She is the only woman in a congressional race abound with testosterone. But New York City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke is no shrinking violet. A month back at a candidate’s forum held at the 55th AD Democratic Club, she took center stage with arguably the most impassioned speech of the night. The crowd of mostly senior citizens – visibly intrigued by her palpable fervor – ceased the clamoring of their canes and fans to hear the Jamarican speak.
Despite standing out amidst a disinterested panel of contenders, Clarke’s speech came across a bit too rehearsed – a sign, some would say, of a typical political player. Though this didn’t discredit her message of economic equity or immigration reform, it did cast her in the light of the baby-kissing politician. Learned behavior? After all, she is the offspring of political veteran Una Clarke, the first Caribbean-born city councilwoman.
Regardless, Yvette Clarke’s message seems to be resonating with voters. She maintains a marginal lead over her opponents in several preliminary polls, including one sponsored by 1199. The opinion poll, conducted by Kiley & Company, found that 27% of those surveyed would vote for the council representative of the 40th district. Her closest contender was David Yassky, to whom 15% of voters would place their confidence. Though these polls tend
to be inconsequential to election results, they do pose the question of whether Carl Andrews and Chris Owens should bow out of the race. It’s no secret that folks are scared of losing the 11th District’s congressional seat – created in 1967 to add color to Congress – to Yassky, a white man.
Some argue that the existence of three Black candidates may divide the Black vote and give Yassky, the so-called carpetbagger, a clear path to victory.
Only time will tell if two of the three Black candidates will opt to fall in line behind one contender of color. For now, it’s every man/woman for himself/herself. As much as Clarke’s popularity can be attributed to her four and a half years in the council, it’s just as likely that name recognition helped up her numbers. Much like her opponent Chris Owens, the minor of the
Major.Owens that is, perhaps Clarke benefits from hereditary politics. But the councilwoman contends that she doesn’t have to ride her famous mother’s coattails. “I have a very distinguished record of passing legislation. I’ve passed more than five bills in my own right,” asserts Clarke. “My advocacy and my delivery of resources to the 40th Council Diistrict, which accrues to the 11th Congressional District, has demonstrated my commitment.”
Clarke certainly has a history of political involvement. Before succeeding her mother in 2001, the Brooklyn native did her share of climbing up the political totem pole. She was a congressional intern, a legislative aide and the first director of business development for the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp.
Since being elected to the council, Clarke has been very active in healthcare and women’s rights issues. She has secured millions for SUNY Downstate Hospital, particularly with the creation of the Bio-Technology Incubator and the neonatal intensive care unit. Clarke, the co-chair of the council’s Women’s Caucus, has also obtained funds for a number of organizations that address issues of domestic violence and health care for women. Her dedication to women’s interests is reflective in much of the legislation that she has brought before the council. For example, Clarke introduced legislation, Res. No. 3, which eventually led to the Minority & Women-Owned Business Empowerment Study for equity in the distribution of city contracts.
Needless to say, the economic and social mobility of women is a congressional priority for Clarke. However, she didn’t rank female-centric issues within the five-pillar platform for her campaign. But what woman isn’t affected by immigration, education, health care, economic justice and affordable housing?
Of course, Clarke, a first-generation Jamaican ,is focused on the immigration debate in Congress. Like most Democrats, she believes law abiding, undocumented workers “should have the same opportunity as those waves of immigrants that came before them without being criminalized.” Clarke opposes Bush’s Guest Visa Program because “it sets up an indentured servitude class and it undercuts the labor movement for standards in wages and health care in this nation.”
Instead, she would like to see, “an inclusive system for documentation, which will allows us to a) identify security threats without profiling, b) assist our local police, education and healthcare systems by encouraging participation and c) allows us to better address unscrupulous employers who are able to lower wages and safety standards for everyone because of the existence of a ‘hidden’ workforce.”
Clarke is also a proponent of universal health care, increased federal subsidies for affordable housing, economic equity for people of color and education reform. “We’re suffering as a society because of a lack of vision for how children of color, in particular, can be educated in a public school setting,” Clarke stresses. She calls for free preschool, an increase in parental training programs and more federal grants for higher education.
The councilwoman’s platform addresses both local and national concerns. She mainly stresses the importance of educating her constituency about and providing resources for economic stability. She wants to address the staggering unemployment rate among Black men by providing more federal funding for civil service training programs and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Clarke also acknowledges the importance of legalizing same- sex marriages. “There are way too many families already existing within this nation that are built on same- sex relationships,” she says. “I know that many religious communities can’t abide by it and I’m not asking them too, but as a civil society we have an obligation to ensure that those families have the same rights and privileges from a secular civil society standpoint.”
As it stands, there are only 15% of female representatives in the House. Clarke believes that it is tantamount for women to become a larger part of the federal power structure. As important a role as gender may play in political perspective, Clarke’s ability to present effective policy is the true issue at hand.