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Sandy Nurse Meets the Moment
The emerging leftist leader's journey from Zuccotti Park to City Hall - and everywhere in between
“The day we got the final ruling, it was awful. I felt so humiliated. Especially as someone going from an anti-electoral, somewhat anarchist vibe to running for anything. I already felt imposter syndrome and worried if I was selling out on the personal level. But then to fall flat because of this stupid technical thing, I could not believe it was ending.”
After launching an upstart bid for city council that galvanized New York City’s ascendant progressive left, Sandy Nurse and her campaign were left to pick up the pieces after being kicked off the ballot due to a shortage of petition signatures.
When Nurse and her team wrapped up petitioning months earlier, none of this had been on their mind. As the coronavirus outbreak engulfed New York City that March, paralyzing the city’s institutions while overwhelming its people, safety had been her first and only priority. Amid this chaos, Nurse made the executive decision to shut down the team’s petitioning in order to protect as many people as possible, especially given the lack of information on Covid-19 at the time.
“We thought we were doing the right thing by shutting down. When we stopped petitioning, folks were really scared. People were hoarding toilet paper, no one was wearing masks, and everyone was wearing gloves. We were wrong about everything.”
Since the pandemic erupted in the middle of the petitioning period, many candidates argued that petition signatures, which ordinarily are necessary to appear on the ballot, should be foregone entirely this year - or at the very least, significantly reduced.
In light of the pandemic’s unsafe conditions, it was only right. To do otherwise would have rewarded candidates who openly risked the health of their communities by continuing to gather signatures even after it became very clear that the situation throughout the city was rapidly deteriorating.
Editor’s Note: In hindsight, the correct decision would have been to eliminate the petitioning requirement altogether.
Of course, Governor Cuomo did no such thing, instead reducing the number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot to 30% of the previous requirement. In Nurse’s case, since she was running in a city race, her number was reduced from 450 to 135 - a number that she had already secured before the pandemic. Optimistic and hopeful, Nurse was poised to appear on the ballot in the June primary.
But all was not well, as the New York City’s Board of Elections overruled Cuomo’s reduction saying it did not apply to city elections - only state elections - while remaining adamant that 450 signatures was necessary, even amidst a global pandemic.
In what was construed as a corrupt deal between the Brooklyn Democratic machine and their preferred candidate, Darma Diaz; all three challengers, including Nurse, were kicked off the ballot due to a lack of signatures, promptly clearing the race so Diaz could run unopposed for the council seat. Despite a series of court challenges and even a public plea from Mayor Bill de Blasio, the BOE’s decision held firm. Nurse was devastated by the disenfranchisement of the district’s voters.
“Ultimately, this anti-democratic style of leadership is truly unacceptable. People need to earn the trust and respect of this community because there is so much apathy, so many people believe that nobody works for them. We can't continue to let that shit happen.”
While Nurse struggled with feelings of dismay, she maintained proper perspective:
“The next day, we went out and did food distribution and that felt more meaningful than winning a primary. Being out supporting people and working within the community. I felt unsure about a lot of things - but I knew where we stood with people in the neighborhood.”
Nurse’s perspective, which is undeniably one of her strongest qualities, has molded her worldview and shaped her journey throughout life. Whether it be in Zuccotti Park, Bushwick’s Mayday Space, or the council chamber at City Hall - one thing remains clear:
Sandy Nurse has never been one to give up.
Nurse was born in Panama to a White American Mom and a Black Panamanian Dad, both of whom served in the Navy, the catalyst for a childhood defined by migration. After leaving Panama at age five, she moved all over the world - from the stix of Maine to Cuba to Asia and everywhere in between - never living in one location for longer than two years, as her home became the transient community that was the US military and their families:
“I didn’t have the lived experience of growing up in a place - if you have that opportunity, you are attached to people in such a deep way, your understanding of them and their trajectories is just so profound. You understand how things change at the day-to-day level. I didn’t have that.”
Even at a young age, Nurse was critically aware of the tinted optics that could have colored her perceptions of other countries and their institutions - vowing to break out of the groupthink that was prevalent amongst military families:
“I’ve been fortunate and unfortunate. I’ve seen an incredible amount of the world and been immersed in other cultures. But, it was always through the lens of being a part of the violent arm of the U.S. imperial project - an occupation force in other people’s countries.”
Both of Nurse’s parents left home at the age of seventeen - her mother to join the Navy, her father to move to Jamaica, Queens as an undocumented immigrant before he too joined the military to gain his citizenship.
