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Activist Kamillah Hanks Hopes to Bring Grassroots Approach to City Council

By Nicholas Rizzi | February 6, 2017 11:43am
 Kamillah Hanks aims to bring a more grassroots approach to government if elected to the City Council to represent the North Shore of Staten Island.
Kamillah Hanks aims to bring a more grassroots approach to government if elected to the City Council to represent the North Shore of Staten Island.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

STATEN ISLAND — A local activist who runs a program to help high school dropouts is hoping to bring her grassroots presence to City Hall.

Kamillah Hanks, a Staten Island native, launched a run against Debi Rose in the Democratic primary for her North Shore City Council seat last month.

Her agenda includes helping the area survive the mega-projects that are transforming its waterfront.

The decision to run against a popular council member seeking a third term was inspired by Hanks' goal to make sure the multi-million dollar projects headed to the area, like the massive New York Wheel, don't just benefit its developers.

"You want economic viability from saying yes to these developments," she said.

"Is this going to be a private enclave and the rest of the North Shore is going to be a ghost town? We wanted to make sure that these projects are seemingly integrated into the neighborhood so that everybody benefited. 

"The next four years are going to determine the next 40 years."

If elected, Hanks said she would fight to make sure jobs, housing and new community centers accompany the private developments.

She also wants to bring a more grassroots approach to government by walking the streets to hear about issues from the ground level.

"I think that constituent services has to be absolutely improved and built upon," said Hanks.

"You probably will not see me at bigger gala things, but you'll see me on the street, you'll see me picking up trash."

But Hanks faces an uphill battle if she wants to bring that approach to the 49th Council district.

She'll face off against incumbent Debi Rose, the first African-American elected to the council in the borough, in a Democratic primary on Sept. 12 as Rose seeks her third term.

Rose last ran for re-election in 2013 and handily defeated Republican candidate Mark Macron 70 to 30. She did not face a primary challenger in that race.

They also potentially face a challenge from 26-year-old Stapleton resident Philippe-Edner Apostol-Marius, who works as a legislative assistant for State Sen. Bill Perkins and is eyeing a run, the Staten Island Advance reported.

The election will be on Nov. 7.

Hanks, a lifelong Staten Islander who lives in Stapleton, welcomes the competition in a borough that's been home to several uncontested elections recently.

"I feel that it's necessary because iron sharpens iron," said Hanks.

"If there is no race, how are we going to bring attention to all the things that we have issues with?"

During the campaign trail, Hanks plans to avoid personal barbs and stick to the issues, and will argue that three terms is too many for a council member, she said.

She's already had some success and raised more money than Rose, getting $27,875 compared to Rose's $20,306, according to Campaign Finance records.

Hanks, who's a painter and sculptor, graduated from La Guardia School of Music and Arts, attended Johnson C. Smith University for two years then worked a variety of jobs around the borough.

"My whole life has been promoting Staten Island," she said.

She was a producer on the Oscar nominated documentary "Ferry Tales," spoke at Yale, was the former director of the Downtown Staten Island Council and eventually started the Historic Tappen Park Community Partnership which aims to promote "responsible development" that brings more housing and jobs and encourages small businesses in the neighborhood.

Recently, she ran the B.U.I.L.D Staten Island Youth Program that helps low-income youths get a high school diploma and job training, which she called a "life changing experience."

"Now I really see a demographic that I did not know about," she said.

"They are completely disconnected and so we have to add them into the equation of our district because, if we don't, you're going to have crime, you're going to have drug overdoses, you're going to have mischief."

Hanks also wants to make the process of government more transparent.

"I don't really care if you agree with me or not," she said. "But I think you should know what the process is.

"I think we should be way more cognizant of how things get done."

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