Benjamin vies for State Senate seat
Benjamin persigue puesto en el Senado Estatal

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Benjamin vies for State Senate seat

Story by Gregg McQueen

“It is important to come together,” says State Senate candidate Brian Benjamin.

“It is important to come together,” says State Senate candidate Brian Benjamin.

Brian Benjamin was bitten by the political activist bug at an early age.

The Harlem native said he grew up in a strict household where both parents were union members.

“I had an understanding at an early age of the labor movement,” said Benjamin. “I could empathize with people trying to make ends meet, and just do the right thing for their family.”

His mother, an immigrant from Guyana, was politically active and dragged him to “pretty much every Democratic convention” as a child and introduced him to Reverend Jesse Jackson at age eight.

Benjamin is now on the verge of taking his own political motivation to Albany, as the Democratic nominee for the upcoming special election for New York State Senate for the 30th District, which is overwhelmingly Democratic.

The election, to be held on May 23, was called by Governor Andrew Cuomo to fill the vacant seat created when former Senator Bill Perkins was elected to the City Council in February.

Facing off against Benjamin are Republican Dawn Simmons and Reform Party candidate Ruben D. Vargas.

Reverend Jesse Jackson was an early influence.

Reverend Jesse Jackson was an early influence.

A longtime community organizer and member of Community Board 10, Benjamin also serves as managing director of Genesis Companies, a development firm for affordable housing.

Despite his background, he suggested that the key to putting a dent in the city’s affordable housing crisis is to preserve the housing that exists, rather than rely on new construction.

“It’s hard for affordable housing developers to compete with luxury housing in this city,” said Benjamin, who

said he champions a repeal of vacancy decontrol, which allows landlords to dodge limits on rent control. “The incentives behind rent regulations are perverted incentives and help push people out of their homes,” he said. “We should not have incentives to encourage landlords to jack up rent.”

Benjamin said that residential buildings are not the only issue.

“On commercial rents, there are a lot of small business that are part of a neighborhood’s character, and they’re also getting pushed out,” he stated. “Throughout the entire district, everyone’s dealing with the same issue.”

Benjamin insisted that his real estate background gives him a unique perspective to address housing concerns.

On the stump with City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

On the stump with City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

“I believe that someone like me would understand what needs to be done,” he remarked. “All the ULURP processes, I’m very familiar with incentives, and I’d use that knowledge to help the people in my community.”

As special elections do not require primaries, the local county committee of the Democratic Party held a convention on March 11 to select its candidate. Benjamin won 170 of 263 votes to best district leaders Al Taylor and John Ruiz.

The vote was not without controversy, as the other candidates accused the party of favoritism toward Benjamin.

“One of the things that was accused was that I had information before other people had it, and that’s really just not true,” Benjamin, who made a plea for Democratic Party unity.

“Quite frankly, we need our state and local officials working together to protect us from what’s going on in Washington. There’s so much [that is] under attack,” he said.

Benjamin’s Senate bid has scored some high-profile endorsements, including Public Advocate Letitia James, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, former Congressman Charles Rangel and Cuomo himself.

Republican candidate Dawn Simmons.

Republican candidate Dawn Simmons.

He also has the support of numerous labor unions, including 1199 SEIU, New York State United Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, Hotel Trades Council and Teamsters Local 237.

“I think it means that although I’ll be a new official [if elected], people think I’ll be able to get legislation done,” said Benjamin.

If elected, Benjamin said he wants to explore a Medicare for All single-payer healthcare system and intends to support passage of the DREAM Act, as well as an overhaul of the public education funding system.

He also advocated for criminal justice reform in order to speed the city’s goal of closing Rikers Island. “We need to reduce the prison population quickly. There are many people on Rikers who really should be in a mental health facility or some type of job program,” Benjamin said.

“I think we should do away with the bail system ― it punishes people who are poor,” he said. “The lion’s share of cases running through our system are petty crimes.”

Benjamin, here with Akeem Browder (brother of Kalief), has called for Rikers’ closure.

Benjamin, here with Akeem Browder (brother of Kalief), has called for Rikers’ closure.

Benjamin said, if elected, he would be joining the mainline State Senate Democrats, headed by State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and not the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC).

Candidate Ruben D. Vargas is running on the Reform Party line.

