.” Elizabeth shows an eagerness for utilizing different platforms of communication to assist in improving the effectiveness of her solutions for the problems in the communities.
For information about the other candidates in the District 33 race, click on the links below: