Correcting the Record in the District 35 NYC Council Race

Hundreds of tenants & workers march on Council Member Laurie Cumbo’s district office demanding she “Kill the Deal” that put luxury housing on public land at the Bedford-Union Armory, on April 17, 2017.

As long-time tenants of Crown Heights, we have watched our neighborhood be destroyed by corporate landlords, real estate developers, and the politicians who work for them. Those in power have remade our neighborhood to serve the interests of wealthier and often whiter residents for a long time. But within the past 8 years, during Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo’s tenure, we’ve witnessed this corporate destruction increase exponentially. Now, her long-time supporter and former staffer Crystal Hudson is running to replace her in the City Council; but Hudson’s record leads us to believe she will usher in 8 more years of developer-driven displacement which we cannot afford.

Gentrification is not caused by our new neighbors, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It is caused by conscious decisions, made by people who hold political power, to hand over our public land and resources to private players with hopes of spurring neighborhood investment. These people don’t care about Black and brown folks — they only care about profit. The clearest example of this dynamic is the egregious development of the Bedford-Union Armory. In this instance, Cumbo and Mayor de Blasio not only gave away an entire block of City-owned land to Trump-supporting developers: they also invested millions of public dollars to subsidize the luxury housing component while lying to the public about it, ensuring that the Armory would result in unaffordable housing and zero union construction jobs.

The Armory might be the most outrageous example of Cumbo’s collusion with developers, but it is not the only one: she also worked to pass de Blasio’s racist Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) policy, and promoted the development of market-rate housing on NYCHA properties. That’s why, when Cumbo was up for re-election in 2017, we worked hard to oppose her campaign and helped make the pro-developer housing policies she supported central to the race.

Laurie Cumbo shows up uninvited and gives an early stump speech at a joint CHTU and NYC-DSA workshop about the Bedford-Union Armory, January 14, 2017, St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf.

Today, Crystal Hudson is running for City Council in District 35 and claims that she always opposed the Armory project, distancing herself from the harmful public policies of Cumbo, her former employer. In an op-ed for Bklyner in November of last year, Hudson disavowed the project, stating that she “later worked for” Cumbo after the approval, and not before. And at a recent forum hosted by performance space Jack, Hudson doubles down on her dishonesty, saying matter-of-factly to a sizeable crowd, “I was not working for Laurie Cumbo at the time that she made the decision on the Bedford-Union Armory.”

But that decision was made after late-night negotiations on November 20, 2017, ahead of the meeting of the NYC Council Land Use Committee the following morning. Campaign finance records show that Hudson began working as Cumbo’s campaign treasurer in November 2016, a full year prior to the Armory approval. Those same records show that Hudson’s last paycheck as a campaign staffer was issued on November 28, 2017, a full week after the Armory decision was made. As the campaign treasurer who cut the check, Hudson would certainly be aware of this detail.

Source: NYC Campaign Finance Board — www.nyccfb.info/follow-the-money/

Back in 2017, when members of the CHTU, New York Communities for Change, NYC Democratic Socialists of America, Laborers Local 79, Crown Heights Community Council, Picture the Homeless, The Legal Aid Society, Tenants & Neighbors, The Black Institute, Movement To Protect the People and elected officials like Diana Richardson and Jabari Brisport were putting their bodies on the line to block the Armory project, Crystal Hudson was running afoul of the NYC Campaign Finance Board to help get Laurie Cumbo re-elected. 4 years ago at the height of the Armory fight, the choice was clear: you stand with real estate developers, or you stand with the community. In that moment, when the battle was hard and we needed someone on the inside to stand up for us, Crystal Hudson chose the other side.

2 weeks after winning re-election, Cumbo approved the Armory project and Hudson took a senior staff position in Cumbo’s office where she oversaw land use matters. Hudson personally negotiated with the developers and lobbyists behind several destructive rezoning attempts, including the 2018 Franklin Ave. rezoning and the 960 Franklin Ave. rezoning, representing Cumbo in closed-door meetings and public hearings alike.

Lobbying disclosure showing $20,000 paid by Cornell Realty, the developer behind the 2018 Franklin Ave. Rezoning, to 99 Solutions LLC to target Crystal Hudson for project approval. A staffer with no decision-making power would never get their own line item. This is one of dozens of disclosures, found at the Office of The NYC Clerk — https://bmp.nyc.gov/elobbyist/search

At a recent forum on housing and development, Hudson stated that she “doesn’t believe in backroom deals” despite the overwhelming number of publicly-available lobbying disclosures suggesting otherwise. Developers don’t pay lobbyists hundreds of thousands of dollars to target someone with no say or influence over the approval process. All the while, Hudson never made any effort to engage tenants and small business owners directly impacted by those negotiations, nor did she ever attend CB9 Land Use Committee meetings to hear from local residents.

Yet now she claims her firsthand knowledge of the corrupt approval process is what qualifies her to fix it?

No. Our memories are long. Voters in District 35 should know that Crystal Hudson has caused real, tangible harm to our community, and because of her actions, Black and brown working-class tenants have been displaced. On the June 22nd primary ballot, which allows for ranked choice voting, we encourage voters not to vote for or rank Crystal Hudson, and instead rank any of the other candidates in the race, many of whom stood with us when both developers and City Hall were plotting our demise. We urge you to ask your family and neighbors and everyone you know to do the same. We need elected representatives with integrity who won’t lie to us, and who will stand up to real estate for good jobs and real affordable housing, not just during campaign season, and not just when it’s convenient.

The Crown Heights Tenant Union (CHTU) is an autonomous, all-volunteer union of tenants and tenant associations founded in 2013 to stop the cycle of displacement in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We hold politicians accountable, put slumlords out of business, organize for stronger tenant protections, and build tenant power at the local, city, and state level.

The CHTU is an autonomous, all-volunteer union of tenants founded in 2013 to stop the cycle of displacement in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.