Community Developer Wins Contentious Primary for NYC Council Seat

Brad Lander, a not-for-profit director, affordable housing builder, city planner, and community organizer told the Brownstoner about why he chose to run for New York City Council.

“I’ve worked with hundreds of residents, activists, and advocates with tremendous commitment, street smarts, and savvy to confront these challenges. But I’ve only seen a handful of public officials that come anywhere close to matching that grassroots passion.”

The transition from activist to politician is always an interesting one. For people involved in housing, community development, and urban planning — whether from Brooklyn or not — Lander’s run for the 39th District City Council seat is particularly exciting news.

Lander, along with being a Rooflines blogger and not infrequent Shelterforce contributor, was the director the well-known CDC the Fifth Avenue Committee for 10 years, taking the organization from a staff of 5 to a staff of 50, professionalizing its affordable housing development work and while keeping it true to its roots with active tenant organizing. Most recently he has directed the Pratt Center for Community Development, which does community planning work with the city’s low-income neighborhoods.

Last Tuesday he handily won a five-way Democratic primary with the support of the Working Families Party (candidates can be cross-endorsed in New York state). In his heavily Democratic district, this makes him a likely favorite to win in the general election as well.

Lander campaigned on familiar sounding community development issues — affordable housing, community planning, out of control development, public education — and took some predictable heat for questioning free market development and projects like Atlantic Yards. (Though having taken a housing finance class from him at Pratt, I find it amusing to the point of absurdity to see Internet commenters accusing him of having no clue about housing markets.)

Lander also found himself embroiled in some nasty back and forth about issues of gay rights and Israel (including ads run purporting to be from his campaign that weren’t) — issues he presumably didn’t have to take a public stand on in his community developer/planner role.

If the general election goes as expected, I look forward to following Brad as he brings that “grassroots passion” to city hall.

He also won’t be the first: I’d love to hear from anyone out there who has done made this transition or known people who have about the pitfalls and possibilities.

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


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