Her home life proved tumultuous, as both her parents struggled with alcohol and drug use, with Nurse’s father leaving the family before she was even a teenager.
“There was a lot of stuff. There was a stabbing in my home. My mom is deaf in one ear, she has missing teeth because of it. There was a lot of violence - which is not unique to military families, some of the highest rates of domestic violence are within military families.”
Nurse attributes these lived experiences for sparking her desire to create community safe spaces to help survivors heal and rebuild:
“I know what it’s like to be a teenager needing to get out. It’s why I worked hard to be the person I needed as a teenager for young people in my community.”
During this violent period, Nurse made the very difficult decision to leave home at the age of sixteen, eventually returning to the United States two years later before “stumbling” her way into Emmanuel College in Boston:
“I was not really with it. I needed to get the fuck out of here. School was a means to an end to start anew. I wasn’t one of those kids who was like ‘I’m here to have a school experience’. I took as many jobs as I could - as a dishwasher, server, bartender, janitor, and house cleaner while taking as many credits as I could. I was constantly working.”
After graduating college, Nurse migrated southward - trading in New England for the Big Apple. She settled in Bushwick, Brooklyn, in front of the Wyckoff Hospital, the area which later became the “base of her operations” where she spawned many of her projects. Nurse calls Bushwick “the first place I’ve been able to build a home.”
While studying at the New School in Manhattan, Nurse took an internship at the United Nations:
“I wanted to be working in war zones post-conflict. I was fascinated by the way violence moves from a family unit to a neighborhood to armed national civil strike - specifically the underlying conditions that permeate under the surface.”
She quickly impressed, and was rewarded with contract work, as she joined the UN World Food Programme to assist on post-disaster food relief - which led her to spend 3 months in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
However, Nurse returned home disenchanted, “The international governing system was a big false lie to me.”
“I had been putting a lot of energy towards working in these big intergovernmental spaces. I saw myself as a ‘kid of the world’ and was always going to be engaged in humanitarian work across the globe. But, when I spent time in these institutions, coming back from Haiti, I became disillusioned and knew that the whole track of thinking does not work for me anymore.”
She craved a more hands-on experience, eager to work outside the confines of the political establishment, and directly challenge power centers in the United States, especially in New York City - where income inequality under the Bloomberg administration had metastasized throughout the City. This inclination led her to organize with the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In the Fall of 2011, a few hundred people descended upon Wall Street in response to a call from Canadian countercultural magazine Adbusters - with a plan to bring tents and stay for a few months. The protesters gathered together, amidst the backdrop of Manhattan’s Financial District, to fight runaway income inequality, pervasive corruption throughout the government, and the unchecked corporatism that had poisoned countless American institutions. The Occupiers settled into Zuccotti Park, the 33,000-square-foot pedestrian plaza, opting to march in the morning and evening in accordance with rush hour commutes and the opening/closing of the Stock Market. No one was sure how long it would take for the Occupiers to be arrested:
“The planners surprised themselves by making it through the first night. Within a few weeks this gang of anarchists, students, activists, and online rabble-rousers — had captured the attention of the world, armed only with tents, cardboard signs, and an obstinate demand to be seen and heard” (Intelligencer)
The organizers rallied broad support with their message of class politics, highlighted by their infamous slogan: “We are the 99%” - which has endured to this day while helping catalyze a necessary and overdue conversation throughout the country on the efficacy of capitalism in the wake of the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression. The structure of Occupy was radical in itself, as the movement was rooted in a horizontal structure with consensus-based decisions via general assemblies, where proposals had to meet a 90% approval threshold to pass. Known to scholars of anarchism as “direct action”, this method bypassed traditional structures reliant on members submitting requests to higher authorities. The movement's emphasis on these assemblies, which encouraged the cultivation and sharing of ideas with one another to develop a sense for one’s purpose and place in the broader struggle, helped distinguish it from other mass movements solely reliant on protesting and marching. While this “modified consensus” became more difficult as the movement grew into the thousands, organizers felt a collective investment with Occupy Wall Street that had been lacking elsewhere. This ethos attracted folks far and wide, making Zuccotti Park, a city in itself, into a cultural hub - the epicenter of a burgeoning populist energy that would envelop the nation in the following decade.
