We know we live in challenging times. For all the progress made when we elected President Obama, we now have an occupant of the White House who not only tolerates racism and hate speech, he defends it and encourages it. And here in Yonkers, where we all know too well the history of segregation, discrimination, and voter suppression, we’re seeing some of that same racism again rear its ugly head in our local politics.
The race for Yonkers Council President pits a good Democrat, Mike Khader, against the Republican incumbent Liam McLaughlin. Liam’s family has a long and unfortunate history on this, having taken leadership roles in supporting segregated schools and housing – his father once described our community as “the crime-ridden, nonworking poor, people with lesser values that we don’t share.” I hoped that Liam had the character to rise above all of that. But in these past weeks, his campaign has engaged in overt race-baiting to build support. He’s following the Trump playbook of using code words and dog-whistle politics to appeal to worst elements and attitudes of a past which was truly Yonkers’ worst moment in time.
In mailer after mailer, Liam calls Mike Khader, “Mount Vernon’s Mike,” even though Mike never lived in Mount Vernon. But Liam knows who he’s speaking to with that phrase – the racists who view any connection to a predominantly African American community as something negative. He’s negatively compared Mike to Colin Kaepernick and says he’ll never “take a knee”, then creates fake images of Mike dressed like a rapper in a tracksuit. Over and over, Liam uses racial imagery as a negative point – but he’s wrong. And we’re going to show Liam that standing with our community and hearing our concerns is exactly what elected officials should be doing. We’re not a negative – and neither are the people who stand with us.
We’ve seen these politics before, in the housing and school integration fights of the past, and in the voter suppression that tried to block Andrea Stewart-Cousins from being elected Senator. They failed because we made them fail. They failed because we stood together, we rejected racism and hate, and we demanded that our voices be heard and our community be recognized. This racism must be made to fail again.
Earlier this year I asked you to stand with me in a campaign of hope and inclusion. That campaign did not end in September, and it must not end now.
This Tuesday is Election Day. I will proudly vote for Mike Khader, not only because he is the better candidate, but because his opponent has engaged in the exact kind of racism we all campaigned against. You stood with me in September; I ask you to stand with me again.
Stand against racism. Stand for justice. Stand up for ourselves. And please stand with Democrat Mike Khader for City Council President. Join me on November 7th and vote for Mike Khader and the entire Democratic Team.
Ken Jenkins, Westchester County Legislator