Candidate Ruben D. Vargas is running on the Reform Party line.

There are currently three divisions within the Senate – 22 mainline Democrats, 8 IDC members, and Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans, providing the 32nd vote needed for the latter’s majority within the chamber.

A victory for Benjamin would grant the Democrats a numerical majority – 32 of a total 63 seats.

“If elected on May 23, I will be the 32nd Democrat,” promised Benjamin. “Key legislation will not happen as long as Republicans are able to assert control. It is important to come together, not just for us or from the people who elected us.”

The Special Election for the 30th State Senate District is to be held on Tues., May 23rd, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Harlem, East Harlem, Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights. For more on the election and voting information, please visit the New York City Board of Elections at http://bit.ly/1rRTCsc or call 212.886.2100.

Benjamin persigue puesto en el Senado Estatal

Historia por Gregg McQueen

With former Congressman Charles Rangel.

Con el ex congresista Charles Rangel.

Brian Benjamin fue mordido por el insecto activista político a una edad temprana.

El nativo de Harlem dijo que creció en un hogar estricto, en el que ambos padres eran miembros del sindicato.

“Tenía cierto entendimiento a una edad temprana del movimiento obrero”, dijo Benjamin. “Yo podría simpatizar con la gente que trataba de llegar a fin de mes y que hacía lo correcto para su familia”.

Su madre, una inmigrante de Guyana, era políticamente activa, lo arrastró a “casi todas las convenciones democráticas” desde una edad temprana y lo presentó al reverendo Jesse Jackson a los ocho años.

Benjamin está ahora a punto de llevar su propia motivación política a Albany, como candidato demócrata para la próxima elección especial al Senado del Estado de Nueva York por el Distrito 30, que es abrumadoramente demócrata.

La elección, que se celebrará el 23 de mayo, fue convocada por el gobernador Andrew Cuomo para llenar el puesto vacante creado cuando el ex senador Bill Perkins fue el electo al Concejo de la Ciudad en febrero.

Candidate Ruben D. Vargas is running on the Reform Party line.

El candidato Rubén D. Vargas se está postulando en la línea del Partido Reformista.

Enfrentando a Benjamin se encuentran la republicana Dawn Simmons y el candidato del Partido Reformista Rubén D. Vargas.

Organizador comunitario de mucho tiempo y miembro de la Junta Comunitaria 10, Benjamin también es director de Genesis Companies, una firma de desarrollo de viviendas asequibles.

A pesar de sus antecedentes, sugirió que la clave para poner un hueco en la crisis de vivienda asequible de la ciudad es preservar la vivienda que existe, en lugar de confiar en la nueva construcción.

“Es difícil para los desarrolladores de viviendas asequibles competir con viviendas de lujo en esta ciudad”, dijo.

Dijo que defiende una derogación de la desregulación de la desocupación, que permite a los propietarios esquivar los límites en el control de los alquileres. “Los incentivos detrás de las regulaciones de alquiler son incentivos pervertidos y ayudan a sacar a la gente de sus hogares”, dijo. “No deberíamos tener incentivos para alentar a los propietarios a aumentar el alquiler”.

Benjamin dijo que los edificios residenciales no son el único problema.

“En los alquileres comerciales, hay muchos pequeños negocios que son parte de la naturaleza de un vecindario y también están siendo expulsados”, afirmó. “A lo largo de todo el distrito, todos lidian con el mismo tema”.

Benjamin, here with Akeem Browder (brother of Kalief), has called for Rikers’ closure.

Benjamin, aquí con Akeem Browder (hermano de Kalief), ha pedido el cierre de Rikers.

Benjamin insistió en que su experiencia en bienes raíces le da una perspectiva única para abordar las preocupaciones de vivienda.

Republican candidate Dawn Simmons.

La candidata republicana Dawn Simmons.

“Creo que alguien como yo entendería lo que hay que hacer”, comentó. “Todos los procesos de ULURP, estoy muy familiarizado con los incentivos, y usaría ese conocimiento para ayudar a la gente de mi comunidad”.

Como las elecciones especiales no requieren primarias, el comité local del condado del Partido Demócrata celebró una convención el 11 de marzo para seleccionar a su candidato. Benjamin ganó 170 de 263 votos contra los mejores líderes distritales Al Taylor y John Ruiz.