The movement was deeply personal to many of the city’s outer borough working class. After the subprime mortgage crisis, Black and Hispanic families lost more than half of their collective wealth, leaving neighborhoods in District 37 like Bushwick, East New York, Cypress Hills, and Ocean Hill-Brownsville - all majority working class Black or Hispanic communities - to bear the brunt of Wall Street bankers' malfeasance and President Obama’s uninspiring response to the calamity. Often ignored by the political establishment, many organizers throughout the City were determined to amplify the economic plight that had beset their communities.
As one of the earliest members of the Direct Action Working Group - as well as one of the last - Nurse played a foundational role in the movement’s takeover of Zuccotti Park.
Nurse credits the movement for highlighting the amount of special interests in politics. To counteract such entrenched interests, Occupy Wall Street helped promote the concept of small dollar donations, which not only helped the organizers stay afloat with clothes, blankets, food and cash - but helped to nationalize the effort, akin to many of the progressive campaigns waged this past decade.
The Occupy Wall Street Movement became an inflection point for organizing amongst the American Left, bridging the “late-20th-century left, which was small, fragmented, and ineffectual, and a 21st-century left that aims to build a majoritarian, multiracial, class-conscious movement that operates both inside and outside the political system to materially improve people’s lives.” The takeover of Zuccotti Park propelled nearly one thousand like-minded occupations throughout the United States - which included banks, corporate headquarters, board meetings, foreclosed homes, and college campuses.
“We were also in that time of ‘movement of the Squares’ - Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia - a lot of people were mobilizing and holding space. So there was a lot of energy across the globe - and we wanted to keep that up.”
While the protests eventually ceased, the Occupy movement, despite having an inherent skepticism towards electoral politics, helped reinvigorate the Democratic Party with its anti-establishment, populist insurgency that “ushered in a social-movement renaissance across a range of issues, including racial justice, climate change, debt cancellation, and organized labor.” In many respects, the origins of the socialist revival, especially in New York City, can be traced back to Zuccotti Park, where dissatisfaction with the neo-liberal bi-partisan consensus finally boiled over, forever emboldening and influencing the next generation of leftist organizers.
“It felt like a culture shift in the way mobilizations happened - and a rejection of other styles of previous movements. It set some new norms of having more ‘flat’ organizing where power is distributed in different ways. Occupy is one of the first iterations of that.”
“I felt like I fell asleep and three years later I woke up standing in these piles of compost. I had an idea and I got fixated on it, and it snowballed - and all of a sudden there are a bunch of teenagers running around that I am in charge of. Like fuck. But in a good way and also a crazy way.”
Eager to parlay her organizing and environmental justice experience into helping the community at the hyper-local level, Nurse founded BK ROT, New York City’s first bike-powered composting service - which to date, serves over 300 households and businesses. Not only supplying an ecological benefit, BK ROT provides vital developmental training to the staff; which is entirely young people of color - many of whom work full time at $16/hour.
For the first time, Nurse began thinking about the potential that efforts like BK ROT could have if they were scaled up at the behest of the people in power.
“How good would it be to have someone on the inside who understands what it is like to work DIY on the outside and can help scale those efforts up? But, you can only scale them up if there's people in there who believe in it - who are willing to move it through our city agencies and the bureaucracy that isn’t culturally adept to moving at the speed we need it to.”
In what became a theme of her activism, Nurse was never one to drag her feet, even when local electeds would. When she saw a need, she worked diligently to meet it:
“I think about it like living in a house. How many times are you gonna walk past this thing that needs to be done. I’m the person who can’t walk past it - it doesn't matter who is responsible.”
The same rang true when she co-founded Mayday Space, designed to provide a centralized neighborhood space for progressive organizers and activists throughout Bushwick. Akin to the exchange of radical ideas and debate at the Occupy Wall Street assemblies, Nurse sought to harness a similar energy:
“I see Mayday as like Zuccotti Park in a building. It’s all of the same types of activities — cooking and big events, big assemblies, celebrations. It’s art making, political education and all of the things that were happening at Zuccotti but in a space that’s clean and safe for people.”
Editor’s Note: In my opinion, Nurse’s Mayday space closely resembles the Operation Power assemblies hosted and led by Charles and Inez Barron in neighboring East New York.
Not only did Nurse successfully cultivate spaces within her community that championed the environmental and economic models she had advocated for, but she remained acutely aware that such a mission would go unfulfilled if the organization was not run by people rooted in the neighborhood, many of whom were often marginalized by such industries.
