“Education is my catalyst for change. Other people have different platforms. Mine is education,” Rita Joseph, a candidate for City Council, told BKReader.
Joseph, an educator and mother of four sons, lives in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. She is campaigning in the Democratic primary to represent District 40, which includes portions of Flatbush, Kensington and Midwood.
A Haitian immigrant, Joseph has been a teacher for 20 years, currently at P.S. 6. She is a newcomer to politics with experience in activism and organizing.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work in my community already and thought that I could get more done with a bigger platform,” Joseph said, explaining why she threw her hat into the political ring.
Joseph entered a crowded field of rivals to replace longtime Councilmember Mathieu Eugene. He has represented the district since a special election in 2007. Brian Cunningham, who narrowly lost to Eugene in the last election cycle, is one of Joseph’s main opponents.
“So far, so good,” Joseph said about her first political campaign.
Indeed, her campaign raised $20,600, according to figures reported in January to the NYC Campaign Finance Board, outpacing Cunningham who reported $20,297 for that same period.
Joseph wants voters to know that she may lack public office experience but has a wealth of experience in helping to shape public policy. Her resume includes an appointment by State Sen. Kevin Parker to serve as chair of the Neighborhood Advisory Board and an appointment by Council Speaker Corey Johnson to the citywide Participatory Budgeting Committee.
“The district has a lot that needs to be done,” Joseph responded when asked to imagine what she would do on her first day in office if elected. “A little bit of everything with the help of everyone in the district.”
It is no surprise that transforming the public school system is one of the items at the top of her agenda. She envisions increasing community involvement in public schools through community events, after school programs, and other community partnerships. Joseph also wants to increase access to technology and to close the tech gap for students from low-income families.
Obtaining affordable housing is a significant problem for many residents in her district. It’s something she would immediately address, along with reigning in “predatory landlords” who are pushing tenants out of their homes to make way for newcomers who can afford higher rents.
“New buildings are going up, but no one can afford to pay the rent. My neighbors don’t make enough to pay $2,000 rent that is way above their budget,” she stated.
She has an eye on other reforms. Part of her public safety agenda would include a renewed effort to improve community policing in neighborhoods of color.
Joseph said her community has not had a good relationship with the police over the years. “I should not have to fear that my boys are going out in my car and getting pulled over for no reason,” she said. “I am not just concerned about my four boys but for Black and Latino boys throughout the city.”
Her police reform agenda goes further. “Our campaign has pledged to #DefundTheNYPD & not to take campaign contributions from law enforcement unions,” the candidate tweeted on June 3.
The defund movement demands that Mayor Bill de Blasio cut the NYPD’s $6 billion budget and redirect some of that money for other needs.
“Those funds should go toward reinvesting in our communities,” Joseph insisted.
With the primary election just weeks away, Joseph is campaigning and continuing to do community service in a COVID-19 environment. She is using Zoom and social media for meetings and to get the word out about food and PPE distributions in one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods at the height of the pandemic.
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