HARLEM — Bill Perkins has represented Harlem in City Hall and Albany for 20 years and doesn’t see any reason that should change.
The former state senator and current city councilman told prospective voters to support him because, “I’ve earned it,” through years of hard work and accomplishments.
“So if it works, don’t fix it,” Perkins said.
His challengers in Sept. 12's Democratic primary don’t see it that way. They point to rising rents and stagnant wages as reasons to elect a new representative.
“Look at the trash that’s accumulating in your neighborhood, look at your Con Ed bill, look at your rent that is rising,” said Tyson-Lord Gray, a city council candidate and professor at NYU. “After you’ve done all your research, if you think Harlem is doing fine you can vote for the status quo. But if you believe that we can do better than I ask that you vote for me.”
Gray, along with Perkins’ former chief of staff Cordell Cleare and TWC 100 union leader Marvin Holland, are the incumbent’s closest rivals in terms of money raised.
Holland, Gray and Cleare have raised $29,000, $22,000 and $12,000 respectively while Perkins secured more than $51,000, records show.
But despite the large war chest and decades of experience, Perkins has failed to get the endorsement of both the Amsterdam News and the Daily News. Both publications took shots at Perkins while supporting his political rivals.
“It’s not possible to cite Sen. Perkins’ successes, whether on the City Council or in Albany, without the effective service of Cordell Cleare,” declared the Amsterdam News.
The Daily News was more direct, saying Perkins had a hard time articulating why he should be elected and, “his answers even to softballs on major issues were embarrassingly blank.”
The tabloid endorsed Holland, a Navy veteran who went on to be a station cleaner with the Transportation Authority and join the executive board of the TWU Local 100.
During a candidate forum last week, Perkins said people should vote for him because of his “wealth of experience in terms of legislation, in terms of how to navigate the political process at City Hall and be effective for this community.”
Perkins has not introduced a single piece of legislation in the City Council since being elected in February but he has co-sponsored 17 bills, records show.
In highlighting his accomplishments Thursday night, Perkins talked about fighting to get lead paint out of low income housing developments in the 1990s and credited Cleare for bringing the issue to his attention.
In her closing statement, Cleare said that although she has never held public office she does not lack experience. She has worked behind the scenes in Albany and City Hall. Both times as part of Perkins’ staff.
“I’ve actually done the work,” she said.
Like Gray, Holland believes this a unique moment in time to inject new blood into Harlem’s political scene which has seen a handful of politicians stay in power for decades.
“This is not about the status quo, this is about the future, this is about a new day in Harlem politics,” he said.