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Council election makes history - First Haitian-American elected to Flatbush City Council seat

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The Flatbush district that made history by sending the first Jamaican-born woman to the City Council has made history again — electing the city’s first Haitian-American councilmember. The City Council seat vacated by Yvette Clarke when she was elected to Congress was won by Mathieu Eugene, who had been endorsed by both Yvette Clarke and her mother Una, the ground-breaking Jamaican woman who appears, even after term limits forced her out of office, to be helping to rewrite history in central Brooklyn. Eugene skated to victory in the February 20th special election in the 40th Councilmanic District with more than twice as many votes as his nearest competitor. In a field of 10 candidates, that was quite an accomplishment, aided by the Clarkes and also by the support of 1199, the Healthcare Workers union, which had endorsed him and which came out in force to help make the victory possible. Unofficial tallies have Eugene snagging 1935 votes with just under 97 percent of precincts reporting, representing just over 34 percent of ballots cast. Jennifer James, a fundraiser who worked on Yvette Clarke’s congressional campaign, was in second place with 857 votes (approximately 15 percent) and Wellington Sharpe, a local businessman who has run for office before, was in third place, with 664 votes (11.7 percent). Eugene, standing in a crush of well-wishers and supporters, flanked by an American flag and numerous balloons, promised to fight, “For the rights of workers, for the rights of immigrants, for the rights of children, for the rights of students. “We are going to work together for the betterment of our community,” he told his listeners, gathered at Café Alta, 1988 Utica Avenue. “I see this as a great opportunity for me, because when I see the people all around me, they are people from all ethnic backgrounds. “We are going to work together for the Jewish community, the Jamaican community, the Haitian community. We are going to work together to empower the community,” Eugene went on. “When we work together in unity, we are going to move this community and make a big difference for people in the community.” In the glow of victory, Eugene was dubbed the “Haitian sensation” by the elder Clarke, whose words clearly resonated with the appreciative audience. Roaring over the cheering crowd, Clarke told her listeners, “Caribbean-Americans want to chart our own destiny. I think it is the immigrant dream and the immigrant experience that as soon as communities become mature enough, they take on responsibility for themselves.” Yvette Clarke told her listeners, “To the community, I want you to feel empowered today. In just four months, you sent a daughter from Jamaica to Congress and a son from Haiti to the New York City Council. We have come of age not only socially, not only economically, but politically. And, as we take our seats at the table, no one will be left behind.” Representative Anthony Weiner pointed out that Eugene’s victory was one that will be noticed far away from the streets of Flatbush. “It wasn’t about the 40th District,” he told the crowd. “It wasn’t about New York City. People all around the world are going to be reading about this. There are going to be a lot of children who are going to read the story, and they are going to feel that you can do anything you want.” Over at James’ camp on Nostrand Avenue near Rutland Road, the light rain pelting campaign placards proudly displayed on storefront windows and parked car hoods set the tone for the somber mood inside, where supporters tried to keep each other’s spirits up. Many of the supporters were gratified to learn that James had a somewhat successful freshman run, coming in second out of 10. “If I have any regrets, it’s not because we didn’t win. It’s because of all the hard work that these folks put in,” said James, pointing at the knots of well-wishers still circulating an hour and a half after the polls closed. “I regret it more for them than for myself, because this was never a race I ran for myself.” Looking back, James said that the entire campaign as an “incredible opportunity for me to return what I owe my community. “It was a great experience,” she said. “We talked about issues that resonated with a lot of folks and forced a lot to the surface that some people were not going to talk about. That is an important service to do even if you don’t win.” Holding her head high, James said that she was glad that the campaign “didn’t turn into a mudslinging battle.” “It got a little dicey at the end, but it could have been a lot worse by far,” she said. “There was a lot of bad blood between people personally, but all of that didn’t come to the surface in the end.” Bolstered by the knowledge that she was just steps away from the winner’s circle, James made it pretty clear that this wasn’t the last time we were going to see her on the campaign trail. Although she said that it was “too soon to make a decision” about the prospect of running in the general election for the 40th Councilmanic District – which is just five months away – she did say, “We can’t say that it’s over until it’s over. “My goal has always been to serve the community, so it’s very…probable that you are going to see me again,” she said. “One way or another, I’ll be on the scene. If people don’t speak out for the under-served residents in this community, then folks that are not elected have to take that responsibi­lity.” “It wasn’t meant to be,” noted a clearly tired Wellington Sharpe, sitting surrounded by supporters at the back room at Café Omar, Nostrand Avenue and Clarendon Road, where the votes had been tallied. “I think the union involvement was overwhelming,” he added, stressing, “I still believe in the people in the community, the voters in the 40th C.D., and I hope that someone pays attention to some of the long-standing issues in the community – the high HIV rate, the high heart disease rate, the high unemployment. The educational system and day care are still in a mess. I hope someone focuses on the issues. I have been speaking about them for years, and we still have them tonight.” Like James, Sharpe did not close the door on a September run. “I have some time. We can take a look at the whole thing and see where we go,” he said. “In the meantime, I want to thank all of the voters. It was cold, there was snow, and they came out and did their civic responsibi­lity.” None of the other candidates broke 500 votes. Harry Schiffman, the only white Jewish candidate in the group, collected 440, or approximately 7.8 percent of the total. Mohammad Razvi, who was hoping to become the city’s first Muslim elected official, received 414 votes, or approximately 7.3 percent. Jesse Hamilton, who won the district leadership in the 43rd Assembly District this past September, was unable to capitalize on his recent electoral success, coming in with 410 votes, or 7.25 percent of the ballots cast. Zenobia McNally, who had run against Yvette Clarke in 2005 for the council seat, collected 352 votes this time round, for about 6.2 percent of votes cast. Leithland Tulloch got 279 votes, or about 4.9 percent of the votes cast. Joel Toney, a former ambassador to the United Nations from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, collected 243 votes, or 4.3 percent of the total. Finally, Karlene Gordon, received 63 votes, or about 1.1 percent of ballots cast. All in all, close to 6,000 people voted in the special election. According to one source, 1199 has between 3,000 and 4,000 members living in the district. Beyond the victory for Eugene, the evening was “A great victory for the congresswo­man,” noted Assemblymember Nick Perry, who had endorsed no one in the race, but who was on hand to congratulate Eugene on his success. “It would have been terrible if she had not succeeded in electing her successor, since she stepped forward and selected someone.” “Some people follow the wind and some people shift the wind,” remarked Patrick Gaspard, the political director of 1199. “Yvette and Una are wind-shifters.. What they did is an incredibly historic first for the people of the Haitian community and for people of good will throughout New York.” The ability to pull out his base was the magic formula for Eugene, said former District Leader Musa Moore, who was backing Sharpe. “I always felt that if Mathieu Eugene brought out his base, if Harry Schiffman brought out his base, if Moe Razvi brought out his base, they would be forces to contend with.” The backing of the Clarkes and 1199 was a recipe for victory, added political insider Rock Hackshaw, also a Sharpe backer. “You can’t under-estimate the endorsement of 1199 or the Clarkes who have been in power in the district for 16 years,” he said.

Posted 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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