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A 35th District race surfaces: Fox prepares to challenge Cumbo

Ede Fox
Incumbent 35th District Council Member Laurie Cumbo faces a likely challenge from one of her top 2013 rivals, Ede Fox, who's formed an exploratory committee.

And while the issue of Atlantic Yards hasn't yet surfaced, development issues--notably Cumbo's position on the Bedford Union Army project, far less wary than that of other pols and the 2013 support she got from real estate interests--will surely be important.

Though Council races feature 6-for-1 financial matching and thus potential funds to run a reasonable campaign, it's very tough to defeat an incumbent, at least one not rocked by scandal. Fox will decide by May whether she has enough money to mount the challenge, according to Kings County Politics. (Two other candidates may run, as well. Contributions to all campaigns can be made here.)

Laurie Cumbo
Cumbo's debatable decision to steer a significant share of her discretionary funds to the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, which she founded, surely will come up-- note her defense--as well as the fine she paid for improper campaign contributions. On the other hand, she'll surely point out that her rivals can't point to laws passed and projects funded, as noted in her fundraising email below.

Fox's case

"I've been encouraged by many in our community, particularly residents anxious about the Bedford Union Armory project and the rapid pace of development throughout the district," Fox wrote in a fundraising letter. "The exploratory committee will work with me to shape an inclusive vision for the future of the 35th District, with plans for preserving the district's economic and racial diversity."

Beyond that, two of the five members listed by Kings County Politics on Fox's steering committee are former Atlantic Yards activists, Raul Rothblatt and Lucy Koteen:
  • Felice Robertson, Washington Avenue Botanic Block Association (WABBA).
  • Michael Corley, Union Street Block Association.
  • Curtis Harris, Executive Director, Green Earth Poets Caf√©.
  • Lucy Koteen, Fort Greene Resident and Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn Steering Committee Member
  • Raul Rothblatt, Prospect Heights Resident and P.S. 9 parent.
AY an issue?

It's hard to say how big an issue Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park will be, but it's safe to say that Cumbo has not been "all up in Forest City Ratner’s face" as she pledged during her campaign.

Cumbo has gone to bat for the developer in its dispute with former partner Skanska, saluted the not-so-affordable housing in the first tower, and, in contrast with her typical outspokenness about women's issues--especially those facing black women--failed to comment until pushed regarding a series of harassment episodes related to Pacific Park and the Barclays Center.

A personal rivalry?

Last month, City Council Watch's Seth Barron reported on bad blood between Cumbo and Fox:
Fox, a longtime Council staffer and a close ally to Mark-Viverito, was hired to run a new economic development unit within the Council administration—a plum appointment that irked the newly elected CM Cumbo, who wanted a concession from Fox that she wouldn’t run against her again. In the event, Cumbo recently learned that Fox was prepping to run, and the CM claimed that Fox was using her position as a Council staffer to develop opposition research against her, and should be fired.
Cumbo then went to the mayor’s side of City Hall and demanded that de Blasio put the squeeze on the Speaker to get rid of Ede Fox, or else she would oppose the controversial Bedford-Union Armory affordable housing plan, which is already under attack from local politicians. The mayor made a call, and Fox was out.
Is that true? Fox declined to discuss the issue. Cumbo didn't respond to a query.

Kings County Politics' Stephen Witt reported, "KCP questions this reporting as sources say Fox stepped down from the position working for the term-limited Mark-Viverito to concentrate on running against Cumbo."

The reality? We don't know.

The race

It's also tough to beat an incumbent in a primary with multiple candidates. If Cumbo was the 2013 candidate--however unbidden--of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), her case was helped by splits in the field.

She won 7,561 votes,  while Olanike Alabi got 5,369 votes and Fox 5,340, according to the Board of Elections. Richard Hurley and Jelani Mashariki got about 2,600 votes together.

Kings County Politics reports that Alabi won't run for Council, but is no ally of Cumbo.

Jabari Brisport
Also listed as a Democratic candidate, but with no public presence nor the capacity to raise funds, is Greg Schwartz.

And while the Democratic primary in this district is tantamount to winning, activist and actor Jabari Brisport is running as a Green Party candidate, which means he should be in the general election.

Cumbo's case

A recent fundraising letter from Cumbo touted her accomplishments:
Council Member Laurie Cumbo has been a champion of a myriad of issues since assuming office, standing with the residents of Brooklyn on issues that matter. Dubbed a "legislative machine" by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Member Cumbo has introduced and signed into law over 20 pieces of legislation over the last four years. Her legislative victories have included equality in the areas of affordable housing, foster care, women's issues, the arts, and breaking the cycles of gun violence. 
A proponent of affordable housing, the Council Member has helped to fight off privatization of Mitchell Lama housing, saving over 300 units of affordable housing at 21 St. James Place. Later, she led the fight to maintain and create over 500 units of affordable housing at the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital Campus.

On the homefront, Council Member Cumbo led the fight to save the Grace Agard Harewood Senior Center and Young Minds Day Care from being evicted from 966-972 Fulton Street after 40 years of providing intergenerational services to the Forte Green Community.

Council Member Cumbo was at the forefront of stopping the closure of 17 NYCHA community and senior centers across New York City, and moving forward, she is dedicated to ensuring that all of her NYCHA developments have the appropriate lighting, security cameras, as well as adequate recreational facilities.

As a member of the education committee, Council Member Cumbo worked collaboratively on the campaign to have Mayor de Blasio increase his investment in the City's Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), the nation's largest summer youth jobs initiative. 2016 saw a record 60,000 participants across 10,000 worksites. Council Member Cumbo has vowed to not stop forging ahead for additional spaces until every child who wants to apply to SYEP has the opportunity. 
As a vocal advocate for green spaces, the Council Member has allocated $6,580,000 towards Park Capital Projects in District 35. This funding was used for the now complete upgrades to Fort Greene Park. In 2017, Council Member Cumbo will be proud to unveil the completion of Jackie Robinson Park in Ebbets Field. Projects that will see completion in 2018 include the construction of the Elijah Stroud Playground on Classon Avenue and Sterling Place, as well as a monumental upgrade of Prospect Park along Flatbush Avenue.