The Yassky Question Redux?

The race to fill the 40th City Council seat in Brooklyn is starting to look a little bit like the Congressional race that just concluded in that area, in which much of the dialogue centered on whether “a white individual” could or should represent a majority-minority district.

In the Council race, there are eight African-American and Caribbean-American candidates, and one white Jewish candidate.

Here’s an audio clip of the exchange at a candidate forum last night between moderator Tony Best, the editor of CaribNews, and candidate Harry Schiffman.

Tony Best:

“In recent elections, in the 11th congressional district, in the state Senate district now held by Senator Kevin Parker, and now in the 40th, in these districts which were carved out specifically to ensure black representation, we have seen Jewish candidates running. Could you, as a member of the Jewish faith, could you explain what is happening here, particularly in your case. Why are you running?”

Gary Schiffman:

“I’ve got a master’s degree in social work; I’m a community organizer and planner. And in 30 years of working in neighborhoods throughout New York City, from Coney Island to Williamsburg, from Far Rockaway to Jackson Heights, I’ve worked with immigrant groups from every background, every nationality, whether they’re African American, Caribbean-American or Asian. Those are the skills that I’ve done over the last 30 years. And I’ve brought people together to solve their issues.”

I tried following up on that theme in a follow-up with a different candidate, Zenobia McNally.


“Sort of to follow up on Mr. Best’s question to Harry Schiffman, do you believe only a black resident of the 40th district can represent the entire district? And do you believe a particular candidate has to be of a particular ethnicity to the district?”

Here’s part of her answer:

“No, I don’t believe that it’s only a person, black person or Caribbean person to represent the district. However, too many times and often times in the United States we’ve been under-represented within. So when a seat is carved out to help bring representation within City Hall, there should be people who fill that seat. And it’s because of that reason, and I will say that I am a candidate who is not running against any ethnic or any religious lines at all.

My candidacy and my campaign is open to everyone and I welcome everyone into the race. And that’s why my party is called Neighbors Unite, okay? But I will say also, because of under-representation, and this is seen by the endorsements that I’ve gotten from groups who find they themselves too, are under-represented, I do think that it should reside with someone who is going to look at the best interest of everyone in the community.

And if the Caribbean base is stronger, if the African-American base is stronger, it should more or else represent the people who are there. So, I thank you for your question and so therefore I will say to you that even though it’s — it would be undemocratic to say that not everyone should run. But in this case, since we do have under-representation, it should be someone who can represent the majority of the people in the district.

Thank you.”

Brian Lehrer is scheduled to have all the candidates on his radio show on Monday. I’m sort of resigned to the fact that this may come up again.

— Azi Paybarah

The Yassky Question Redux?