By Michael Sainato
New York City Council Candidate Jabari Brisport, running for the 35th District seat in Brooklyn on November 7th, is gaining a surge of grassroots support from the Green Party, Democratic Socialists of America, and Bernie Sanders Progressives. His candidacy and the strong support behind it is serving as a pivotal testament to the growth in popularity that democratic socialism is experiencing in large part due to Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016. Brisport has become a poster candidate for Democratic Socialists, and his campaign’s energy so far could make him New York City’s own version of Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant. On September 21, Our Revolution formally endorsed Brisport’s campaign, just the second Green Party Candidate the organization Sanders founded last year has backed.
One of the defining issues of his campaign is affordable housing in his district, given the gentrification and wealth inequality prevalent throughout it and the rest of New York City.
“You can tweak the definition of what affordable means. It’s currently pegged to something called the AMI, Area Median Income, which is created by looking at all the incomes of all of New York City and some really wealthy neighborhoods in Westchester County, which makes it really high and therefore you get buildings that are labeled affordable but not affordable to some of the poorer communities such as Crown Heights. So a simple, technocratic thing you can do is to shift the definition is to be median by Zip Code or by local area, so that you get things that are affordable to actual communities,” Brisport said in an interview with me. “Then you can increase preference of members of those communities who can actually get into the lottery and live in those homes. You can do other things, such as like I’m looking to raise funds through new tax revenues. One is a tax on property-flipping, which is really rampant and pushing out a lot of Caribbeans. Another is a tax on vacancy, lot of empty condos, which is abhorrent in the face of our homelessness crisis. But taxing vacancy and property-flipping should create new revenue streams that can be used to subsidize more affordable housing.”
A large project Brisport is pushing for is the Bedford Union Armory, a large plot of defunct public land about the size of a city block, to be put into a community land trust governed and cared for by the people in the neighborhood rather than a proposal from a Trump friendly real estate company, BFC Partners, that offered to build a community recreation center in exchange for building luxury housing to pay for it. This real estate proposal has incited opposition in the neighborhood from Brisport and others who are already staving off increasing gentrification. He added, “I’m a Socialist, so I say that gentrification’s not caused by white people particularly. It’s caused by capitalism. It’s caused by the price tag and the commodification you push on land. So ultimately I would love to rip land and property out of the speculative market and place it into the public domain. A great way to do that is something called a community land trust, which is when community members incorporate into a non-profit and the city can sell over the land to them and they can steward it.”
Though socialism is used as a fear mongering tactic among centrists and conservatives, Brisport’s campaign has embraced the term and received overwhelming positive feedback in doing so, a testament to the growing support for Democratic Socialism in the United States.
“People like Bernie Sanders made it less of a dirty word. I’ve found that, even within my specific district, it’s a very left-leaning district and, in fact, you know, I’m running on the Green Party. I’m running third party. My district actually elected somebody on the Working Families Party ticket about a decade ago, so it’s a super-left-leaning district that’s not afraid to go outside the two main parties. The phrase Socialist really hasn’t turned too many people off. I’ve even said that phrase, that I believe gentrification is caused by capitalism, not white people and received resounding applause in audiences that were predominantly white, predominantly black. People understand that it’s a money issue that’s driving this,” Brisport explained, noting that running as a third party candidate provides him an opportunity to campaign based on his policy ideas and generate excitement in that manner rather than relying on running as a Democrat and expect to win within the confines of that label alone. “It’s actually been much less of a hurdle than I thought it would be. I’ve been saying I’m a Socialist at pretty much every single forum or event with no negative push back to it at all.”