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Access-A-Ride Driver Running for City Council on Marxist Principles

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Like a lot of working-class New Yorkers, Akiel Taylor wakes up before the crack of dawn every morning to get to work by 5 a.m. He drives an Access-a-Ride van, ferrying elderly and disabled people from place to place. 

Taylor has no political experience to speak of, no organizing experience and not even a college degree to his name. He name-drops Marxist economists and believes in collective ownership of businesses.

And he's running to represent Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in the New York City Council.

"I like being the unknown candidate," Taylor said. "Because my views are something a lot of people aren't talking about right now."

Taylor is far and away the underdog in the 36th district race to replace term-limited Councilman Al Vann. His opponents include district leader and Vann torchbearer Robert Cornegy, former Bill de Blasio aide Kirsten John Foy, and local pastors and organizers Conrad Tillard and Robert Waterman

Ask any of those candidates about Taylor and they understandably draw blanks. Taylor himself is unfamliar with his competition, and has never been engaged in the political realm.

But that's precisely the reason Taylor said it's so important for him to run now.

"One thing we're faced with right now is that the people do not control their politicians," Taylor said. "It feels like the other way around. These politicians feel like they control the people, and they're wrong."

The Automotive High School graduate said he decided to forgo attending Medger Evers College so he could focus on working and contributing to his family. The candidate lives in a Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone with his mother, aunt, uncle, grandparents, brother, sister, nieces and cousin.

To help out, Taylor started as a mechanic, and moved on to being an Access-a-Ride driver, a job he said he loves.

"I love helping people, I love to drive," Taylor said. "And I don't even feel like it's work. I feel like it's an adventure every day."

The 27-year-old Taylor cites two reasons for his recent interest in politics: First, he wants to get young people engaged in the political process. And second, he wants to create a new system of ownership in the community, where community members take over empty storefronts and buildings and turn them into comunity-run enterprises.

Taylor likes to talk about Marxist economist Richard Wolff and the theory of worker self-directed enterprise, an idea popular with the Occupy movement that theorizes all workers should have a stake in a business' ownership and operation.

If Central Brooklyn has taken the baton from Harlem as the city's epicenter of black political power, Taylor said he wants to give that power directly to "we the people."

"If we the people want something like that, it can get done," Taylor said. "We don't have to worry about a CEO or board of directors or whatever. The community are stockholders."

Despite the decidedly collectivist imagery conjured up by Taylor's ideas, he said he defines himself only as a progressive. He didn't identify with the Occupy movement — "protesting, to me, is not going to get you anywhere," he said — and bristled at the idea of being called a socialist.

"I believe in certain things that some people say are socialism," Taylor said. "But what people have to understand is this: as a community, we all have to look out for one another."

Taylor takes a more popular approach to other issues, like the minimum wage (it should be higher, he said) and stop-and-frisk (it's a violation of people's rights, he said.)

He agrees with other candidates that Interfaith Hospital, a troubled primary care facility in Bed-Stuy, should be saved, so that the community's health needs can be better served.

But even there, Taylor, who was born at Interfaith, said a more collectivist approach is necessary.

"We the people can take over our hospitals to let people know you can't trample on people's health," Taylor said.

Despite being behind in fundraising to some of the more established candidates — he's raised $770 from coworkers and family members, according to his March filings — Taylor hopes to pick up the pace by getting smaller donations from neighbors, and is holding a "meet and greet" event with his block association on April 4 at My Arena at 557 Classon Ave.

When asked how realistic his chances are at joining the City Council, Taylor laughed.

"Realistically, my brother?" he said. "Look, I want to go to be Bed-Stuy's representative, and Crown Heights' representative.

"My chances are as good as anybody's. It all depends on if you can connect to people."