Monday, June 22, 2020
Rep. Yvette Clarke faced the battle of her political life in a Democratic primary in 2018 — and she's got an even trickier rematch on her hands with community organizer Adem Bunkeddeko.
The seven-term Brooklyn congresswoman insists she's a steady leader for New York's Ninth District, which has been at the center of both the coronavirus pandemic and the protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
"I have been on the progressive front lines of every single issue impacting our diverse district," Clarke said.
Bunkeddeko came within a surprising 2,000 votes of unseating Clarke two years ago. He's back for another shot in Tuesday's primary, claiming that Clarke is "out of touch and out of step."
"People are hungry for change," said Bunkeddeko. "They are fed up with the status quo. They want bolder and more transformative leadership."
The face-off is not a simple rerun of their 2018 battle. Clarke won by 53%-47% in the district that stretches through central Brooklyn, from progressive Prospect Heights and Crown Heights through Flatbush and into Midwood.
Councilmember Chaim Deutch, who represents a chunk of the less-liberal southern part of the district, is running this time. So is Isiah James, a self-styled progressive insurgent whose slogan is: "It's Time for Brooklyn To Join the Revolution."
Deutsch could peel off a slice of support from Clarke, who boasted of strong support from Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish voters in past races. But James could cost Bunkeddeko some liberal votes in the leafy brownstone neighborhoods around Prospect Park.
A last-minute controversy rocked the contest last week when Bunkeddeko charged that Clarke's campaign deliberately darkened his face in a flyer. Clarke rejected the claim as "preposterous."
Neighborhoods in the district have suffered some of the highest death rates in the entire nation from COVID-19. And it has been a hot spot for the mass rallies against racism and police brutality that have shaken the city and country.
All the candidates concede that the pandemic and the protests are wild cards in the race. But it's not clear who will benefit.
The pandemic has scrapped most traditional campaigning and most voters are expected to cast absentee ballots, raising questions about relative turnout in the candidates' strongholds.
Deutsch has echoed President Trump's complaints about the looting that accompanied some of the protests and shutdown of businesses to limit the spread of coronavirus. That may play well in Midwood but any perceived sympathy with Trump is political poison in the rest of the dark-blue district.
Bunkeddeko, 32, the son of Ugandan immigrants who has worked for community nonprofits, says the pandemic and racism crises underline the need for a louder voice from Brooklyn.
"For over a decade, Ms. Clarke was asleep at the wheel and her inaction has led to less affordable housing, less justice and less opportunity for the people of the district," he said.
Clarke, 55, is the scion of a legendary political family and succeeded her mother, Una Clarke, a councilmember.
She points out that she is the only black woman in the New York congressional delegation, a powerful selling point for the seat once held by trailblazing Rep. Shirley Chisholm.
"I will continue to be a vocal leader in Washington, D.C.," she said.
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