Nurse’s role in developing BK ROT and Mayday helped incite her interest in electoral politics, as she worked alongside then-Councilmember Antonio Reynoso (now Brooklyn Borough President) to help secure public land for her projects, which helped open her mind to opportunities to work with the state.
“It matters that there are people in these institutions that fundamentally understand the value of creativity and innovation - attempts to pilot and experiment - and that they’re willing to allow us access to resources which are our resources. This has been really meaningful in terms of transforming my perception of local government’s power with the right people in place.”
She relished the opportunity to partake in the “nitty gritty” aspects of political work: attending community board hearings, collecting petitions for projects, learning about accessing public land, all while selling her vision to the people and their elected officials.
Time and time again, Nurse saw her community failed by feckless leaders:
“Because of the history of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, communities have been failed because their elected officials are not held accountable. They don’t have to proactively address community needs, collect their paycheck, talk to the same two thousand people who vote for them every time, and they don’t have challengers. To me, this was unacceptable.”
“To have people at the state and city level who are half-stepping is really unacceptable.”
After flirting with the possibility of challenging incumbent Erik Martin Dilan for the New York State Assembly, the perfect opportunity presented itself when incumbent term-limited City Councilman Rafael Espinal resigned in January 2020 to take a job as the President of the Freelancers Union.
Espinal’s vacancy created the need for a timely special election for City Council District 37, which was promptly scheduled for that April.
Editor’s Note: Unlike many of the special elections discussed in previous posts, this election was for a City seat, NOT a State seat - thus, the county committee plays no role here and the election resembles an open primary
District 37 itself, per census data from 2010, is approximately 56% Hispanic and 30% Black. While the last decade has seen a migration of newer residents into Bushwick, the presence of any gentrification in the district is limited to the northwest portion - which, in spite of such developments, has maintained a Hispanic plurality. The district’s robust Hispanic population is concentrated in the northern portions of the district, primarily Bushwick and Cypress Hills, which are separated by Highland Park and the Evergreens Cemetery. As one moves south to Ocean-Hill Brownsville and eventually East New York, the population shifts significantly to majority Black residents - especially south of Atlantic Avenue.
As such, Nurse’s progressive bona fides were sneered at by the political establishment, as she sought to challenge the pervasive narrative that leftist candidates struggled in non-gentrifying working class communities of color.
While there were four candidates in the race, the premier showdown was between Nurse, an anti-capitalist running on an abjectly progressive platform, and Darma Diaz, a district leader backed by the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
The race promised to highlight the familiar insurgent versus establishment dynamic that had gripped City politics since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in 2018. The race quickly became a proxy war over the direction of the City’s future - with two distinctive divides emerging that rippled up and down the ballot.
Nurse ran on a transformative policy vision for the city, centering issues like housing as a human right, universal mental healthcare, a Green New Deal/climate resiliency, decarceration, free CUNY, and divesting $3 billion from the NYPD. Her bold platform and track record within the community won her many endorsements from the city's leading progressive voices and organizations, including Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Senator Julia Salazar, and Councilmember Antonio Reynoso in addition to many left nonprofits like the Working Families Party and Citizens Action.
But as quickly as the race began, it ended.
As coronavirus descended on the city, campaigning and petitioning were shuttered and the rest was history. Nurse was kicked off the ballot and Diaz ran unopposed.
Devastated that her efforts were all for naught, Nurse was forced to reset and regroup.
Editor’s Note: While Diaz won, the special election was only to finish out Espinal’s term, which would have ended in December 2021 anyway - forcing Diaz to have to run for re-election in June of 2021.
While New York City was the country’s coronavirus epicenter in March and April, the following months saw the city capture the nation’s attention for a far different issue: police accountability. In the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the city saw unmatched energy as tens of thousands of protesters and organizers took to the streets across the five boroughs, marching day and night with calls to overhaul policing nationwide. To Nurse, such momentum was reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street, and once more, she would play an integral role. This time, her goal was to translate this renewed energy into more material concessions:
“We started thinking: what is something tangible we can get from this moment? Versus with Occupy, the concrete things we got, we saw the results of them 10 years later. Ideas like the 99% vs. the 1% - how do you bring that down into something greater than a narrative shift?”
Along with other Black organizers, Nurse worked to set up an encampment at City Hall, similar to the one at Zuccotti Park nine years earlier, in order to pressure city council members to divest billions from the NYPD’s $6 billion dollar operating budget in favor of investments into the city’s social services, specifically in overpoliced communities of color.
