Zellnor Myrie, who is challenging State Senator Jesse Hamilton, now has the support of New York Communities for Change, a grassroots group fighting issues like gentrification and displacement.
NYCC previously endorsed Hamilton in 2014 and 2016, but is backing Myrie because of Hamilton’s decision to join the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which used to share an alliance with Republicans.
“When we endorsed Jesse, we never thought he was going to go caucus with the Republicans,” said NYCC’s executive director Jonathan Westin. “He was someone in the community who was doing decent things. When he got to Albany, everything changed.”
Westin called Hamilton a “fake Democrat” who worked with Republicans to block meaningful progressive legislation, including the strengthening of rent laws to protect tenants.
“We need people who are fighters and people who are strong, that can resist all those pushes by lobbyists and corporations and real estate,” Westin said. “I think Zellnor has shown over and over again he’s the type of person willing to take on those fights.”
NYCC has now endorsed several candidates running against incumbents, including Cynthia Nixon for governor and Jumaane Williams for lieutenant governor. They’re also supporting challenges to former IDC state senators.
“This isn’t just about resisting Trump and all of the evil things he’s doing,” he said. “This is about forcing the Democrats to represent people instead of corporations.”
At the endorsement announcement last Thursday in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, NYCC leaders spoke about why they support Myrie and oppose Hamilton. NYCC chair Marie Pierre, a Brownsville resident, said she can’t trust an elected official who “flipped back and forth.”
“How can I trust you when we voted you as a Democrat and you sided with the Republicans?” she said. “This is my biggest pet peeve with the opponent. Because he decided to flip from side to side, many of the issues that need attention in our district has not been addressed.”
Vaughn Armour, a Crown Heights resident, called Hamilton a “landlord senator.” In comparison, Myrie lives in a rent-stabilized apartment, just like Armour.
“I know he’s going to stand up and protect tenants right,” he said.
The announcement was made in front of 10 Maple Street, a rent-stabilized building where Myrie was raised. The candidate said in the last two decades, the city has lost nearly 150,000 rent-stabilized units like the ones he grew up in.
“Those are families that have lost their homes,” he said.
Myrie accused Hamilton of being “bought and paid for” by the real estate industry, which he believes has led to inaction on rent laws.
“My opponent has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the real estate lobby, the same real estate lobby that supports Republicans and has supported Republican control of the State Senate,” he said. “Without having those contributions, without being beholden to those industries, I think you can make a credible case for reform.”
Although Hamilton and the rest of the former IDC state senators have rejoined the mainline Democratic conference, Myrie said the district “has no idea where he actually stands.”
The challenger hopes that this fall, the State Senate will elect “real Democrats,” hopefully with a majority, to enact rent reforms.
“We’re also going to pick up some seats upstate and I think we’ll be well-positioned to fight for some of the legislation,” he said.
In a statement, Barbara Brancaccio, a representative from Hamilton’s campaign, said the senator has never been influenced by any campaign contribution and has a “demonstrated track record” of fighting for tenants.
“He has also fought for pro-tenant legislation to prevent landlords from abusing preferential rent as a tool to threaten tenants, and has worked to repeal vacancy decontrol,” Brancaccio said. “No one has done more to protect tenants than Senator Hamilton, and he will continue to fight for the people in his community and for all New Yorkers.”