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Of all the coworking spaces in all the towns in all the world…
Isiah James and Alex Hubbard, two upstart candidates in the crowded race to unseat Rep. Yvette Clarke, are up close and personal in each other’s campaigns.
That’s because the two men have both set up their campaign headquarters in BKLYN Commons, a coworking space on Flatbush Avenue. Their offices are in the same hallway, in fact — separated by mere steps.
“We see each other in the hallway, we wave to each other when we get coffee” James said with a chuckle. “It’s alright.”
“It wasn’t awkward at all,” Hubbard told THE CITY. “I told him, ‘I don’t see you as an opponent;’ after all, we have similar ideas and in the end we’re both in this to help people.”
James and Hubbard are among five people vying for the Democratic primary in New York’s 9th Congressional District, including the incumbent Clarke. The district includes most of Central Brooklyn, from Brownsville, Crown Heights and parts of Park Slope all the way down to Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach.
James is a 33-year-old Army veteran who completed one tour in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, where he sustained life-threatening injuries that cut his Army career short. He’s also a community organizer and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Hubbard is a first generation Salvadoran-American from California and a data scientist who in his “free time” created a website that gives an overview of the work of members of Congress.
Open Arms, Closed Doors
James and Hubbard worked in the same building for weeks without realizing it. James initially had his campaign headquarters in the basement, while Hubbard’s cozy office was on the second floor, where he’s been since September.
The two bumped into each other late last year while getting coffee and water in the common area on the second floor. James had just moved his office there while the basement was under construction.
Hubbard was at a family event a few days prior talking about his campaign when a relative suggested reaching out to other candidates. “I was about to hit him up, and then, there he was,” Hubbard told THE CITY. “It was pretty funny.”
BKLYN Commons is a coworking brand created by Brooklyn landlord Jack Srour, with spaces in Bushwick and Flatbush. Srour’s family owns both buildings, which had been used to operate the discount goods store Fat Alberts.
The iconic, 30,000-square-foot clocktower building where both James and Hubbard are running their campaigns is also the former Bond Bread factory, on 495 Flatbush Ave. BKLYN Commons has two large event spaces, a rooftop and an indoor hall, where James hosted his campaign launch event on Wednesday.
Among the other tenants: an immigration law firm, an accountant and The Gentleman’s Factory, a “coworking social club for men of color.”
The two candidates have had to make adjustments here and there. For example, now they keep their office doors closed, lest campaign secrets spread. But they’re on friendly terms.
“I talk to him every time I see him,” said James. “He’s a nice guy.”
He believes there’s enough room in the building, and the race, for both of them.
“Our ideas are so divergent that I don’t see this as we’re stepping on each other’s toes,” James added. “I know his background is in data science, so he kind of approaches issues like an engineer. I’m an organizer. So my thing is, ‘How do we build a movement, collective power in order to change the status quo?’”
“As a data scientist, you learn to look at an issue and be laser-focused,” said Hubbard, whose platform focuses heavily on cybersecurity and consumer protection. “You have to attack from a data-driven perspective.”
The Fightin’ Ninth
So far, six Democrats have filed for the June 23 primary — but one, Michael Hiller, dropped out on Wednesday.
As reflected in the attached announcement, I've withdrawn from the race for the 9th Congressional Dist. I wish to thank our supporters and all those who worked tirelessly for our campaign. Moving forward, I will continue my advocacy for NYC as an atty and private citizen. - Mike pic.twitter.com/MaEcF2RANn— Michael Hiller (@MikeHillerNYC) January 15, 2020
Clarke was also challenged for the primary two years ago when upstart candidate Adem Bunkeddeko came unexpectedly close to unseating the seven-term incumbent.
Bunkeddeko, who is running again this year, lost the June, 2018 primary by about 2,000 votes out of 30,000 cast. Also in the race is Lutchi Gayot, who ran as a Republican in the general election for the NY-9 seat in 2018.
James is endorsed by Brand New Congress, a political organization that boosts upstart campaigns. Their most famous alum is undoubtedly his fellow DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who in 2018 pulled off a massive upset against former Bronx and Queens Rep. Joe Crowley, once the second-most powerful Democrat in the House.
Dr. Christina Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, underscored how difficult it is to knock down an incumbent.
“A lot of those people are accustomed to voting for her,” she said. “I think the more people who enter the race, the better it looks for Yvette Clarke.”
The 9th District, whose name and shape has changed several times due to sometimes cross-borough redistricting, has represented in the past by Sen. Chuck Schumer, Geraldine Ferraro, Joseph Pulitzer and Anthony Weiner.
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