Q&A with Chris LeBron, Assembly District 75 Candidate

Image via nyassembly.gov

BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Picture it: January 1, 2021. As New York City’s first COVID-era election cycle unfolds, online forums replace brick and mortar gatherings as the candidate vetting venue of choice. The format proves popular, with tenant organizations and block associations holding their own candidate forums alongside more traditional presenters such as political clubs. Flash forward one year and NYC has a new mayor, comptroller, Manhattan District Attorney, and District 3 City Councilmember—all charged with setting a course to guide the city through the post-pandemic era many thought we’d be in by now.

But as the Omicron variant demonstrated, life is full of game-changing twists—such as the one that came via a December 13, 2021 press release noting New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried will not seek reelection. The 2022 ballot was suddenly the first one in over five decades without Gottfried as a choice for the NYC Assembly District 75 seat. Those who would succeed him were quick to react, with several announcing their intent in little more than 24 hours after Gottfried’s announcement. The current crop of candidates is comprised of five-year Manhattan Community Board 4 (CB4) member Chris LeBron, current CB4 member and former CB4 Chair Lowell Kern, Manhattan Community Board 5 (CB5) member Layla Law-Gisiko, former leader of the Reimagine New York Commission’s support for workforce and small businessess Harrison Marks, Penn South Co-Op President Ambur Nicosia, and community organizer Tony Simone. (Campaigns have been suspended by former NYC Council staffer Louis Holden-Brown and Carl Wilson, formally NYC Council Speaker/District 3 rep Corey Johnson’s liaison to CB4.)

Two political clubs have already presented online opportunities to learn about the candidates. First up was Jan. 27’s Zoom-held forum sponsored by the Hell’s Kitchen Democrats (HKDems), available to view by clicking here. A Feb. 2 forum held by the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club can be viewed by clicking here. Chelsea Community News began our own coverage by sending an identical Q&A form to all candidates—which brings us to the below exchange with Chris LeBron.

Scott Stiffler for Chelsea Community News (CCNew): Why do you want the job, and what tone will you set to align yourself with, and/or set yourself apart, from your predecessor?

Photo of Chris LeBron by Nadia Leon.

Chris LeBron (Chris): The problems of the world I learned about in public school have not been solved, and I want to be part of the solution. The lack of action in this century has only worsened what we knew was happening in the 1980s. When I was growing up, my parents did not shield me from the drug and viral epidemic in the city. My mother was a block association president, precinct council chair, and educator. The problems were always discussed in my living room. I want to bring the attitude I was raised with to the table, one that does not shy away from hard conversations, harsh realities, and bright futures. The work of our community leaders four generations later is not complete, and it’s going to take institutional knowledge, structural change, and community power to get it done, together.

I love my neighbors because I believe in the power of inclusivity and diversity. Our district is strongest when we are all engaged. I’ve watched Assemblymember Gottfried perform his duties for my entire life, and his ability to recall past issues, letters and statements are an asset. He was there for block associations and for historically marginalized communities. I want to continue his legacy by moving to increase representation in government and in the neighborhoods I represent. I also would like to hear what everyone has to say. One way I want to do this is by hosting monthly district meetings where I can hear everyone’s thoughts and opinions. It is important to me that neighbors can come together, share and find a space to learn from one another, even when they differ, with respect.

CCNews: What currently enacted Assembly legislation can be strengthened or used in a different manner to further benefit the people you’re running to represent?

Chris: The Housing Stability and Tenant Protections Act needs to be strengthened. So long as tenants are afraid of eviction at the end of their lease period for requesting heat or basic protected services, we have a problem. I believe in the Good Cause Eviction campaign and the bills need to be passed. Doing so will further stabilize populations of young New Yorkers and provide greater opportunity for community investment.

Additionally, I believe Housing Development Fund Corporation Cooperatives (HDFC) are wrongly grouped into housing laws that prevent proper co-op governance and maintenance. While I understand the need to cap the amount of rent that is increased lease over lease, HDFCs ability to properly maintain common spaces and infrastructure is often tied to rent that can be collected. This is not a proposal to allow HDFCs to increase the rent on apartments to what is considered market value but a different side of the same coin. I believe HDFCs and community land trusts are the most efficient and immediate way to provide sound housing to a market that is currently starved by industry design. These will allow for neighborhood alliances, block associations, and advocates to govern how a property is developed, providing an opportunity to create specifically affordable housing spaces.

CCNews: During last year’s primary races, we asked candidates what they’d do in January 2022, to create a strong “post-pandemic” NYC. Our assessment was too optimistic. How do you regard the pandemic as it currently stands, what is required before we can declare ourselves in a “post-pandemic” period, and what should we be doing now, at the state level, to facilitate that?

Chris: I believe that the optimism of last year’s primary was rooted in the assumption that actions and events would be stronger than opposition to science and communal compassion. The thought was that through hope we would find the light at the end of the tunnel without leaning on lessons learned in history or facts health experts and policy analysts brought forward. Our city, state, and federal government took a victory lap on a proverbial aircraft carrier and ignored the nature of the virus, consumer behavior trends, and political trends amplified by social media.

Our previous Mayor, who failed Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea, truly proved unable to walk and chew gum at the same time by not taking a balanced, fact-based approach to combating the pandemic. The emphasis was solely on vaccines, and no plans were made to respond to school outbreaks and a winter spike with testing. In fact, the administration cut testing facilities which ultimately did not help during the rise of omicron. This left people like parents and workers in the lurch and too many people in the cold. I was one of those people and saw first its difficulties firsthand.

We are in a pandemic trench at the moment, but we can still climb out of the hole the last City Hall administration dug for us if our policies at the state level are executed well. That means we have to improve how we communicate the policy goals.

With just 25% of ALL Americans receiving their booster shot and yet another MRNA variant-focused vaccine on the horizon, the state needs to communicate why a vaccine mandate must be in place:

—To end an era where small businesses are constantly shuttering their doors

—To alleviate our healthcare system and workers

—To keep Broadway and Off Broadway open

—To make our schools safe for in-person education

—To safely visit immunocompromised friends and family members

—To return sidewalk space to pedestrians

—Redefine the vaccinated status of an individual as someone who is up to date with their Covid-19 boosters.

—Normalize the state providing access to Covid-19 tests. Covid-19 is not a seasonal disease. We’ve experienced both winter and summer spikes as people head indoors to get warm or cool down. The state needs to build out a robust testing infrastructure that includes at-home testing, test delivery, and walk-up centers that can handle shifts in volume that keep New Yorkers out of extreme weather as seasons change.

According to a US News survey, New York ranks 20th in healthcare access. To enter a post-pandemic state we need to improve healthcare access and improve our communications on the societal value of healthcare initiatives.

Lastly, we need to improve our small business grant application and dispersal process. We cannot be in a post-pandemic state with businesses struggling to pay bills and hire staff with every wave of COVID that we encounter. Failed businesses invite blight to our communities. Money must come from the state annually to supplement losses directly incurred from COVID-19. It needs to come from the federal government, we need to get creative with revenue streams and look at fair taxable opportunities to assure restaurants and other essential storefronts like book shops stay afloat.

CCNews: The time machine has been invented. Once you’ve played the stock market, it’s time to visit your younger self. What, if any, actions do you tell yourself to take or avoid—and what concert ticket do you buy?

Chris: I’m the beneficiary of growing up in a rent-stabilized apartment. Most of my friends do not have the luxury of rent-stabilized rights and so many of them are living in a state of housing insecurity. As a little boy, I always wanted to own the buildings on my block, including my own, because community is so important to me. My vision of execution has changed, but my heart is in the same place. At the end of the day, I still see myself as just a kid from the block, and I will do everything in my power to protect it.

If money was not an object, I would tell myself to purchase as many lots as possible to turn into housing co-ops and community land trusts. It is disgraceful just how much we fight for affordable housing on Manhattan Community Board 4 and then have to fight to make sure that the affordable apartments are built equitably to the market value apartments. My heart hurts when friends leave our communities because they’ve been priced out. This has been happening my entire life, and I am resolved to put a stop to it.

I remember an evening I walked by Roseland Ballroom, hoping maybe someone had an extra ticket for the venue’s final concert. It was Lady Gaga. That ballroom was fantastic! I saw some great concerts there. Tickets were sold out and it was promoted as the concert of the year. The line outside, the buzz of the pre-show excitement—what it would have felt to be inside celebrating and saying goodbye to that wonderful building. As a fan of live music, losing Roseland Ballroom hurt. As a representative of the district, I will work to protect landmarks like that which hold the heart of the community in their walls.

CCNews: The current Assemblymember is often seen alongside the Manhattan Borough President, our District 3 Councilmember, State Senator Brad Hoylman, and Congressmember Jerrold Nadler at press conferences or as a signee to action-oriented letters (often generated by Community Board 4). How will you work local elected officials and stakeholders to advance matters of mutual importance?

Chis: I have enjoyed participating in boroughwide and statewide working groups put together by the former Manhattan Borough President and downstate leadership. Being invited to participate as a tenant advocate to provide insight on the plight of illegal hotels on affordable housing is a practice that I hope to continue providing to other community advocates as Assemblymember. When elected officials are discussing policy with others, advocates and community leaders of the affected neighborhoods need to be a part of this process. I believe lived experience is a strong tool in getting stakeholders to act. I’m going to continue working with Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, West Side Neighborhood Alliance, and elected officials such as Erik Bottcher, Keith Powers, and Brad Hoylman.

When letters are written on behalf of an organization, it should be a part of that process. I believe local officials should function as mediators and work hard to create an intergovernmental response to solve issues like sanitation and tenant harassment, to name a few.

It is imperative that communications with the levels of government—Community board, City Council, State Representatives and Congress—stay open to ensure services are provided. There is an intimacy that comes with an assembly district which requires the elected official to act as an ombudsman but expressing mutual importance of issues cannot be done alone.

Which is why as the next assemblymember, I look forward to continuing my work with the advocates and organizations I have supported time and time again. These skills and experiences are transferable to ensure that community needs receive the broad coalition support they so justly deserve.

CCNews: Conflict and Compromise: What do these words mean to you, in terms of their role in being an effective Assemblymember?

Chris: To me, conflict is when there is tension between people around an issue and compromise is its solution. However, compromise necessitates that both parties only get some of their way, and that concessions are made for the benefit of the group as a whole.

The welfare of the 75th Assembly District is of the utmost importance to me. In order to be an effective Assemblymember, I know I cannot have one without the other. No one should not anticipate a complete lack of conflict amongst constituents or colleagues, and I don’t see conflict as inherently bad. I think we need to constantly be challenged in order to grow as people and professionals. I know that people have differing opinions about everything from housing justice to bike lanes, and I want to be the middleman between problems and their solutions.

CCNews: Favorite Golden Girl, and why: Blanche, Dorothy, Sophia, or Rose?

Chris: Sophia, because she reminds me of my abuela Isabel, who migrated to the mainland from Puerto Rico. This is my dad’s mom. She’s still here, living in Amsterdam Houses. My grandmother had nothing more than a third grade education when she migrated here with my grandfather.  She’s literate and still insists on signing her name on birthday cards, Christmas cards, doctor’s appointments. I don’t think when she moved to the United States she’d ever imagine a grandchild or great-grandchild running for public office. That’s on my mind every time I sign off on an email or an Op-Ed–never more so than when I filed with the state to formally register as a candidate.

CCNews: You took the time to answer our questions—even that last one, which, frankly, was a little gimmicky. So in the interest of fairness, we end by turning the tables: What one question do you want people to ask themselves when casting their vote in your race?

Chris: How is my vote in this election and the next and the next helping this candidate create or strengthen programs that have a lasting positive impact on my life and the lives of others?



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