According to Annie Levin, in January 9 2020, tenant organizer Michael Hollingsworth joined a human chain blocking bulldozers from entering a worksite in Brooklyn’s rapidly gentrifying Crown Heights neighborhood. The previous spring, a judge in a rezoning suit issued a temporary restraining order on construction, but real estate developers had ignored it. New York City police officers present at the site also refused to recognize the judge’s order and arrested several of the organizers who formed the blockade.
On November 14, the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) endorsed Hollingsworth and five other socialists running for City Council: Adolfo Abreu, Alexa Aviles, Tiffany Caban, Brandon West and Jaslin Kaur.
All of NYC-DSA’s endorsed candidates will be running for open seats, with the primary election slated for June 22, 2021. This will also mark the first election to use ranked-choice voting since the democratic reform was adopted as a ballot measure in 2019.
Should the DSA slate be voted in, candidates have signaled they intend to form a socialist caucus on the City Council. According to DSA organizers, this caucus could work in coalition with other progressives to form a large enough bloc to bring significant changes to the body, from choosing the next Speaker of the Council to passing a budget that prioritizes working people.
NYC-DSA, with a membership currently numbering over 5,800, has made significant inroads into local government since Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her historic primary in 2018.
As local New York politics have moved left in recent years, many candidates now run on progressive platforms, but only a select few earn access to DSA’s resources. Leanna Ballester, a former DSA organizer who was involved in candidate selection for the 2021 races and now serves as campaign manager for DSA-endorsed City Council candidate Brandon West , says the process included in-depth candidate interviews, questionnaires and research on district demographics. After weeks of assessment, candidates were selected and presented at candidate forums and then, in October, voted on by the membership at geographic branch locations. Finally, this democratic process was ratified by an elected representative body known as the Citywide Leadership Committee. Out of over 50 individuals who sought the group’s endorsement, just six received it. This “long democratic process gets us to candidates that the membership has bought into and is really excited about,” Ballester says.
With meetings moved to Zoom during the pandemic, hundreds of members were able to attend the DSA candidate forums. Attendees were given the opportunity to speak and to question potential candidates, with more well-known DSA members such as former New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and Women’s March co-chair Linda Sarsour, as well as current elected office holders, waiting their turn to speak alongside rank-and-file members.
The candidates selected from this process run the gamut of left-wing organizing in New York City. Like Michael Hollingsworth, Alexa Aviles in Brooklyn and Adolfo Abreu in the Bronx have backgrounds in housing justice organizing — a high priority for the slate given the high rents and housing shortage in New York City. Jaslin Kaur, 24, is an organizer in Queens who has advocated against gender discrimination in schools. Brandon WestF is a campaign manager at the Center for Popular Democracy and an organizer in DSA’s Afrosocialist Caucus. Tiffany Caban, probably the most well-known member of the slate, was a public defender who ran for Queens District Attorney in 2019 on a decarceral platform and came within a hair’s breadth of victory.
Candidates from such different corners of left-wing organizing could potentially bring large coalitions together around their platforms. For Jaslin Kaur, this coalition development will be a vital part of her work on the Council if she wins her race in East Queens. In her jurisdiction, she plans on using her campaign’s “relational organizing” — which facilitates outreach between friends and neighbors — to continue campaigning, she says, “beyond just the ballot.” In order to build democratic socialism through the City Council, Kaur says the slate “will need to expand the electorate, build out a DSA membership, and build out socialism within our respective districts so we can continue building this organizing model and bringing people into these policy issues.”
A candidate like West, who has both worked in Mayor de Blasio’s Office of Management and Budget and helped organize the June occupation of New York City Hall to defund the NYPD, could help bring together organizations and community groups that would not otherwise be in the same spaces. A number of the DSA-endorsed candidates boast this multiplicity of experiences in which they have one foot in governance or progressive nonprofits and the other in local grassroots organizing.
Bianca Cunningham — a former NYC-DSA Co-Chair who also helped organize the June occupation of City Hall — attended Brandon West’s forum and encouraged the membership to vote for him because of his DSA bona fides. “Brandon is cadre,” she said, describing him as an active organizer who had been with her on the front lines of the protests.
Sean Reilly, a DSA member and organizer in Brooklyn, attended Hollingsworth’s endorsement forum and supported his candidacy, impressed with his work with the Crown Heights Tenant Union — an organization that had helped Reilly organize a tenant association in his own building.
One of Hollingsworth’s most vocal supporters at his forum was DSA-endorsed Assembly Member-elect Phara Souffrant Forrest. Living in the same building in Brooklyn, they helped organize their tenant association together.
Should the NYC-DSA City Council candidates succeed in their races, the slate will follow in the footsteps of the six DSA-endorsed candidates elected to the Chicago City Council in 2019. As in Chicago, the New York socialists’ capabilities in office will be a measure of how well they can build bottom-up coalitions that will come out in support of their policies, even in the face of entrenched corporate power in the city.]</ref>
Socialist Majority Caucus
Socialist Majority slate
New York City Democratic Socialists of America 2019 Socialist Majority slate for DSA national convention delegates.
A. Sen, Aaron Taube, Abdullah Younus, Abi Hassen, Adam E. Leeds, Andrea Guinn, Bianca Cunningham, Bruce Griffiths Cea Weaver, Charles Lenchner, Daniel Cheng, Daniel Lynch, Danya Lagos, Devin McManus, Emma Caterine, Frank Llewellyn, Itzhak Epstein, Jacob Appel, Jad Joseph, James O., Joe Demanuelle-Hall, John Schneider, Julian Graham, Jared Watson, Jasmin Oppenheimer, Jenny Zhang, Kevin Bohlmann, Leanna Ballester, Maia Rosenberg, Matthew Bond, Matthew Thomas, Michael Cavadias, Michael Kinnucan, Miriam Bensman, Nate Treadwell, Noah Weston, Osman Chaudhary, Paul Swartz, Phillip Henken, Renee Greene Levitt, Renee Paradis, Sam Lewis, Stephen Maples, Susan Kang, Tyler Curtis, Tiffany Gong.
Endorsing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams
The Case for Endorsing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams (And How To Do It Strategically) was a letter Drafted by: Danya Lagos (CBK/Labor), and circulated among New York Democratic Socialists of America members in July 2018.
CoSigners, as of July 23 2018 were: Leanna Ballester.