Nearly two years ago, out gay District Leader Josue Pierre confronted the status quo: He was threatening to unseat a longtime incumbent, State Senator Kevin Parker, in Brooklyn’s 20th District — and it was clear he faced an uphill battle in a quest to topple a lawmaker who had been in office for close to two decades.
Pierre eventually nixed that campaign and set his sights on the City Council, where he embarked on a bid to run for the soon-to-be open seat in the 40th District, which includes Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Midwood, Prospect Park, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
“I felt that Albany was a place to make change, but I also understood the City Council was a place to make local change,” Pierre said in a recent interview with Gay City News.
Pierre does bring local experience to the race. He’s been elected multiple times as a district leader in the 42nd Assembly District — along with his cousin, Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Rodneyse Bichotte — and he previously chaired Community Board 17’s Land Use Committee. He is also active in local groups, including LGBTQ political clubs like the Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn, among others.
Pierre is one of more than a dozen candidates who signed up to compete in the race to replace term-limited Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, who is the first Haitian-born councilmember in the city. Pierre also hails from Haiti, though his family moved to Flatbush when he was a young child — and he has lived in the neighborhood ever since.
If Pierre gets elected, he would be the first out LGBTQ Black councilmember from Brooklyn and only the second out councilmember in the borough’s history following District 38’s Carlos Menchaca, who is term-limited and leaving office in less than a year. Out gay State Senator Jabari Brisport made history last year in the nearby 21st Senate District, where he became the first out LGBTQ Black state lawmaker in New York.
Pierre, who emphasized housing issues during his State Senate bid, is again focusing on housing in his City Council campaign. It is an area that is familiar to him given his past work in the comptroller’s office under Scott Stringer, where he utilized New York City pension funds to boost affordable housing, and his stint on the board of the Stonewall Community Development Corporation, which focuses on creating safe and affordable housing for the city’s LGBTQ seniors.
Citing a key model of success, Pierre highlighted the LGBTQ-inclusive senior living development in Fort Greene known as Stonewall House, which opened in late 2019. At the time that development opened, 77 percent of residents were people of color and 54 of the 145 units were reserved for NYCHA residents.
“Black LGBTQ people are first and foremost Black,” Pierre said. “We experience all the prejudices, all of the lack of resources that every other Black person experiences, and on top of that, we have to deal with the prejudices and the lack of access to resources that LGBTQ people face in general. I think the success of [Stonewall House] can be replicated, but I also think the success of that development is a strategy and opportunity we can use for the greater Black community, as well, to build more real affordable housing.”
Pierre’s other campaign priorities include pushing for funding of social programs, schools, and other areas at a time when New Yorkers have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The next city budget, he said, should be one that is “not focused on cuts but having the revenue necessary to keep our city going strong.”
Pierre is voicing support for funding for youth programs such as the NYC Unity Works Project, which succumbed to budget cuts last year. That initiative provides contracts to non-profits to help queer homeless youth gain employment or education.
“I will be one of the main people pitching to restore that program and make sure it is fully funded and to ensure youth throughout the city are aware that such a program exists,” Pierre said. “Very often we have these programs that are great and I want to see them fully utilized by the most marginalized members of our community.”
Nearly one year after an intense fight brewed over police funding in last year’s city budget, electeds are preparing to balance another city budget in the coming months. Pierre believes there still needs to be further discussion surrounding the fate of police funding, and he says the next budget will present an opportunity for lawmakers to evaluate NYPD funding and determine whether to reallocate those resources to other areas of need.
Pierre also believes the issue of decriminalizing sex work — which has emerged as a top LGBTQ issue in New York City — is not quite settled. A legislative proposal at the state level would comprehensively decriminalize sex work for all parties involved — which is a key point maintained by advocates who have made it clear that partial decriminalization still runs the risk of police interactions and hampers efforts to fight trafficking. Pierre supports removing criminal penalties for sex workers, but he is not willing to embrace full decriminalization at the moment.
“[Sex work decriminalization] is something that has galvanized a lot of activists and community members, which speaks to how important it is,” Pierre said. “I want to get into the details of that, as well, to make sure we’re doing this in the right way to mainly protect against sex trafficking. We haven’t come to terms on what it would look like in its final stages.”
In the final stretch of the campaign, Pierre is in the midst of a jam-packed race featuring multiple candidates clamoring for the open seat. Kenya Handy-Hilliard leads the pack in funds with an estimated balance of $178,689, followed by Edwin Raymond, who has $142,695, and Pierre, who has $140,704 on hand, according to the New York City Campaign Finance Board. Numerous other candidates lag behind.
Pierre has welcomed endorsements from labor unions such as the United Federation of Teachers, Communication Workers of America, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. The Lambda Independent Democrats of Brooklyn and the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect queer candidates nationwide, are also backing him.
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