His name may not be familiar to most Brooklyn voters, but Khari Edwards has worked behind the scenes in the borough’s neighborhoods for decades.
Edwards resigned in August as vice president of external affairs at Brookdale Hospital to run for Brooklyn borough president. The extremely long hours made it impossible to focus on running his campaign.
“I’m eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day without the income coming in,” Edwards told BK Reader, joking about his decision to commit fully to campaigning.
“I’m enjoying this journey,” he added. “It’s been more exciting than I ever thought.”
Edwards isn’t starting a new career in politics. Rather, he views his run for office as a continuation of his 20 years in public service, which includes public policy work in the state Senate.
During his more than seven years at Brookdale, located in Brownsville, Edwards advocated for the hospital’s numerous “constituents” in nearby communities on issues ranging from health care to housing.
He helped the hospital provide resources to communities by reaching out to officials in city and state government.
“The borough president is a connector. I represented 1.3 million Brooklyn residents for Brookdale,” said Edwards, who grew up in Crown Heights and is the son of Caribbean immigrant parents.
Running with confidence
Edwards faces strong competition in the crowded field of candidates vying to replace term-limited Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
City Council members Antonio Reynoso and Robert Cornegy were expected to dominate the field.
Surprisingly, Edwards, who lacked the name recognition and campaign infrastructure, is in close second place behind Cornegy in fundraising.
“I’m keeping pace because I have 7,000 contacts in my phone, built over 20 years,” he explained. “People know I’m somebody who keeps his word.”
Far from overconfident, Edwards isn’t intimidated by his more experienced political rivals.
“If I was running for mayor, comptroller or City Council, I would be concerned because they would have the advantage of experience drafting legislation,” he stated.
“I have more years of representing the entire borough and more experience working in government offices. This is a grassroots job,” Edwards continued. “I know how to organize a food pantry and not just show up for one.”
“Until we can get everybody healthy, we can’t move forward,” Edwards said with respect to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Getting people vaccinated, along with wearing masks and social distancing, was the first step to a full recovery for the job market, small businesses and schools, he emphasized, adding that his administration would put more energy into communications.
“A part of the problem is that we haven’t done a good job at the grassroots level communicating with the average person,” he noted, explaining that there’s still a lot of misinformation circulating about the vaccine and the virus.
Addressing the borough’s affordable house crisis is another top agenda item.
Instead of the current 80/20 split, in which 20% of units in new housing developments are set aside for moderate income renters, Edwards wants a 60/40 split.
Under his plan, developers must make 60% of their units affordable if they want to receive a 421-A tax abatement.
His plan to help small businesses recover includes utilizing the borough president’s nonprofit fund to provide COVID relief. Edwards would also facilitate linkages between Brooklyn businesses by creating a portals and incentivizing partnerships between businesses.
Edwards recognizes the need for creative solutions to stem increased youth gun violence. In 2016, he launched a program at Brookdale named It Starts Here.
The program brought middle school and high school students to the hospital to hear from gun violence victims, see pictures and video of gunshot victims, and visit the morgue. It was a reality check for the youths.
As borough president, he would use discretionary funds to pay for schools in lower income, high crime communities to stay open after school as a safe havens. He said he would also work with unions to create vocational training for young people who don’t plan on going to college.
Edwards doesn’t see the borough president job as a stepping-stone to higher office.
“My intention is to be the best borough president,” he said. “We have work to do.”
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