Last Saturday marked the unofficial start of the race to replace disgraced ex-Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, who was convicted in January on several federal corruption charges.
Michael Blake, a former Obama campaign organizer and White House aide, gathered with family, friends and supporters in the Bronx to kick-off his campaign for State Assembly. Blake’s mother said her son, who was born on Christmas Day 1982, had a heart murmur that concerned his doctors. She said that God, however, had other plans for Michael.
As an interested constituent and politics writer, I stopped by the rally to assess Mr. Blake, his campaign organization and the depth of his community support amid charges questioning his eligibility to run. I encountered a small but enthusiastic crowd stirred by a deejay playing upbeat reggae music (and interjecting recorded applause during Blake’s speech). I saw rookie mistakes such as placards that didn’t showcase the candidate’s name or office he was seeking. I noticed few neighborhood locals in the gathering.
Blake hopes to breathe new life into a Bronx assembly district ravaged by corruption, gun violence and chronic unemployment. Given the district’s recent political history, Blake says “the sense of corruption and injustice has to end.” He believes his candidacy offers “a sense of hope to the hopeless” because he brings a very different vision and energy lacking in other campaigns.
Dressed in a handsome suit, Blake referred to his service in the Obama campaign and White House several times. He said he could bring in new resources given his national relationships in working for a White House and in private sector. The effort to link Blake’s candidacy to President Obama was evident from campaign placards whose color, lettering and slogans were evocative of Obama’s history-making campaigns. I noticed that the rookie candidate’s placards didn’t showcase his name or the office he was seeking.
Not surprisingly, Team Blake is staffed by Obama for America (OFA) veterans. No doubt they hope to use voter ID and turnout techniques honed in the two Obama campaigns to carry Blake to victory.
Blake even closed his prepared remarks with a vigorous chanting of “Our time for change has come!”
It remains to be seen how well (and if) the association resonates with the district’s prime voters.
Blake’s announcement and rally was held in front of PS 463X, a school whose aspirational name, Urban Scholars Community School, belies the educational reality occurring daily within its walls. For three years in a row, student performance earned an “F” rating on the annual Progress Report.
Donna Drayton, chief of staff to Bronx-Westchester state senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, appeared among the well-wishers. Ms. Drayton acknowledged that Sen. Hassell-Thompson is supporting Blake.
Later, Blake said he expected an array of elected officials to endorse him by June. He also claimed that a growing number of Bronx clergy leaders would soon be joining his campaign.
Revs. Que and Tim English, who lead the Bronx/NYC Clergy Roundtable, are among Blake’s most ardent clergy supporters. Rev. Que English, also pastor at Bronx Christian Fellowship Church, supports Blake because it’s a “time and season for [a] new voice to be heard to make the change that we need in our community.”
One skeptic in the crowd said he would continue watching from the sidelines to see how Blake’s campaign progresses. Many low-information voters may also find themselves on the sidelines watching and learning about the Blake political campaign. *******************************************
Listen to my interview with Rev. Que English here:
Listen to my interview with Hakiem Yahmadi of S.O.S. South Bronx, an anti-gun violence program: