Jabari Brisport recalls accompanying his mother to the polls to vote at Teunis G. Bergen Elementary School (PS9) in Prospect Heights, down the street from his childhood playground. His family has lived in the neighborhood for decades, and now he’s running for City Council to represent the district he calls home.
Campaigning for a seat as a first-time candidate does not come without challenges. In a historically Democratic district, Brisport stands out as a Green Party candidate running against incumbent Laurie Cumbo who beat challenger, Ede Fox, in the primaries on Tuesday.
But, Brisport is confident they’ll have a chance to introduce a more progressive platform to an already “very active left group.”
Name recognition is Brisport’s biggest challenge. The 29-year-old theater-based activist is an open socialist, but warming people up to socialism has proven to be a difficult task.
“I’ve been saying it and reminding people that it’s in the name. It’s social, instead of about capital. It’s about society. It’s about people,” Brisport said.
Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign sparked a resurgence in democratic socialism across the country. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) — who have endorsed Brisport’s campaign — grew from 8,500 members on Election Day 2016 to 24,000 members in July 2017, according to the group.
“After the Democratic primary last year, there were a number of people who left the Democratic Party,” said Virginia Ramos, Brisport’s Campaign Manager and Steering Committee Representative for NYC DSA. “The Green Party was one of the places they went.”
Brisport’s frustrations with the Democratic Party during the Obama Administration ultimately led him to leave the party last year. He credits the Sanders campaign for reviving his hope in third parties and sparking an interest in the decentralized anti-capitalist Green Party platform.
“I’m an open socialist. I came to socialism last summer as I was thinking about the links between capitalism and racism and just thinking about how black people were brought here as capital,” Brisport said. “That’s capitalism in a nutshell. You put a price tag on things that shouldn’t have a price tag.”
Brisport is running on a platform that focuses on shifting the power to communities. On issues like policing, jobs, and housing, Brisport envisions a community that sets policies and has elected oversight.
“When DAPL [Dakota Access Pipeline] was happening, I thought if the workers had control over the pipeline company, we wouldn’t build that shit through any burials grounds. We would take those pipes and fix the pipes in Flint,” Brisport said.
Beating Green Party challenger, Scott Hutchins with 89 percent of the vote — which amounts to 31 votes total — Bripsort is optimistic about facing Cumbo in the general elections come November.
“Having a third party candidate that seems like a rational person and is kind of charismatic — as I’ve been called, I’m not just tooting my own horn — has provided a lot of steam for the campaign,” Brisport said.
As a Green Party candidate, Brisport hopes to offer voters an alternative to the current two party systems, particularly for progressives who are dissatisfied with the direction of the Democratic Party.
But, the Democrats have a strong foothold in Brooklyn. There are nearly one million registered Democratic voters in the borough compared the 2,700 registered Green voters, according to the New York State Board of Elections.
Standing outside of PS 9 — the most highly trafficked polling station in the district — on the morning of the primaries, campaigners from different camps make last minute appeals to passersby. One of those campaigners is Duke Saunders who is passing out flyers for Cumbo.
“She’s very progressive, and she takes care of our people and the community,” Saunders said. “She has helped keep the rents low and create affordable housing. I believe in her. I believe in who she is. She is an advocate for the community.”
Democratic voters in the 35th District appear to agree as Cumbo took home 58 percent of the votes in the primaries. But, not without some competition from Fox who brought in 41 percent of votes.
“Going up against an incumbent is always a challenge,” Fox said.
“We’ve had a very enthusiastic, motivated volunteer base and our supporters in unions and political folks that supported us really came out and spent a lot of time helping us reach voters,” she added.
A self-proclaimed neighborhood activist, Matthew Weinstein moved to Prospect Heights from Brighton Beach in 2004. Standing in front of his brownstone plastered with Ede Fox flyers and a large peace sign hanging on the door, he talks about the diversity in the neighborhood.
“The beauty of this neighborhood is its diversity and the fact that you have all kinds of people here,” Weinstein said,
Weinstein believes gentrification is one of the biggest issues facing the district and says that Cumbo’s ties with real estate developers — in the case of the Bedford Union Armory, for example — k keep her priorities linked to moneyed interests.
Though he campaigned for Fox and is a huge supporter of her, he’s open to supporting Brisport and the Green Party.
“I think that he takes good positions on things and come November I will definitely consider supporting him,” Weinstein said. “I think we need new formations that represent working people and represent working families.”
The results from the 2016 Democratic primaries in New York City showed overwhelming support for Clinton in the 35th District. But, this district has a history of not just voting down party lines. In 2003, the 35th District voted for third party candidate Leticia James, now Public Advocate of the city.
“If it’s gonna happen, this is the race to do it,” Brisport said.