Three other candidates also vying for East Side Assembly seat

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | The 74th Assembly District seat is up for grabs — and a special election will determine who will be the district’s new assemblymember. But there are more candidates than just Democrat Harvey Epstein on the ballot. Three others will run in the special election for the seat, scheduled for Tues., April 24.

The seat opened up after former Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh resigned from his post after winning election to the state Senate last year. The East Side district stretches from the Baruch Houses south of E. Houston St. through the East Village and Stuyvesant Town to just north of the United Nations.

Bryan Cooper, the Republican candidate; Juan Pagan, running on the Reform Party line; and Adrienne Craig-Williams, representing the Green Party, will be listed alongside Epstein on the ballot. The Villager profiled Epstein two weeks ago.

In interviews with The Villager, the three candidates besides Epstein detailed their platforms.

Bryan Cooper is running as a Republican.

Cooper is a staunch G.O.P.’er — and proud of it. Some people ask him: “Are you crazy or are you nuts?” He says, No; he believes in choice and independence, and that programs such as SNAP a.k.a. “food stamps” and WIC (food assistance for low-income families) should help people get back on their feet, but they’re not a permanent solution.

“We’re not mean-spirited people,” he said of Republicans. “We just want people to have independence.”

Cooper ran for this seat in 2014, losing to Kavanagh by 70 percentage points. Despite the district’s history of voting blue, Cooper said, “I feel like I have a good chance at winning this.”

Cooper’s key issues are school safety and improving public housing. He’s been a resident of the Lillian Wald Houses on Avenue D for nearly two decades, and has seen issues involving proper trash disposal, heating, hot water and broken front doorways. Sometimes, he added, housing isn’t made accessible to people with wheelchairs. But in Cooper’s view, the New York City Housing Authority has the needed funding to fix all these conditions.

“There’s too much waste,” he said. “There is a lot of money in the NYCHA budget. The problem is where is it going.”

Regarding school security, Cooper said that not only should safety officers be armed and trained like New York Police Department cops, teachers should be trained and armed, too. He said he would vote and advocate for metal detectors in schools, bag checking and wanding with handheld detectors.

When The Villager asked if he would be concerned that students of color would be overpoliced if school safety officers were trained like the N.Y.P.D., he said these are “different times.”

“Better to be safe than sorry,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.” The “kumbaya progressive stuff” has to go, he said. With gun-control laws already on the books, he added, “Why do we need more? Just enforce the laws that we have.”

Cooper emphasized, however, that he is not a man of talking points.

“I want to represent you, but I want to represent you in a way that you want,” he said. “They don’t have the authority to go up into Albany and sponsor bills and be a part of bills without the feedback of people,” he said of politicians. “That’s disrespectful.”

Juan Pagán might be running as a Reform Party candidate in this election, but he said he’s a Democrat at heart.

“I’m a hardcore Democrat,” he said. “I was born a Democrat. I’ve been a Democrat on the Lower East Side here my whole life.”

Juan Pagan has the Reform Party line.

He has run for office several times as a Democrat, including in 2006 and 2012 for Assembly and a run for City Council District 2 in 2009. In 2006 and 2012, he ran for Assembly. He accused the Board of Elections of tossing him off the ballot illegally in the 2012 election through a minor technical error in his campaign paperwork.

Since he has previously been unable to win over what he called the “party bosses,” he turned to the Reform Party. In a special election with no primary race, it was his only shot at getting on the ballot. But in Pagán’s view, his being on the ballot actually offers voters two Democrats to choose from.

A longtime Loisada resident who has lived in public housing for several decades, he said he has an intimate knowledge and understanding of the issues affecting NYCHA developments. One specific proposal he described to keep public housing affordable is to exclude people on a fixed income from rent increases.

“This is happening to the entire NYCHA developments across New York City,” he said. “This story is repeating itself hundreds and thousands of times.”

Criminal justice reform is another priority. As a former Corrections officer in Upstate prisons, he said he believes criminal justice reform must include more rehabilitative programs to help formerly incarcerated individuals obtain jobs, housing and mental health services. Plus, closing down the Rikers Island prison complex and replacing it with several smaller jails around the city has to be dealt with carefully becuase it’s a huge project, he warned.

“There has to be a holistic approach to dealing with offenders,” he said.

Although Pagán has lost elections for this seat before, the Reform Party gave him a newfound hope. When he was nominated by the party, he said he thought, “Good, I can get back into the fight again.”

Adrienne Craig-Williams joined the Green Party during Jill Stein’s 2012 presidential campaign. She said her political passion was ignited by the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old American citizen who was killed by an American drone strike in Yemen in 2011. For her, the drone strikes revealed the “moral failings” on the part of the U.S. government.

“I thought that was crossing a line, and that really activated me politically,” she said. “And then to see during the 2012 [presidential] election that people weren’t responding to the facts on the ground of what I thought was obvious moral failings.”

Six years later, she is sticking with the party, finally running for office herself.

The Greens’ candidate is Adrienne Craig-Williams.

“Most Green Party people are activists first, politicians second,” she explained. That, in part, and the Greens’ platform are why she stayed with the party after Stein’s 2012 election. She volunteered to work on Jabari Brisport’s campaign for City Council in District 35 (Fort Greene / Prospect Heights), later receiving a stipend as his treasurer. Local elections, rather than Stein’s national campaign, drew her closer to politics.

“My experience with the City Council campaign made me see how nice it is to be in a local election where you can actually talk to a lot of the people affected,” she said.

Craig-Williams is still currently working as an elementary school teacher at the Earth School in the East Village. She’s a self-described vegan, intersectional feminist and anti-racist activist. Her key positions are fighting for equitable education and climate-change resiliency in her district.

“We need to put in more resilient infrastructure,” she said. “And we need to do it now, so it’s more equitable, rather than scrambling when another storm hits.”

But without more political experience than volunteering, she has had to tackle learning everything from being a campaign treasurer to creating fliers to speaking at rallies. She expects the biggest question about her will be her relative lack of political experience. But, noting she’s not a part of a “party machine,” she said, if elected, she could tackle issues often cast to the wayside, such as climate change and education.

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