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In Brooklyn State Senate Race, David Alexis Goes for the Upset Against Corporate-Friendly Kevin Parker

The former Uber driver has mobilized a grassroots campaign to counter an entrenched incumbent.

John Tarleton, Yastika Guru & Molly Morrow Aug 19

David Alexis wants a Green New Deal for New York, universal healthcare, stronger tenant protections and more investment in non-policing solutions to crime. This first-time candidate is unfailingly upbeat and always ready to answer another question. His campaign has mobilized hundreds of volunteers from the Democratic Socialists of America. It has knocked on more than 60,000 doors in State Senate District 21 which encompasses a swath of neighborhoods from Park Slope to Flatbush to Flatlands. But, will it be enough?

His opponent Kevin Parker has held the seat for two decades. When Parker makes the news it’s usually for all the wrong reasons: Punching a traffic agent who cited him for double parking, being convicted of two counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief for attacking a newspaper photographer, screaming at a female state senator and calling her a “bitch”, tweeting “Kill yourself” at a legislative staffer and just this past week for using thousands of dollars in campaign donations to treat his staff to luxury food, travel and jewelry

Parker’s biggest scandal, arguably, is that he has received more than $100,000 in campaign donations in his career from fossil-fuel interests. Parker also chairs the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee where progressive climate change legislation has traditionally gone to die.

The Democratic Party establishment is all in for Parker as are wealthy donor-class Democrats eager to stop any further socialist incursions into Brooklyn’s heavily Black and Caribbean neighborhoods following the 2020 upset victories of DSA-backed State Senator Jabari Brisport and Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest

Kevin Parker on the NY State Senate floor. Photo: nysenate.gov.

Alexis, a rideshare driver and former home-healthcare aide, is a co-founder of the Driver’s Cooperative, an app-based platform that allows riders to hail drivers without having through a middleman like Uber that gouges consumers and exploits workers. He’s been endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Working Families Party and a slew of progressive community groups. He’s eager to serve but at a moment when older, more conservative Democrats hold sway in the party, can he persuade enough of them to give him a chance?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Indypendent: You’ve made your support for public power one of the centerpieces of your campaign. How are you framing your support for a Green New York in your district? And what kind of response are you getting from the people of Flatbush and other adjacent neighborhoods?

David Alexis: To me, this is a kitchen-table issue that isn’t being acknowledged as such. We’re looking at the impact of rising energy costs. People are afraid of not being able to stay in their homes because of rising costs. They are afraid of a lack of opportunities, sanitation issues, etc. The idea of a Green New York gets people excited, because it’s tied to the major issues we’re talking about: rent, access to jobs, public safety, sanitation. 

Can you talk about how your family’s experiences with the health care system have influenced your politics on public health care?

The idea of a Green New York gets people excited,” Alexis says.

It had everything to do with it. I’ve talked a lot about my wife and kids, but I can even speak to my brother’s experience. My brother has to have a CPAP machine. The company that he bought it from went out of business overnight. And because of how insurance covers reimbursements, they were not able to cover the repair of his machine or buy him another one. He literally had to use duct tape and some elbow grease to fix equipment that is necessary for his health. With my wife, she has sickle cell anemia, which is a condition they don’t consider worth investing money in. Her care was pushed back or certain treatments weren’t covered — because the insurance company decided they weren’t worth it. 

You’ve written about your belief that policing shouldn’t be the primary response to people’s safety needs, and about the importance of trauma-informed care and counselors. Can you elaborate on your New Deal for Public Safety? What is the time frame of this vision?

The idea is to have something that can be implemented relatively quickly, in the span of months. I think the next step is speaking with key stakeholders and having discussions about the vision with the community. We also need a clear idea on how much we spend on police as a whole, and see what else we could be spending money on — mental health counselors, the Cure Violence program, librarians, after-school programs, and mentorship and apprenticeship programs, which are proven to intervene and prevent crime and violence. At the heart of violence is poverty.

