City Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan on Tuesday abruptly announced she would not seek re-election for her Harlem seat — just weeks before a contentious June primary where she’ll still appear on the ballot.
“I want to thank all those who have stood in solidarity and all volunteers for your time and hard work,” she wrote in a morning Instagram post. “As always, whether in a seat or not in a seat, I am here and look forward to continuing to fight alongside you for community care, economic justice, abolition, liberation, and radical societal change.”
Richardson Jordan, an author, activist and teacher, won the District 9 seat by just 114 votes in a close and crowded 2021 race over incumbent Bill Perkins — who coincidentally died Monday night after an illness.
At the time, she said her campaign “made history and disrupted the election with radical love,” winning — after 13 rounds of voting and a manual recount — without the support of veteran politicos or the usual lineup of campaign consultants.
As a democratic socialist and openly queer Black woman, she called her win a “campaign by the people of Harlem for the people of Harlem.
“We won. Harlem won. We, the community, did this,” she wrote.
Richardson Jordan — who goes by KRJ — did not respond to a text message seeking comment. On Tuesday afternoon, she posted a longer statement to her Council Instagram page explaining why she is not seeking re-election.
“Thank you all for your tremendous support and for seeing the possibility for radical love in the loveless land of politics,” she wrote.
Media & Machine
Richardson Jordan partially blamed the “Harlem Machine” for her dropping out, saying “bad faith actors — as well as the irresponsible journalism that amplifies them — distracts our energy from the real work.
“I believe to really serve Harlem is to organize from the outside because what’s happening inside is a disgrace,” she wrote. “It is undemocratic, rigged, and leaves us constantly gridlocked with few concessions.”
Her closest ally in the legislative body, Councilmember Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn), told City & State that “the machine and the media” pressured her to drop out.
“She was under a tremendous amount of pressure,” Barron said. “I make it look easy sometimes, but it’s not easy getting beat up like that by the media, and the machine — two very powerful forces in the electoral arena.”
A self-proclaimed radical, Richardson Jordan had faced scrutiny since taking office, including for using Council funds to promote her reelection campaign, and for tweets blaming the U.S. for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
She also was criticized for opposing the development of a pair of 40-story towers at West 145th Street and Lenox Avenue — a project that the developer eventually abandoned to build a truck stop instead.
Earlier this month, the New York Post reported that her Council attendance was also the worst of all of the 51 members, missing half of all votes last year.
“My sense is, maybe legislation wasn’t necessarily an ideal match for the incumbent’s expertise,” said Gregory Baggett, an academic, writer and consultant who has lived in Harlem since 1980 and heads the New York Council for Housing Development Fund Companies.
Dropping out was “one of the most honorable things she’s done since she’s been in office, in my judgment,” Baggett said. “Know when your value is better in some other space.”
‘Let’s Aim for Two Years of Results’
Despite leaving the race, Richardson Jordan’s name will still appear on the ballot for the June 27 primary, since she missed the early May deadline to remove it.
She’ll be on the ballot alongside three other Democrats — state Assemblymembers Al Taylor and Inez Dickens, and Yusef Salaam, who was one of the wrongly convicted Central Park Five. Each candidate released a statement thanking Richardson Jordan for her time in office.
“I give my deep regards to the Council member for what must have been a difficult and somber decision,” Taylor said in a statement.
“Public service is one of the highest callings and I thank Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan for her service and commitment to the Harlem community we call home,” Salaam said.
Dickens said, “We need women of color in rooms where decisions about our lives are being made.”
The Harlem seat was one of just a few competitive primaries where the incumbent faced serious challengers after serving a shortened two-year term due to redistricting. Every sitting Council member in the five boroughs is up for re-election in June.
Salaam, who spent seven years in prison, has collected many high-profile endorsements in the race, including from famed author and speaker Cornel West, currently a professor at Union Theological Seminary, and Manhattan Democratic Party chair, Assemblymember Keith L.T. Wright.
Dickens, meanwhile, who has been in politics for decades in the Council and state Assembly, has out-fundraised Salaam by about $38,400 to $24,700, according to the Campaign Finance Board.
Like so many neighborhoods across the city, residents in Harlem said the Council races come at a tenuous time as concerns about development vie with issues of affordability and public safety.
“I think there has been a deep sense of frustration among longtime residents about how the changing makeup of the neighborhood, and the ever-increasing rents, continue to erode at longtime residents — and it does not feel like elected officials and the government have done enough to wrest that tide,” Barry Weinberg, the chair of Harlem’s Community Board 9, told THE CITY.
Syderia Asberry-Chresfield, a founding member of the Greater Harlem Coalition, said her organization — which has spoken out about the placement of supervised injection sites in the neighborhood — often found it difficult to work with the outgoing councilmember.
“We found it challenging to work with a politician who repeatedly viewed issues and concerns through a lens of ideology, rather than through the needs and wishes of constituents,” Asberry-Chresfield wrote in an email to THE CITY.
“Harlem wants a pragmatic and effective Council member. We’ve had two years of ideology, let’s aim for two years of results.”