Khari Edwards, 48, an executive at Brookdale Hospital, is one of the 14 candidates running to replace mayoral candidate Eric Adams as Brooklyn Borough President. Despite never holding political office, Edwards told Hamodia he has years of experience representing the 1.3 million residents of Brookdale when he conducted outreach between the community and the hospital.
A lifelong resident of Crown Heights, Edwards has seen firsthand the breadth and warmth of Brooklyn communities, including the Jewish neighbors he’s become good friends with after years of going into their yards to retrieve his son’s baseballs. He previously served as a Brooklyn regional representative for former Governors Elliot Spitzer and David Paterson, as well as was involved in bringing hospital administrators and health-care stakeholders together for the Democratic Conference in the New York State Senate for medical policy issues. As a community activist, he has been involved in deterring youth violence, expanding educational programs and public health initiatives.
As vice president of external affairs at Brookdale Hospital, he saw the best of New York City in its most desperate moments during the pandemic, when “communities from different cultural backgrounds work[ed] together towards a common cause” as the neighbors cheered on and sent takeout, with kosher and halal options, to the health-care workers working around the clock to protect New Yorkers.
But he also spent the first few desperate weeks of the pandemic desperate to find protective equipment for his staff, all too aware of the cracks in the health-care system and the dearth of care for seniors the pandemic revealed, and even more aware of the politicians who were dragging their feet to get the health-care workers the supplies that they needed.
The pandemic, compounded with his awareness of the lack of resources and recognition for the Brooklyn communities he worked with, prompted Edwards to run.
Some of the other employees in Brookdale, despite holding full-time jobs, could not afford Brooklyn rent and lived out of their cars. Edwards has a plan to change that through allying with members of the City Council, who can present legislation on the issue, and using the Borough President’s powers over private development to build affordable housing.
“In Brookdale, working class people are living in their cars and shelters because they didn’t have enough…I want to introduce legislation..to build three- and four-bedroom dwellings. Brooklyn specifically has not built four-bedroom dwellings since 2006. So I’d like to see that any new construction has at least 40% of those kinds of dwellings,” Edwards said, noting the lack of large apartments is especially stressful for families, and that 75% of the homeless shelter population are children. “More so, I’d really like to start to push, and have my agenda and my [City Council] partner, push that these [apartments] are between 30% and 60% [of the average median income in Brooklyn] and not between 80% and 130%.”
He would tap into the city’s Economically Targeted Investment, which is the retirement investment fund with billions of dollars, to invest in workforce housing initiatives. The fund would also support small business recovery. A former small business owner himself, Edwards went bankrupt after 9/11 kept customers away while the bills piled up, and he didn’t have any local officials who could guide him or any city resources to help him find a way to recover.
“We should create a tax break for small businesses, who’re doing the right thing but not making” enough due to the pandemic, Edwards said. “If we really enacted these small business tax abatements [it would] give them a cover.”
Another way to help small businesses would be to cut back on bureaucratic bloat and streamline services, something Edwards experienced in the hospital system. “Even though all these agencies are under the city umbrella, they all have their own methodologies, their own vendors,” he said. “I think that when we start to look at a lot of the waste, we could probably save billions.”
Another urgent but less discussed issue Edwards saw firsthand in the hospital is the lack of health education throughout Brooklyn. “The lessons that I’ve learned working in Brookdale is to start to put money behind real educational resources for health care,” he said. “What we realized from COVID is that we talk about colds and flus, but we don’t talk about vascular disease and we don’t talk about asthma. So what we have to do is really start to educate our community… to really start rolling on our real health education platforms and advertising.”
He would combine a push to improve borough health with business initiatives that would encourage grocery stores to open in neighborhoods, explaining that “if we can use some city land and do some public-private partnerships to open up that and bring that quality [healthy food] to people, I think we‘d see our community get healthier real quick.”
As a community activist, Edwards ran violence prevention programs, youth tutoring programs and career exploration programs for children in school and recent graduates. He would use Borough Hall to continue and expand these programs by bolstering their funding and opening them in other Brooklyn communities. He believes that funding to ease violence in areas struggling with crime would better be redirected into schools and small businesses rather than buying more gear or more cars for the local police departments.
“I would really like an assessment to see that those funds go into the high-crime community, not in terms of more police, but to really take into account where the resources are lacking,” he said. “When there’s a lack of education, there’s an increase in crime. Where there’s a lack of grocery stores, there’s an increase in crime. So you know I just don’t want to defund the police and say, ‘oh let’s just call the social service programs,’…I want to say, ‘this community has had a high-crime incident, let’s take X amount of money and reinvest in schools, reinvest in small businesses.’”
He would seek to address tensions between local communities and police officers by mandating “cultural sensitivity training, customer service training” that officers would need to be certified in every few years, the same way they would be with gun licenses.
“We need police for a plethora of things. The issues that the communities are having with the police, or how they respond to certain communities, are ‘how are they trained, how they react to things,’”he said. “So, what I would really like to see from the academy that police officers have to go to [for] certification training…every five years you have to be recertified so that when you want a promotion, whatever the bonuses, you have to go through that process. And then that will lead into more community policing.”