The vision and the specific ideas you’re proposing are very substantive responses to a very complex phenomena. But it seems like a built-in advantage a pro-policing argument has is that it promises a rapid response and solution to the problem, whereas the nature of these deep, substantive solutions is that they will take more time to prove that they are successful. How do you balance having a long-term vision that might work versus the desires of your constituents who may want to see more immediate solutions?

When we knock on doors, we constantly talk about the importance of after-school programs as something that has an immediate impact in helping the youth. Some of this infrastructure already exists, and some are recently defunded or are being maintained by nonprofit organizations.

David Alexis with his two daughters on the campaign trail in August. Photo: Twitter/@David4BK.

Tell us more about your experience with the drivers Co-Op, and what this taught you about organizing?

It was a result of organizing with drivers. Uber and Lyft started cutting the wages at the end of 2016 or 2017 and adding additional fees for drivers — actions that exploit a vulnerable group of workers. There was organizing from the Taxi Workers Alliance, who have been driving community organizations to push back. We were able to get a minimum wage at the end of 2018. One thing that was constantly discussed was the need to get our own app, because then we didn’t need a middleman to connect passengers and drivers. And that’s why we started.

Can you relate the way you approached organizing the drivers Co-Op to your vision for how you would perform as a state senator?

Absolutely. Drivers are notoriously hard to contact since their workplaces are never in the same place every day. You have to have to speak to drivers on Zoom, via phone, etc. Because a large number of our drivers are Bengali or Chinese, you go to places where they congregate. I don’t speak Bangla, or Mandarin or Cantonese for that matter. I go into these communities in a respectful way and find community leaders to work with. You treat them as an equal partner and stakeholder in the project. This is the same kind of work you do with labor organizing, voter registration, or even for a campaign. You’re going into someone else’s space. If you’re able to do it in a way that acknowledges the norms and mores of the people you’re working with, it is easy to bring them to the table.

Many people are fatalistic about the idea that the government or anyone else can do something to substantially improve their lives. What are your thoughts on how to break through that resignation?

There is a major lack of faith in politics at this point, because nothing has been delivered for the people. But we have created excitement about this vision because this vision is a partnership, where we, as elected officials, engage in conversations with voters in the district, through community organizations, town halls and other mediums. At the end of the day, people are not looking for someone to save them, but for the ability to do it for themselves.

Parker is known for his years of violent outbursts, mostly directed at women. But behind closed doors, he has always graciously served his major campaign donors. 

Kevin Parker has emphasized the fact that not only has he been a state senator for many years, but that before he served in other positions such as his local community board. Your opponent has held a lot of formal roles, and you’re coming from outside the official channels of the political system. What makes you a worthy candidate for voters to consider?

I think a lot of people have lost faith in the Democratic Party because they haven’t seen change. Parker has been in the seat for a long time, and I am just relaying what constituents have said: He has not provided for them; he hasn’t shown up and been present in the community. I’m making real efforts to listen to them, attend to their needs and work to build a better future together with them. Housing is one of the most painful issues being experienced across the state, and in this district rent has increased 5-7%. Parker took his name off the Good Cause Eviction bill. I want to support things like housing vouchers and more affordable housing.

Kevin Parker is also the chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications. It seems like he has recently become more supportive of the Build Public Renewables Act and is generally posturing more as an environmental champion. How much do you attribute his behavior to the campaign that you and the DSA are running? And why do you think he should still be replaced given that he’s shown more sympathy recently with the climate movement?

He only fights for it when it’s convenient. We need someone who is going to fight an uphill battle. Furthermore, some of the biggest entities in the Energy and Telecommunications Committee are part of the problem: Con Edison, National Grid, Verizon, Spectrum, etc.

How are you countering the onslaught of negative attack mailers financed by some of the wealthiest people in the city?

We have not only been going door-to-door and phone banking, but also to churches. We have spoken to people at a slew of community events and places, because the community needed to get a sense of who I am. The mailers are effective when they are allowed to paint you that way, and there’s still so many people that we need to reach. We need to give people something they can chew on, something that they can take with them to say that this guy is different and is worth taking a chance on.

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