La votación no pasó sin controversia, ya que los otros candidatos acusaron al partido de favoritismo hacia Benjamín.

“Una de las cosas de las que se me acusó fue de tener información antes de que otras personas la tuvieran, y eso realmente no es cierto”, dijo Benjamin, quien hizo una solicitud a favor de la unidad del Partido Demócrata.

“Francamente necesitamos que nuestros funcionarios estatales y locales trabajen juntos para protegernos de lo que está pasando en Washington. Hay tanta gente bajo ataque”, comentó.

On the stump with City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

En el tocón con el contralor de la ciudad Scott Stringer.

La candidatura de Benjamin al Senado ha obtenido algunos reconocimientos de alto perfil, como la abogada pública Letitia James, el contralor de la ciudad Scott Stringer, el congresista Jerrold Nadler, el ex congresista Charles Rangel y el propio Cuomo.

También cuenta con el apoyo de numerosos sindicatos, entre ellos 1199 SEIU, Maestros Unidos del Estado de Nueva York, 32BJ SEIU, el Consejo Hotel Trades  y Teamsters Local 237.

“Creo que significa que aunque voy a ser un nuevo funcionario [si soy electo], la gente piensa que voy a poder hacer que aprueben la legislación”, dijo Benjamin.

Si es elegido, Benjamin dijo que quiere explorar un sistema de salud de un solo pagador, Medicare para Todos, y tiene la intención de apoyar la aprobación del DREAM Act, así como una revisión del sistema de financiamiento de educación pública.

También abogó por la reforma de la justicia penal con el fin de acelerar la meta de la ciudad de cerrar Rikers Island. “Necesitamos reducir rápidamente la población carcelaria. Hay mucha gente en Rikers que realmente debe estar en un centro de salud mental o en algún tipo de programa de trabajo”, explicó.

“Creo que deberíamos acabar con el sistema de fianza, pues castiga a las personas que son pobres”, dijo. “La mayor parte de los casos que atraviesan nuestro sistema son delitos menores”.

Reverend Jesse Jackson was an early influence.

El reverendo Jesse Jackson fue una influencia temprana.

Benjamin dijo que de ser elegido, se uniría a los demócratas del Senado del Estado, encabezados por la senadora estatal Andrea Stewart-Cousins, y no a la Conferencia Democrática Independiente (IDC, por sus siglas en inglés).

Hay actualmente tres divisiones dentro del senado: 22 demócratas principales, 8 miembros de IDC, y el senador Simcha Felder, un demócrata de Brooklyn que se reúne con los republicanos, los 32 votos necesarios para la mayoría de este último dentro de la cámara.

Una victoria para Benjamin daría a los demócratas una mayoría numérica, 32 de un total de 63 escaños.

“Si soy electo el 23 de mayo, seré el 32º demócrata”, prometió Benjamín. “La legislación clave no ocurrirá mientras los republicanos puedan mantener el control. Es importante unirnos, no sólo por nosotros sino para las personas que nos eligieron”.

La Elección Especial para el 30º Distrito Estatal del Senado se llevará a cabo el martes 23 de mayo, que abarca los barrios de Harlem, East Harlem, Upper West Side, Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights y Morningside Heights. Para más información sobre la elección y la votación, por favor visite el sitio web de la Junta de Elecciones de la Ciudad de Nueva York, en http://bit.ly/1rRTCsc o llame al 212.886.2100.

