By David Brand
A Queens District Attorney candidates forum tonight at the Queensbridge Houses is the latest phase in a long-term project to engage voters and other residents in the nation’s largest public housing complex.
The forum takes place tonight at 6 p.m. at the Jacob Riis Settlement, about six weeks after Vocal-NY’s Action Fund began an ambitious voter registration drive and door-knocking campaign in the Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses. The initiative enabled community organizers to reach residents in every single apartment in the two complexes.
“We’ve been in Queensbridge and Ravenswood for weeks, we’ve been through both housing complexes multiple times and we’re looking forward to having residents come out to hear the candidates and get out to the polls,” said community organizer Jeremy Saunders.
VOCAL-NY advocates to end mass incarceration, homelesness, the AIDS epidemic and drug overdoses, especially in low-income communities of color. Though the VOCAL-NY Action Fund endorsed public defender Tiffany Cabán for Queens DA, Saunders said the get-out-the-vote initiative remained non-partisan.
Saunders said the coalition did not register as many voters as they had hoped partly because many residents were already registered. The initiative served as an effective awareness campaign for an off-year election for an office that has not seen a competitive race in nearly three decades, he said.
To further complicate matters, a new state law moved the Democratic and Republican primaries to June instead of the traditional September date in order to consolidate state and federal primaries on the same day.
“Especially when it comes to new election dates and off-year elections, it’s really critical we get out and tell people,” Saunders said. “The most exciting part is the race for a progressive DA has really captured the minds of a lot of residents.”
The vast majority of Queensbridge and Ravenswood tenants are black or Latinx, and the median household income in Queensbridge is $15,843.
Low-income people of color are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system and have a special interest in policies and procedures of the next DA, Saunders said.
“I think there’s real interest and desire to elect someone who is going to speak for the will of the people, both for criminal justice issues as well as additional issues that district attorneys are able to take advantage of,” he said. “What kind of alternatives to incarceration are they able to put out? What are the policies that provide support for people instead of arresting them and sending them to jail? How will they use their bully pulpit to push for progressive change?”