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Political Outsiders Square Off in Race For Al Vann's Seat

By Paul DeBenedetto | March 19, 2013 12:54pm | Updated on March 19, 2013 1:15pm

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A growing group of candidates is vying to replace term-limited City Councilman Albert Vann.

District Leader Robert E. Cornegy, former Bill de Blasio staffer Kirsten John Foy and Rev. Robert M. Waterman were joined last week by Rev. Conrad Tillard — who officially announced his campaign Sunday on the steps of City Hall — and unknown 27-year-old candidate Akiel Taylor.

A mainstay in Brooklyn politics since joining the Assembly in 1974, Vann won the City Council seat, which encompasses parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, in 2001, and is nearing the end of his third term.

Each of the candidates vying to replace him is trying to disassociate themselves from "machine" politics.

Cornegy, who as the president of Vann's Vanguard Independent Democratic Association, is an assumed torch-bearer to the seat, said he was frustrated by the notion of being a "machine candidate."

"It's clearly an unfair picture," Cornegy said. "It just so happens that at some point I became a member of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association, and ultimately became president.

"The reality was I was really busting my hump in the streets trying to improve the quality of life for homeowners like myself and my family," he added.

Under his tenure as president, Cornegy said he's helped the club grow by returning to VIDA's roots as a civic organization rather than solely a political club.

Cornegy is behind only Waterman in fundraising, though a chunk of Waterman's money is from an abandoned campaign to replace Vann in 2009. Cornegy has both raised and spent the most money since January's filings, and currently has $11,291 on hand, compared to Waterman's $27,313 and Foy's $16,241.

Calls to Waterman's church, Antioch Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, were not immediately returned.

Cornegy also ran against Vann in the last election, which he said was further proof that he wasn't an establishment candidate.

Along with Foy and Cornegy, Tillard also touted his anti-establishment bona fides, having been a pastor and activist in the community since leaving the Nation of Islam in 1998.

Tillard, who with his recent entry has not yet begun fundraising, said he was inspired to run in order to give district 36 constituents more options.

"You have to remember, some of my opponents have been running for four years," Tillard said. "I haven't been running for office for four years. I've just been pastoring."

But the least conventional candidate in the race might be the 27-year-old Taylor, who has no political experience, but said he has lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant his whole life.

Taylor, who graduated from Automotive High School and works as an Access-A-Ride driver, has so far raised $770 from coworkers and family members. He said he was inspired to run in order to galvanize young people in the community.

"I decided that today's youth need to see someone who is actually young, energetic and willing," Taylor said. "We the people can run government better than some corporate Republican or some corporate Democrat."