Adrienne Adams’ surprise announcement of her candidacy for NY Senate marked an official beginning to Southeast Queens’ election season. Her announcement coincided with the recent passing of Assembly Member Barbara Clark who held that seat just shy of three decades. While Clark was respected in her position, she (as well as several colleagues) was entrenched. Entrenchment coupled with a stagnant community has been a bone of contention for residents. Residents have been looking for a turnaround to new ideas and fresh individuals to recharge and revitalize the community. Adams’ announcement was a signal that this year’s election might be the energy sought for so long.
Adams will be running for the New York Senate District 10. The seat is currently held by Senator James Sanders Jr. who recently announced a challenge for Gregory Meeks 6th Congressional District seat.
Adams is a prominent fixture in the community. As Chairperson of Community Board 12 (CB 12), she is a driving force in the workings of the community. Although Community Boards have no official authority to make or enforce laws, they deal with issues that directly affect the community and its residents. These include, but are not limited to, land usage and the City’s budgeting process which allocates resources. Adrienne Adams sat with Communities of Color News to discuss her candidacy. The first question, why now?
“New leadership for a new day,” she said. The candidate believes that there is nothing new. She is dismayed by what she sees in the community including cronyism and a leadership that is all too often reactive versus proactive. “There is a pile of garbage over there, let me do something about it. Now after the community is in an uproar,” said Adams. She believes that leadership should watch things that are problematic. Interestingly enough, the question of who she considers to be the top leadership in Southeast Queens was the only one of the interview questions she could not answer. “Not because there isn’t leadership that is active,” she said. She admitted her trouble came when juxtaposing the current leadership with the state of the community.
Adrienne Adams wants a shift in leadership. She envisions herself as a having the mindset of a resident, calling herself a “resident community leader”. She is concerned with leadership which loses that perspective. “I wonder what happens to leaders that they lost this perspective,” she said.
Adams’ decision to run came because there was an “opening” she says. When Senator Sanders challenged Meeks, she saw an opportunity. Her view of the contest was about filling that void, not as challenging Sanders. Of course, if Sanders retreats from the Congressional contest, Adams will have to directly face the Senator. That might be challenging with his long history of public service. Prior to beating Senator Shirley Huntley for the seat, Sanders was the City Council Representative for District 31. As a result, he has alliances, name recognition and community support.
Adams has not mentioned the backing of any local political clubs although she “has relationships with them,” she said. This early in the campaign there is no mention of endorsements or alliances. Adrienne says her decision to run was independent. Although there may have been interest in the past for an Adams candidacy, she was not ‘picked’ to run for this seat. “There is difference between interest and picking,” she said.
Although Adams is not aligned politically, there is a seeming alliance between her and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. As Chair of CB 12, the two work closely on a number of initiatives. In addition, Katz appointed Adams to the Queens Library Board of Trustees. She was also named co-chair of the Jamaica Now project, the City’s redevelopment initiative of Downtown Jamaica, after a lottery process from the Borough President’s office picked its representatives. That alliance can be viewed as largely unfavorably as Katz term unfolds and residents assess whether or not Southeast Queens figures prominently within the whole of Queens>
Although this is Adams first official run for office, she did campaign twice before ultimately winning Chair of CB 12. That record will be most significant as residents gauge her readiness for higher office.
Prior to her taking the helm of CB 12, that board might be remembered as dysfunctional. Meetings were sometimes filled with arguments and void of professionalism. Under her leadership, there has been a shift in professionalism. But has there been progress? Adrienne believes there has been and that under her leadership the community is now talking about important issues such as oversaturation.
The oversaturation of social services residences has become a hot topic and headline recently with the opening of a Veterans residence at Hollis Avenue between 202 and 204 streets. This, after residents staged weekly protests at the site against overdevelopment. The situation brought to light the high concentration of social services residents in Southeast Queens, a whopping 32%, the highest of any community board. “At least people know,” she said.
On the other side of this knowing is an unwillingness of City Hall to act. Despite a resolution in 2014 asking for a moratorium on building shelters and numerous protests on the steps of City Hall, CB 12 does not have a powerful or influential voice regarding how the City houses its transient residents.
The top three issues that Adams wants to tackle in office are Education, Economic Development and Criminal Justice Reform.
“Everything starts with education,” she said. Adams was the former Education chair of CB 12. “There has to be a better way,” she said. Adams does not understand how Southeast Queens is at the bottom when it comes to education. She expresses caution, however, believing that “things will not change tomorrow,” she said.
“Who is pouring the concrete,” she asked. When it comes to economic development, Adams wonders if Southeast Queens residents will be part of the workforce for all the upcoming development. She also believes there should be employment equity and attention given to Minority and Women owned businesses and apprenticeships. Adams said she understands how the community wants to see changes now. “We want it yesterday…We are hurt and have been waiting for a long time. Now that we have something, we want it now,” she said of the Jamaica Now project.
“We are still the number 1 in being arrested and sitting in jail,” said Adams. Criminal Justice Reform includes addressing those issues as well as police/community relations.
“Equality is a common theme,” she said of her stance. Yet patience seems to be what is being implied. The community might want better educations, more jobs, and reform, but the candidate indicated it will take time.
For a community that has waited long enough for its entitled equality, it might be slightly discouraged from their initial excitement with a candidate that espouses time and does not overpromise early in the game. With a personality that is cool in demeanor yet outwardly warm and personable, will this candidate be enough to buck the system and enact the changes she thinks will truly shift the paradigm?
The interview ended with tears from the candidate as she tapped into her passions for a better community. “For my grandbabies,” she said. It is the community left behind for their care that evokes the fight in Adrienne Adams.