“It felt like a convergence of the inside and outside world that I was in the process of transitioning between. You need action and momentum on the outside to push people on the inside.”
The city council, led by Speaker Corey Johnson and Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, proposed a toothless $1 Billion cut to the NYPD, which merely transferred the costs of school “safety agents” to the Department of Education’s budget while promising to “reduce overtime” - which is nearly impossible. To many progressives, the framing of the budget as a “$1 billion dollar cut to the NYPD” was deceptive sleight of hand from the speaker - when in reality, the budget simply shifted money around the department.
Ultimately, the budget passed 32-17.
Nine councilmembers: Inez Barron, Antonio Reynoso, Carlina Rivera, Brad Lander, Donovan Richards, Jimmy Van Bramer, Helen Rosenthal, Carlos Menchaca and Ben Kallos - voted against the budget on the grounds that the NYPD’s funding was not significantly reduced.
Ironically, 8 other more conservative members voted against the budget because the “cut” to the NYPD was too large.
While the unsuccessful effort underscored the gap between progressive activists and many of the city’s council members, the organizers at Occupy City Hall were successful in engaging and rallying people around the normally tedious and overlooked process of the City budget, while laying the groundwork for future advocacy by giving the debate a space in the public conscious.
“One of the proudest moments of last year was seeing people huddled around a screen in City Hall park watching the budget vote speeches - like it was a soccer match or a football game.”
Re-energized going into the Fall, Nurse was determined to get another shot at Diaz, vowing that this time the voters would decide. Luckily, she would not have to wait long, as Diaz was up for re-election the following year in June of 2021. Resolute, Nurse re-launched her campaign with an eye on fulfilling unfinished business.
“From the jump, we were always about the field game.”
While Nurse only had four staff members (a campaign manager, field director, and two field organizers) her team was able to blanket the district’s doors with help from her broad coalition.
While longtime supporters like Velázquez, Salazar and Reynoso continued to back Nurse, she was further buoyed by endorsements from other progressive heavyweights like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jumaane Williams, Zephyr Teachout and Brad Lander, helping to excite volunteers and expedite small dollar donations.
Her labor coalition, which included 1199 SIEU, 32BJ, DC37 and the Hotel’s Trade Council - among others - were integral in sending mail and activating their members in order to reach every corner of the district.
New Deal Strategies, led by Camille Rivera and Rebecca Katz, served as Nurse's General Consultant, assisting with setting up campaign structures (budget, hiring, etc), political strategy, communications and press - throughout the duration of both her Council runs.
Additionally, Nurse credits Make the Road Action, New York Communities for Change, and New Kings Democrats for prioritizing her race, citing that support from their members played a pivotal role in her campaign. Nurse’s strong ties to youth organizing led groups like Sunrise NYC and Treeage to endorse her campaign early.
“Their members coming out for us was meaningful, not only on a personal level, but to our campaign.”
Darma Diaz, intimidated by Nurse’s growing coalition and strong fundraising, began to get defensive and turn the campaign ugly - resorting to hollow smears often applied to insurgent left candidates, calling Nurse a “transplant” and accusing her of “opportunism”.
Editor’s Note: Nurse, who traditionally resides in Bushwick moved into a family friend’s house on the East New York side of the district to save money during the campaign. Nurse has lived in each corner of District 37 - she is undoubtedly a resident.
However Diaz went further, cynically targeted Nurse’s identity as an Afro-Latina, accusing her of switching racial identities to suit campaign needs, implying that Nurse could only identify as Black or Hispanic. In a district that is over 85% Black or Hispanic, not only were Diaz’s comments ignorant and offensive, but showed a remarkable inability to comprehend the complex racial experiences of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who identify as Black and Latino.
Diaz was eager to malign Nurse to distract from her own suspect record, particularly her coziness with real estate developers keen on gentrifying the neighborhood. In one of the many independent expenditures that targeted leftist City Council candidates, Diaz was portrayed as the “quality of life” candidate - a dog whistle meant to brand Nurse as dangerous for promising to reduce the City’s police budget. The independent expenditure boosting Diaz, which circumvented the race’s spending caps, amounted to $13,000 financed by some of the City’s largest landlords and real estate developers, including billionaire Stephen Ross. These developers openly telegraphed their intentions, intent to use Diaz, and her power over the neighborhood's land use decisions, to expand their empires:
“The companies that are behind Diaz are also behind some of the priciest buildings in the city, from 120 Wall Street to the Zeckendorf Towers that lord over Union Square, but they’re also making moves into Bushwick… Last year, [these developers] put together a $16.7 million deal that aims to see 1333 Broadway, once the space of a community garden, become a new luxury condo. ‘This development is part of the ongoing gentrification of Bushwick,’ a representative for one of the developers said at the time. ‘Bushwick is changing and becoming more of a trendy luxurious neighborhood.’” (Bushwick Daily)
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a familiar antagonist of the city’s progressive left, nonetheless endorsed Diaz.
