WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Robert Jackson kicked off his state Senate bid Thursday in Washington Heights — literally.
Sporting a USA soccer jersey and surrounded by supporters at P.S. 187 Hudson Cliffs, Jackson officially launched his campaign for the 31st state Denate district by kicking a soccer ball and telling residents that he was ready to fight for them.
Jackson, who represented western Washington Heights in the City Council for eight years, told residents he would fight for better schools, housing, jobs and economic development in the area while also working to heal wounds and unify the diverse district.
"I'm committed to shaking things up in Albany," Jackson said before kicking around a soccer ball. "I'm ready to lead this movement forward."
The 63-year-old former PTA president spoke softly, at times barely above a whisper. Jackson explained, saying he was hoarse from campaigning on behalf of Rep. Charles Rangel, who defeated the 31st district's current senator, Adriano Espaillat, on Tuesday. But his supporters more than made up for his lack of volume.
"Robert Jackson has been an inspiration to me since I first met him," said Miriam Aristy-Farer, the president of the District 6 Community Education Council, who praised Jackson for launching the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit on behalf of city public schools and families. Jackson walked 150 miles from New York to Albany to draw attention to the suit in 2003.
"This man walked to Albany for my not-yet-born child," Aristy-Farer said.
"Our next senator has to be someone that can bring this community together , and I believe he's the person to do that," added Obie Bing.
This time, Jackson's path to Albany is littered with Espaillat supporters, as several of the Senator's allies have announced their own bids for the seat, including Espaillat's community liaison, Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, Inwood Democratic District Leader Manny De Los Santos, and Harlem District Leader Marisol Alcantara. Several other prominent figures have been rumored to be readying campaigns, including former Assemblyman Guillermo Linares and community activist Luis Tejada.
Espaillat's shadow crowds the race, as many believe he will enter the race if his challenge to Rangel is unsuccessful. Rangel leads by about 1,800 votes, and has been called the winner of Tuesday's election by several news organizations, but Espaillat has yet to concede, every ballot must be counted.
Many of Espaillat's critics, including Rangel, have accused the Senator of preparing an under-the-table run for re-election while campaigning for congress, a charge that Espaillat denied during a June debate in the Bronx. However, Jackson said he is ready to face Espaillat.
"Some people asked me: 'What if Adriano runs for re-election? Are you in it to win it?'" Jackson said. "My name is Action Jackson and I'm ready to fight on behalf of the people I represent."
UPDATE: Espaillat conceded the congressional race to Rangel late Thursday afternoon and announced a bid to run for re-election to the state Senate.