According to the latest round of ranked choice voting released on July 02, 2021, newcomer Althea Stevens won the Bronx’s 16th City Council district with an overwhelming 65%, replacing the incumbent Vanessa Gibson as the democratic nominee. Stevens defeated Bronx Democratic Party political director Yves Filius and community activists Ahmadou Diallo and Abdourahamane Diallo in a district that contains the neighborhoods of the Concourse, Morrisiana, Highbridge, Morris Heights, and Tremont.
However, Stevens, who has thrived in youth development and Bronx-based community leadership, says she did not foresee the political career that her friends and colleagues knew was coming. Instead, over the past 15 years, she has organized strategy workshops, voting information seminars, and community events while balancing her time as a single mother.
In an interview with The Bronx Daily, Stevens recalled an impactful conversation in a youth forum two years ago where she first urged kids to be civically engaged and active community members. “Miss, nobody cares about that stuff,” one of her kids replied. “People don’t want us to vote. No one’s ever asked us to vote. They don’t want us to be part of the process.”
Stevens marks this conversation as the start of her blossoming political career. After conversations with family and community leaders, Stevens launched her campaign for City Council at the beginning of 2020. This was just weeks before the start of the coronavirus pandemic that exasperated her community’s public health, resources, and local economy. “We needed PPE, we needed help getting kids Wifi, and all these other things,” Stevens recognized. “So I got to work to accomplish [them].”
Passionate support from those in District 16 grew from her hard work and community focus, as many voters recgonized that Stevens was different from other politicians, leading with inclusivity and deep love for her community. “I want people to know that I will always lead with love and compassion,” Stevens said, adding that her aspirations to improve the lives of District 16 residents comes from a place of true authenticity.
Stevens’ campaign policies also reflect her previous work. As a member of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Tenants Association, she has previously worked to improve affordable housing and provide sustainable options for low-income families and individuals. According to her campaign site, Stevens strives to fund the NYCHA while working with other community-based organizations to stabilize rents, recalculate median area incomes, and push New York City away from short-term shelter culture. Providing individuals with options for private home ownership, Stevens says, needs to be prioritized. “The city will pay $350 a night for families to stay in a shelter or hotel, but won’t give back the same money when it’s time for someone to live in their home, or stay in their home,” she explained. “So we have to change the culture of the city.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, costs for adult shelter operations jumped from $326 million to $666 million from 2014 to 2019, a statistic Stevens says she and her campaign staff found very concerning. “If we thought about housing as a human right in the same way that we think of running water and good health, housing would be a little different,” Stevens said. Along with housing, Stevens localized work prior to her City Council campaign has also impacted her policies on public health, education, and police reform.
Since the beginning of her campaign, Stevens has made the fight against food insecurity and inequality a centerpiece. “We can’t start the revolution if we can’t feed ourselves,” has been a frequent phrase said along Stevens’ campaign trail, emphasising the need to advocate for those in New York without proper access to the most basic human resources. According to New York City’s 2018 Food Metrics report, 230,000 city residents are considered food insecure, including more than 30% of Bronx natives. The rates are even higher in New York’s African-American and Latino communities.
As Bronx unemployment rose to 17% during the pandemic and the local economy went stagnant, more and more people became unable to afford necessary provisions. “Food insecurity is a long old story of systematic concentrated disadvantage that emerges out of a mix of direct discrimination out of indirect lacks lack of opportunities,”, said Garrett Broad, Associate Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, who has worked extensively for food justice throughout the nation.
“City efforts such as the Healthy Bodega Initiative have aided in providing healthier options at local businesses, but have been somewhat ineffective in providing locally-focused solutions in the Bronx’s most food insecure neighborhoods. There have been others where the sustainability of the initiative has been challenged due to customer demand, or sometimes lack thereof,” said Broad, “it is hard for a lot of these bodegas because they are often buying at a much smaller scale than is needed for a lot of the suppliers.” Incentivizing healthier food options for local vendors through tax cuts, growing vertical gardens, and supporting the development of more grocery stores are community solutions Stevens believes can greatly improve the borough. In an article with the Brоnx Тimеs, Stevens also discussed the importance of funding programs that fight food insecurity while adjusting them to accommodate more of those who are in need.
Stevens is set to face Republican Kajara Boyd in the 16th District’s general election on November 02, 2021.
For more information on Althea Stevens and her campaign, please visit here.