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Could Atlantic Yards help Adem Bunkeddeko dislodge undistinguished Rep. Yvette Clarke?

Could Atlantic Yards help dislodge undistinguished incumbent Congresswoman Yvette Clarke?

Adem Bunkeddeko, via Twitter
Adem Bunkeddeko, a challenger to six-term incumbent Clarke, has gotten a good deal of publicity for speaking the obvious, to the New York Times and other media outlets: that the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park housing is not that affordable.

He's got a broader range of issues than Atlantic Yards, including bolstering public housing. They are predictably liberal, including criminal justice reform (and legalizing/taxing pot), but more thoughtful than the incumbent.

But the difference might not merely be how they'd vote but how they'd represent their constituency, both on the ground and in public statements. (Consider the difference between Rep. Ed Towns and his more dynamic successor Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.) A few debates should be in order before the Democratic primary election, though that's obviously not in Clarke's interest.

Former City Council Member Clarke has served in Congress, representing Brooklyn's 9th District (formerly 11th, which includes Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park), since 2007. It's hard to beat an incumbent, so few have tried. But few have targeted incumbents' rote support for Pacific Park.

In other words, Crown Heights resident Bunkeddeko--a member of Community Board 8 and former staffer at Brooklyn Community Services--is an outlier by pointing out that the emperor has no clothes and by arguing for a more expansive affordable housing policy.

(Note that his career includes a stint at Empire State Development, which oversees/shepherds Atlantic Yards, though he didn't work on the project. Also note that he has not historically been out front on Atlantic Yards.)

Bunkeddel's got an appealing biography, as the son of Ugandan refugees who started here with nothing. He gained an elite education (including a Harvard MBA), but has pursued public service. Note the quote in the intro video below, from Ethel Tyus of Community Board 8: "Our current Congressperson is pretty much missing in action."



Indeed, a look at Clarke's campaign biography includes this:
Rep. Clarke has steadfastly worked to narrow income inequality, support small businesses and help Brooklyn homeowners. She introduced the Adjusting for Income Disparity Act to create a new tax break for low-income families, and introduced the Save Our Neighborhoods Act, granting homeowners facing foreclosure new legal rights so they could keep their homes.
Worthy goals to represent her constituents, but is introducing bills--rather than getting something passed--the highlight of her career?

Looking back at Clarke

In the four-way Democratic primary for Congress in 2006, Clarke, the sole woman, prevailed narrowly over fellow Atlantic Yards supporter Carl Andrews, sort-of-supporter David Yassky, and project opponent Chris Owens. A year earlier, Clarke had received $2,000 from both Michael Ratner (brother of Bruce) and his wife.

Despite a Brooklyn Paper editorial deeming her "clueless on world affairs"--the Paper endorsed Yassky, not Owens--Clarke had crucial support from health care workers, many, like her, with Caribbean roots. So little things like not actually having the degree she claimed from Oberlin (which she later completed) didn't count.

Clarke has not exactly distinguished herself as a legislator. She got the most publicity, in fact, when she appeared on The Colbert Report in 2012, bizarrely claiming that slavery had continued in Brooklyn until 1898, well after the Civil War. (New York ended slavery in 1827.) A Clarke spokeswoman said she was joking, but few bought that excuse. Still, she's gotten a flood of campaign contributions from political action committees (PACs), which want to maintain access.

Clarke and Atlantic Yards

Clarke has not exactly had a major presence regarding Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, but she's been generally positive. She in 2012 attended the groundbreaking for the modular tower.

She also joined other elected officials and BrooklynSpeaks in 2013, calling for Forest City's initial sale to Greenland USA to be conditioned on new housing commitments. (That eventually happened because of a pressured lawsuit, but only the timetable--not the affordability--was covered.)

She supported the 2014 bid to get the Democratic National Convention to the Barclays Center. Last June, she supplied an unwise quote upon the official opening of the "100% affordable" tower 535 Carlton:
“The opening of 535 Carlton will provide desperately-needed units of affordable housing for hundreds of people in Prospect Heights, a neighborhood where rent prices continue to increase beyond the means of families who have lived there for generations. I hope to continue working with Mayor de Blasio and Deputy Mayor Glen to build ‘One New York,’ where all families have an opportunity to thrive,” Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke said.
A challenger raises some money

Bunkeddeko has since garnered publicity in the Daily News, regarding his strong, $120,000 campaign fund, and also Crain's New York Business, whose Erik Engquist wrote:
Incumbents rarely lose, but when they do, weak fundraising, which has been an issue for Clarke, is usually one of the elements. Had she kept $1 million or more in her account, a potentially strong candidate such as Bunkeddeko might not have run in the first place. But Clarke has often had less than $100,000 in her war chest.
Other factors that can bring down incumbents include a lack of legislative accomplishments, poor constituent services, embarrassing episodes, a change in district demographics, and voter fatigue. That said, Bunkeddeko, who's never previously held office (as opposed to rising from a more local position), will be better positioned for a future run, as well.

Kings County Politics noted that "a majority of his donations, roughly $99,000, come from large donations from outside of his district." That's likely because, as New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante wrote, he's "caught the attention of several politically powerful people in the city, including Mr. [Richard] Ravitch and the prominent civil rights activist Vernon Jordan."

Here's Bunkeddeko's Federal Elections Commission (FEC) page. Since 1/1/17, he's raised 103 contributions from individuals. Note a contribution from Ron Moelis, subject of critical coverage in Crain's, as well as contributions from George McDonald of The Doe Fund, Home Depot's Ken Langone, Tishman Speyer's Jerry Speyer, Harvard Professor Martha Minow, political operative Bradley Tusk, former Deputy Mayor Robert Steel, and political consultant Howard Wolfson, among others.

Clarke's largest PAC contributions. There are many more
Click to enlarge.
Here's Clarke's FEC page. Since 1/1/17, she's raised 222 contributions from individuals and 164 from PACs, among 402 total. Her largest contributors are those PACs, including from unions and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Off the Sidelines. She's also gotten contributions from Vornado's Steven Roth, construction executive Dolly Williams, and Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Roy Hastick, and many others. 

The Pacific Park press clips

Interestingly enough, a look at Bunkeddeko's press clips page shows several direct or indirect references to Pacific Park, notably as the only named critic in Bellafante's November 2017 slam on empty affordable units (more background):
“[535 Carlton] is not affordable housing. Maybe it’s affordable housing if you make six figures,” Democratic Congressional candidate Adem Bunkeddeko said.
Bunkeddeko is running for Congress in Brooklyn on a housing platform and he says clearly there is a need for more low-income units.— Magee Hickey, Pix11, November 18, 2017 
“As a member of Community Board 8’s housing committee, [Adem Bunkeddeko] has listened to people bemoan the structuring of 535 Carlton. “The main gripe is ‘this is absurd; who is this affordable for?’” he said. “Even the folks who came in as the first wave of gentrifiers can’t swing it.”— Ginia Bellafante, The New York Times, November 17, 2017 
Mr. Bunkeddeko is running with an aggressive agenda on housing, one that would support the creation not just of vaguely affordable rental apartments, but of routes to ownership for families making between $30,000 and $80,000 a year.— Ginia Bellafante, The New York Times, October 12, 2017

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