By Sabina Mollot
On April 24, four candidates will be on the ballot in the hope of winning the now-vacant Assembly seat previously occupied by State Senator Brian Kavanagh.
Out of those four, two are Third Party candidates, Juan Pagan of the Reform Party and Adrienne Craig-Williams of the Green Party. They will face off against Democrat Harvey Epstein and Republican Bryan Cooper.
Craig-Williams, a resident of the East Village (formerly Peter Cooper Village), is running on a platform of justice system reform and affordable housing.
Prior to the holiday weekend, she discussed her campaign with Town & Village over coffee at Ninth Street Espresso (which is actually on East 10th Street).
Craig-Williams, 37, officially launched her campaign at the beginning of March. She would have started sooner, but didn’t know she was running until February when an expected party candidate decided to back out.
However, Craig-Williams, who’s been active in her party since 2004, usually to help champion its candidates, insisted she’s in it to win it.
Responses to her candidacy have been encouraging, she said, and no one has attempted to talk her out of it. “I don’t think people consider the Green Party a threat,” she admitted, “unless they want to blame the party for something.”
She recalled often getting yelled at while trying to support Ralph Nader in 2014, but said voters have been more responsive to her own bid for office, likely because they’re interreacting with the actual candidate and not a surrogate. While canvassing at the lower end of the district up to 23rd Street, she’s gotten some encouragement from residents of the district as well as some of the blatant hostility normally reserved for candidates who are not left of center.
Recently she strolled through the Baruch Houses, and found that some of the residents there wouldn’t even let her say anything else after hearing she was running for office.
“They said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you because you’re a politician,’” said Craig-Williams. In response, she would tell them that she wasn’t a Republican or a Democrat. Asked if this made a difference, she said yes; “Sometimes it did.”
Once able to get people chatting at Baruch, she found that NYCHA residents wanted, along with more money for public housing, better trash collection, which Craig-Williams said she supports “100 percent” and a fix to the problem caused by the way trash is collected, which is an increase in rats.
“One woman has to run to work in the mornings,” said Craig-Williams. “She’s scared because they’re everywhere. I would do whatever I could to allocate more money.”
Meanwhile, the candidate, currently a full-time graduate student of childhood education, has also found that one of the biggest challenges is voter education. The biggest obstacle is that many district residents believe they can’t vote for her because they’re not registered as Green voters.
“They think I’m running against other Democrats in a primary,” she said. “I may not convince them to vote Green Party, but I’ll let them know it’s an option.”
She also acknowledges her own party needs to get a lot better about self-promotion, but added that this is tough when working on a truly grassroots level.
“It’s hard when it’s all volunteers,” said Craig-Williams. “There’s one paid Green Party person in the state.”
There are also only 275 registered Green voters in the entire district.
“We have an extremely low voter turnout and it’s no surprise when you feel you have no control in Albany,” said Craig-Williams.
If she does manage to get elected, though, a major priority is affordable housing. Along with wanting to strengthen rent regulations for stabilized tenants, she also wants to see more protections for market-rate renters. In regulated buildings, she wants to see a moratorium on buyouts, but give tenants the first right of refusal to purchase their homes at prices set by an appraisal board.
Craig-Williams wants a rent cap for seniors, people with disabilities and people with HIV/AIDS so they don’t pay more than one-third of their incomes on rent.
She also wants to see people using apartments as a pied-à-terre taxed for the privilege.
“If you’re in an apartment you don’t use, you should be taxed higher and that would support subsidies for other rents,” she said. “People should be able to live in the city they work. No more than a third of your income should be spent on housing.”
She would also like to raise taxes for those earning over $1 million.
Her website notes that as a student teacher, she also is focused on education, and wants to reduce racial segregation through affirmative action, ending public funding for charters, reducing class size, discontinuing high stakes testing and ending the standardized testing model.
She also wants to push for criminal reform, supporting raising the age, ending cash bail and pushing education rather than punishment for incarcerated individuals.
Like all Greens, Craig-Williams is for “100 percent peace” and never war. “I think George W. Bush should be prosecuted for international war crimes,” she added.
Locally, an issue of concern is climate change and planning for housing emergencies within the district before the next Sandy hits.
“People are going to have to move in the long run and I want it to be done fairly,” she said. “Most of this district is in Zone A (for flooding) and I want them to be able to move in an equitable manner, so we’re not scrambling.”
In terms of her values, she isn’t too dissimilar from Epstein, who became the Democratic nominee in a county committee vote earlier this year, and, like those who win a Democratic primary, is expected to win the race easily.
On Epstein, Craig-Williams said, “Harvey is a good candidate. He has good ideas, but he’s a Democrat and he can move more to the left.”
A native of Denver, Colorado, Craig-Williams has lived in New York City since 2004, after falling in love at first sight during a visit. This was when she was a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since 2009, she’s lived in the East Side district she now hopes to serve, which includes the East Village, Stuyvesant Town, Waterside, Gramercy, Kips Bay and Tudor City. At first she lived in Peter Cooper Village, then Avenue A in the East Village, then Peter Cooper again, and now, with her husband, James Masters, a computer programmer, once again she lives in the East Village.
While she never planned to get involved in politics until recently, Craig-Williams said she became more involved in her own party in 2011, after getting inspired by the activism seen during Occupy Wall Street.
“I wasn’t really a part of it but I saw what they were doing and I got encouraged,” she said.
In 2012 she campaigned for Jill Stein and then in 2014 for Howie Hawkins’ bid for governor against Andrew Cuomo.
She’s now a member of the Green Party of New York’s Executive Committee, a county representative on the State Committee and the chair of the GPNY Web Committee. She is also county secretary and was previously county treasurer.
Craig-Williams hasn’t yet secured endorsements, and hasn’t really fundraised, though so far she’s managed to collect about $1,400 for her staunchly anti-war chest.