Kenya Handy-Hilliard has an uncommon skill set for a candidate running their first political campaign for public office.
“I’ve been in this game for about 14 years, and I’ve seen it from behind the scenes,” Handy-Hilliard told BK Reader.
The former legislative aide to Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-District 9) is competing in a crowded field of candidates for City Council in the 40th district. But Handy-Hilliard said she’s the only candidate with solid federal, state and local government experience.
She recently stepped down from her position at the New York City Department of Investigation. DOI is tasked with identifying fraud waste and abuse in city agencies, among elected officials and city employees, as well as those doing business with the city.
That job gave her key insights into how city agencies are run and what challenges they face. While working for DOI, Handy-Hilliard said she witnessed first-hand the dysfunction of some agencies. There was also a lack of interagency coordination that hampers efficiency and effectiveness, she said.
The longtime Flatbush resident wants to use her skills, insider knowledge, political savvy and passion to deliver for the community that nurtured her from childhood.
“We are in this together,” she tells folks in the district. “We have to be unified, educated, engaged and empowered to fulfil our hopes and dreams.”
Handy-Hilliard spends a lot of her time these days talking to people in the district. It incorporates parts of several neighborhoods: Southern Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
“You could see, feel, hear, taste the diversity in our community,” she said after describing the aromas from cocoa bread and currant rolls wafting through the air from her neighborhood’s West Indian bakeries and the sound of music from various cultures vibrating through the streets.
People wanted to protect the character of the community, she emphasized.
“From everywhere, I’m hearing that housing is our biggest issue because residents are getting pushed out,” Handy-Hilliard stated. “Also, public safety. People want to walk down the street and feel safe.”
The top three issues in the district were affordable housing, jobs and public safety, the candidate said. She lays out a plan on her website to tackle those and other challenges the district faces.
If elected, Handy-Hilliard will be among the lawmakers tasked with helping the city navigate its way out of a budget crisis. COVID-19 caused the loss of $10.5 billion in revenue, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.
As lawmakers look for ways to cut spending, Handy-Hilliard is among those who believe that everything is on the table – including the NYPD’s budget.
“There are cost savings everywhere,” she said, adding that some elected officials can’t find the political will to trim some budget items.
“We need to balance the need for the police with anti-poverty programs that we know reduce crime or the need for police,” the candidate continued.
She called for increased investments in violence interrupter programs and crisis management systems that create wrap-around services for at-risk people.
As a wife and mother of two young children, Handy-Hilliard has a secret weapon for balancing her family and professional life while also campaigning.
“Lots of prayer,” she said with a big laugh.
Her husband has been holding things down at home, but her family sometimes joins her at campaign events. The candidate’s 6-year-old daughter, Jessica, serves as her deputy campaign manager.
“I want my kids to see what it’s like to invest in the community they love,” she said.
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