Norma Jennings, a 1990 graduate of Columbia University’s law school, who spent three years working for Brooklyn Legal Services and three years providing legal advise to clients of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, is hoping to win election this coming Tuesday to the Brooklyn Civil Court.
A resident of Concord Village near the Brooklyn Bridge, Jennings lives with her partner of 12 years, Juliet Howard, who is also an attorney. The couple are raising two children, Jordan, an eight-year-old boy, and Nicholas, who is not yet a year old.
Yet, even as she and her partnered are still changing diapers for their youngest, Jennings embarked earlier this year on the grueling task of introducing herself to Democratic leaders and activists across New York State’s most populous county. The campaign involves attending numerous dinners, breakfasts, and other gatherings of political clubs borough-wide, an effort that represents a significant personal investment in admission tickets, in a race in which it is quite nearly impossible to raise campaign contributions.
Jennings made the decision to seek the judgeship after working nearly eight years as a court attorney, acting as principal legal adviser and supporter to a series of judges, most of them in Housing Court. The position she is seeking is a ten-year post in which she would probably be handling non-housing civil matters, such as commercial real estate disputes, smalls claims, and personal injury claims of less than $25,000.
From her years in the courthouse, Jennings concludes, “Most judges try to be fair,” a view challenged by significant bad press in recent years about the influence of the Democratic county organization on judicial appointments. This year, Jennings said, most candidates are trying to steer clear of the taint of the county organization.
Jennings has built her base of support among progressive clubs in central Brooklyn, including the Lambda Independent Democrats, the LGBT group, and the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats. She hopes to do well in neighborhoods including Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, and Crown Heights.
As an African-American woman, she wins support in heavily black neighborhoods where voters “want somebody in the courts who looks like us, who understands what they are going through.” Jennings said one of her opponents sought to make an issue of her lesbianism in a Caribbean-American newspaper, but she also emphasized the support she has from leading African-American elected officials, such as Fort Greene Councilwoman Tish James.
Jennings is one of three candidates running in Tuesday’s primary for one seat on the bench, so her ability to pull out her voters will be key to success.