Diaz was also boosted by the Brooklyn Democratic Party, including county boss Rodneyse Bichotte, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a leftist foil during the 2020 budget negotiations.
Editor’s Note: Jeffries other council endorsements included Nikki Lucas in District 42 (against Black Socialist Charles Barron) and Crystal Hudson in District 35 (against DSA endorsed Michael Hollingsworth)
In spite of these familiar tactics deployed by the city’s political establishment, Nurse and her team remained determined to outwork the competition - knocking 32,699 doors, making 56,032 phone calls, and executing 1,249 volunteer shifts.
Nurse won handily.
In a race that featured six candidates, Nurse cleared 49.5% on the first ballot to Diaz’s 23%. After every round of ranked choice voting, she defeated Diaz 65% to 35% - a commanding victory.
There were no narratives that could be prescribed to diminish Nurse’s victory, for she did well nearly everywhere.
Nurse performed strongest throughout the majority Hispanic Bushwick and in the predominantly Black Brownsville and East New York.
Sandy Nurse did not win in spite of working class voters of color, she won because of them.
“I ran as a progressive. I am a leftist. I am an anti-capitalist. And we won convincingly. But the media won’t focus on that because I think they have a very low bandwidth - I’m not saying that as a critique, but as a reality.”
While much of the nuance surrounding June’s primary results was missed or deliberately ignored by mainstream news outlets, Sandy Nurse remains as focused as ever in delivering for the working class people who ushered her into public office.
Nurse is optimistic of her new colleagues - “there is a wave of real leftists coming to the City Council” - especially as they are set to vote for the next council speaker in the coming months. After witnessing the budget debacle of 2020, as well as her long developed distrust of authority that is too centralized, Nurse is not looking to repeat past mistakes:
“I am looking for someone who is going to present a vision about how they want to transform the role of the speaker, not just for this class, but for future cohorts as well. We want someone who will break up a little bit of their power and allow the members to move effectively.”
Past speakers, like Christine Quinn and Corey Johnson, have been known to retaliate against dissenting members who do not simply fall in line with agendas. In reality, such punishment only hurts the people in their district. Nurse remains adamant that this culture needs to end.
While she is uncommitted at the moment, both leading speaker contenders Justin Brannan and Carlina Rivera endorsed in her race; Brannon backed Diaz, Rivera supported Nurse.
Leftists worry that Brannan, an ally of Eric Adams and favorite among the city’s outer borough moderates, would not provide the necessary check on Adams’s agenda that someone like Rivera, a progressive and close ally of Nydia Velázquez, would.
Speaking of Eric Adams, as my conversation with Nurse winded down, we pivoted one more time to discuss the future Mayor.
While Adams predictably won council district 37 with approximately 39% of the vote in the Mayoral primary, Nurse actually outperformed his raw vote totals in the district - 5,346 to 4,659 - a remarkable result, given that down ballot candidates almost never attract more votes than their top of the ticket counterparts. Nurse received more votes in district 37 than any of the candidates for mayor, comptroller, or borough president.
Nurse attributes this to the notion that “voters don’t always vote on policy, they vote on who they like,” a familiar ethos of this newsletter.
As Nurse tells it, she and her team were in voter’s doorways and in their living rooms, while Eric Adams was on their television screen - and, while they told competing narratives about police accountability and a multitude of other polarizing issues - both campaigns resonated with the city’s working class Black and Latino communities because of their presence in the neighborhood.
Nurse is at the cutting edge of the leftist movement in working class communities of color - where progressives candidates have struggled in the past.
But movements fall flat if they are unable to materially improve the lives of the people they are trying to help. Nurse, through her lived experiences, knows this fact better than anyone.
While next January will entail a new role, Nurse’s determination to meet the needs of her community, as well as her strong will to mobilize a lackadaisical bureaucracy, will remain unchanged.
A special thank you to Sandy Nurse herself and Ale Gonzalez for helping this piece come to life
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