Public school teacher running for Duane’s seat

Tanika Inlaw

Primary Day is Thursday, September 13. Town & Village is running bios of Democrat candidates for the positions of Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge and the State Senate seat to be vacated by Tom Duane.

This article was originally published on July 12

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By Sabina Mollot

For potential candidates for the State Senate seat now occupied by Tom Duane, it may be hard to believe that it was only just over a month ago when the longtime lawmaker announced his intentions not to seek reelection. After all, for them, there’s been something of a mad dash to collect enough petition signatures to ensure their names on the ballot for the September primary. The deadline is this Thursday.

As of Monday, no candidates had yet submitted their petitions to the Board of Elections. However, there are now at least three Democratic candidates who’ve said they definitely plan to run in the September primary:

The first is Brad Hoylman, a nonprofit attorney and friend of Duane who received his support the day Duane made his announcement. The others are Hell’s Kitchen bar owner Thomas Greco and Upper West Sider Tanika Inlaw, a public school teacher.

Town & Village previously interviewed Hoylman and Greco, and this week, Inlaw spoke with this newspaper about her campaign and her agenda, which focuses on affordable housing, education and job creation.

Already, Inlaw said she’s been pounding the pavement throughout the district and recently learned firsthand from residents of Stuyvesant Town about their top issues of concern, from classroom overcrowding to the stuffing of students into divided apartments.

In response, she said she thought CWCapital should be made to stop the practice of putting up pressurized walls and renting to students.

Tenants, she learned, “are upset that a lot of families are being displaced and that now all these students are coming in and making noise. We can’t have dormitories. We need to stop that.”

Inlaw also said she considers herself an advocate for LGBT rights as a result of being raised by her uncle, who’s gay, and her grandmother. She called Duane an “amazing” senator. “He’ll be a tough act to follow.”

Though her background is in journalism (she worked for several years for ABC News Radio and for the network’s TV show, “The View”), Inlaw said she “got the bug” for politics from her husband, Evan Inlaw. He had run for a City Court judge position in Yonkers in 2005, and won at the primary level, but lost the general election. Meanwhile, Inlaw was active in the campaign, talking to district residents about their problems and finding that she wanted to do more than she could do at the time. This was just to steer those individuals to the right city agency or public official.

Inlaw around that time also got involved in advocacy work, becoming president of her local chapter of the NAACP. She held that position until a few years ago, and said when she heard about the Senate seat for what will soon become the 27th District, she just decided to go for it.

“I’m a teacher at a Bronx elementary school, and I feel I’m the best candidate because I have no special interests behind me,” said Inlaw.

Though Inlaw knew Hoylman was all but officially endorsed by Duane on that first day, she said she wasn’t going to be deterred by any political “machine.”

“I’ve seen that before with just one candidate, but how can you call that democracy?” she said.

She added that as a senator, she would be an advocate for the middle class, which she feels is now shut out of the political process.

“Barack Obama is a black president, so color is not the shut-out anymore; it’s class,” she said.

“Middle income people don’t have opportunities anymore. It used to be that as long as you had a good education, you could buy a house. Now you could have a good education and have to live with your parents. And I don’t want my daughter living with me when she’s 40.”

Inlaw, who’s 38, began her career in education not long after having children. She now has a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. The idea originally was to be a stay-at-home mom, but that didn’t last too long.  “I needed a break,” she admitted, “and you don’t get any break as a stay-at-home mom.” She also noted she she’s “about to be a single mom,” since she’s in the midst of a divorce from Evan.

On matters related to education, Inlaw said if elected, she would fight to create smaller classrooms and have additional support via assistant teachers for special education classes. She also said she wanted to “bring back extra curricular and arts programs,” which are the first things cut from any school budget. “Every child should have the opportunity for a well-rounded education,” she said.

Bullying is also a focus, with Inlaw saying one way to help stop it would be to demand accountability of the schools where it happens. However, she stressed it should be done in a way that doesn’t shame the schools or administrators, since that approach too often leads to incidents of violence or other problems being swept under the rug. She also thinks it’s important to create a classroom environment that’s rigorous. “That’s what we need — to make kids more competitive.”

And Inlaw says she’s the voice of experience on that topic, being the first person in her family to graduate from college. She got her bachelor’s degree from SUNY Purchase and later her master’s in education from Hunter. She also attended a specialized high school, La Guardia, studying drama.

She also wants to see hydrofracking completely banned and focus on repairs needed to the city’s infrastructure, including bridges and tunnels. The work would create jobs and not the minimum wage sort. (She also supports raising the minimum wage.)

On issues of housing, Inlaw, who grew up in a Mitchell-Lama building, said fighting for affordable housing is a top priority.

Repealing the Urstadt Law is also a goal. Obviously, Inlaw said she knows what she’s up against in Albany with the Republican majority frequently blocking any tenant legislation. However, she said if elected, she would try to plow through the bipartisan divide by being willing to give and take at the negotiating table.

“(Right now) everything is landlocked because everyone is holding fast to their own opinions and not seeing how it is through someone else’s eyes,” she said. “We have to come together. Even if someone’s attacking me, I’ll agree with them, and that disarms them. They’ll hear me, because I hear them. People want to be heard.”

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