HARLEM — A real estate developer and chairman of Central Harlem's Community Board 10 has thrown his hat in to fill the state Senate seat recently vacated by Bill Perkins.
Brian Benjamin, who has been at the helm of the board for the past year and a member for six years, said he has had political motivations for some time, but that community members recently encouraged him to run for office after Perkins won a special election for the City Council last month.
"I hear a range of issues all the time that have political impact, and for me I felt I had the knowledge, skills and experience to be a great state Senator," explained the 40-year-old Harlem native.
"I can deliver for this district and I know a lot of the district, so I'm able to communicate with a number of folks who are already dealing with a lot of issues in our community."
The Senate district covers nearly all of Harlem and parts of the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights.
Perkins, a Democrat, previously told DNAinfo New York that he was running for the Council seat partly because his tenure in the senate was "not as fruitful" because Democrats were in the minority and some were caucusing with Republicans.
Benjamin, however, believes he has the skill set to break through.
Aside from serving as the managing director of real estate developer Genesis Companies, he worked in 2008 to create Harlem for Obama, a grassroots effort to get out the vote. He helped raise more than $250,000 for Obama's campaign, which he said taught him how to organize.
"One of the things that I think is critically important to bring to the State Senate is coalition building," he said.
"We have a state Senate right now that can really use someone who is not afraid to talk to all the Senators... whether they're Republicans or Democrats."
Some of the top issues he wants to address if elected to the Senate is affordable housing, criminal justice and boosting minority- and women-owned businesses.
Benjamin plans to remain chairman of Community Board 10 while campaigning for the office, but said there will be a "strict line" between his community board work and bid for the Senate seat.
"I would never bring up anything around running for office," he said, referring to community board meetings. "I want to make sure there is a very clear line."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo set May 23 as the date for the special election.
So far, Benjamin is the only candidate to officially enter the race.