  • Frank Chris Jackson

    If you have to sacrifice your integrity to win an election then you will never amount to much as a politician- unfortunately it appears that is the path Mr. Benjamin has taken. In the Sept. 19 2014 Black Enterprise article, “Brian Benjamin: Doing Business in Black Communities for the Benefit of Black People,” he stated “I am in leadership on my local Community Board in Central Harlem. I see a future for myself in elected public office as well.” When he ran for Community Board 10 chair in June 2016 he was asked directly by the Community Board 10 Nominating Committee Chair, Stanley Gleaton, if he would serve his full two year term, to which he replied that he would. Yet eight months later, according to the February 13, 2017 New York Post article “Low voter turnout expected for special election to fill Harlem city council seat” it stated that “Construction and development executive Brian Benjamin, chairman of Community Board 10 and finance chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party, has expressed interest in running” for State Senate. At the Democratic County Committee State Senate nomination convention on March 10, 2017, his opponents accused him and his supporter Keith Wright of using “voter suppression” tactics to ensure his victory as the nominated candidate (re: New York Observer, March 10, 2017, “Harlem Candidates Accuse Democratic Machine of Rigging Contest for State Senate Seat”), which would in theory ensure his victory in the May 23rd 2017 NYS Senate election in Central Harlem’s heavily Democratic voting district. Yet Harlem voters know little about Brian Benjamin other than recent news articles (re: The Real Deal, March 13, 2017, “Abyssinian’s Fire Sale Sets Off Legal Spat”); (re: New York Post, March 27, 2017, “State Senator Candidate is Exec at Company that Owns Problem Properties”); (re: DNAInfo, April 21, 2016, “Years After Fleeing Violence, Man Returns to Harlem to Make A Difference”). Without a public opportunity to face his would-be opponents, Joyce Johnson, Al Taylor, and John Ruiz, how can Harlem voters know where Mr. Benjamin stands on a variety of community concerns? How can voters know who they are voting for? With no record of public service to scrutinize, Harlem voters are left with little information about Mr. Benjamin with which to make an informed decision in the voting booth, as well as few candidates to choose from. By the way, Community Board chairs should not utilize their position “to be seen,” or to get onto other boards, or to give favors to politicians, or to address issues only he/she is interested in, or to promote his/her business, or to build up his/her political base, or finally– to be used as a vehicle to run for political office. Like New York State Senate. Regardless of how wealthy one appears to be, how youthful one appears to be, how many ivy league degrees one has received, or how many pictures he/she has taken with the former president or former first lady.

  • Frank Chris Jackson

    If you have to sacrifice your integrity to win an election then you will never amount to much as a politician- unfortunately it appears that is the path Mr. Benjamin has taken. In the Sept. 19 2014 Black Enterprise article, “Brian Benjamin: Doing Business in Black Communities for the Benefit of Black People,” he stated “I am in leadership on my local Community Board in Central Harlem. I see a future for myself in elected public office as well.” When he ran for Community Board 10 chair in June 2016 he was asked directly by the Community Board 10 Nominating Committee Chair, Stanley Gleaton, if he would serve his full two year term, to which he replied that he would. Yet eight months later, according to the February 13, 2017 New York Post article “Low voter turnout expected for special election to fill Harlem city council seat” it stated that “Construction and development executive Brian Benjamin, chairman of Community Board 10 and finance chair of the Manhattan Democratic Party, has expressed interest in running” for State Senate. At the Democratic County Committee State Senate nomination convention on March 10, 2017, his opponents accused him and his supporter Keith Wright of using “voter suppression” tactics to ensure his victory as the nominated candidate (re: New York Observer, March 10, 2017, “Harlem Candidates Accuse Democratic Machine of Rigging Contest for State Senate Seat”), which would in theory ensure his victory in the May 23rd 2017 NYS Senate election in Central Harlem’s heavily Democratic voting district. Yet Harlem voters know little about Brian Benjamin other than recent news articles (re: The Real Deal, March 13, 2017, “Abyssinian’s Fire Sale Sets Off Legal Spat”); (re: New York Post, March 27, 2017, “State Senator Candidate is Exec at Company that Owns Problem Properties”); (re: DNAInfo, April 21, 2016, “Years After Fleeing Violence, Man Returns to Harlem to Make A Difference”). Without a public opportunity to face his would-be opponents, Joyce Johnson, Al Taylor, and John Ruiz, how can Harlem voters know where Mr. Benjamin stands on a variety of community concerns? How can voters know who they are voting for? With no record of public service to scrutinize, Harlem voters are left with little information about Mr. Benjamin with which to make an informed decision in the voting booth, as well as few candidates to choose from. By the way, Community Board chairs should not utilize their position “to be seen,” or to get onto other boards, or to give favors to politicians, or to address issues only he/she is interested in, or to promote his/her business, or to build up his/her political base, or finally– to be used as a vehicle to run for political office. Like New York State Senate. Regardless of how wealthy one appears to be, how youthful one appears to be, how many ivy league degrees one has received, or how many pictures he/she has taken with the former president or former first lady.