Assemblyman Karim Camara’s First Annual State of the District Address

April 19, 2007
Assemblyman Karim Camara recently delivered his first annual State of the District address. Below are excerpts from the Queens Ledger article “What’s Next? The State of My Living Room?” by Nik Kovac.

…[T]he revered assemblyman [Karim Camara] mixed in heavy doses of detailed policy recommendations between the rhetorical crescendos. The headliner was certainly that he will be introducing legislation this week to impose term limits upon himself and his colleagues. "I don't believe this office was intended to be a career for people," he explained, "to fight for our own aggrandizement."

Those strong words were especially poignant coming from Camara. The only reason the reverend got a shot at his current assembly job was because the previous longtime office holder – …Clarence Norman – was convicted of taking bribes.

"Term limits," argued Camara, "would ensure that our most talented and valuable public servants don't 'set up shop' in one position their entire career."…

Camara brandished more than just maverick rhetoric. He has already voted against the majority on Governor Spitzer's health care cuts. "Those proposed cuts," he said, "would have been sustained too quickly and would hurt the vulnerable in our community."

Camara then claimed that on every budget matter, "…My only criteria is that it's got to be good for this district."

That applause line got him a standing ovation even from CB8 member Jesse Hamilton - his opponent in last fall's campaign, who at the time called Camara the "the machine-chosen candidate, not the people's candidate."

Other than health care, the main themes of the speech were education, employment, and housing. Camara is, of course, for more state money being put into New York City schools via the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. He is also for Spitzer's proposal to raise the cap on charter schools from 100 to 250. Camara's mother started such a school, the Cush Campus Schools. The reverend assemblyman made it clear, however, that he did not see the creation of more charter schools as a substitute for better public schools.

"While charter schools provide some students," he explained carefully, "from low-performing school districts an opportunity to be in an effective learning environment almost immediately, we can not forget that they will not be able to directly serve more than 10 percent of our city's 1.1 million students. Lifting the cap - which, again, I support - does not absolve us of the responsibility of creating a system of public education that helps all children reach their full potential."

His proposals to combat unemployment were less specific - he wants to create a temporary commission to study the problem - but he made the obvious connection between education and employment, and listed those two factors as "the best way to keep someone out of prison."

Even some of his constituents with degrees and jobs and no rap sheets, however, are still being forced out of the district because of the rapidly increasing housing market.

"Today," he lamented, "I know professional couples that despite their incomes can't afford a home in Brooklyn anymore. They're looking in New Jersey, or in North Carolina, Georgia, even Phoenix, Arizona." That comment drew a number of "mm-hmms" from the crowd of about 150 inside the SUNY downstate auditorium on Lennox and New York avenues.

To remedy that, Camara proposes repealing the Urstadt Law - which would give the city more control over its own housing regulations - and making it mandatory that any 421-a tax break be conditional on affordable housing included in the project.

Although the reverend assemblyman proposed a myriad of legislative solutions, he did not deny the seriousness of Brooklyn's problems, which he described as being part of a nation-wide problem.

"Our inner cities are in crisis," he lamented, before citing the "depressing statistics of infant mortality, low reading and math scores, unemployment, incarceration, teen pregnancy, and violent crime.

It didn't take long, however, for this man of faith to provide an inspirational spin: "We can turn every obstacle," he promised, "into an opportunity.