Wonky upstart announces Assembly run

Jackson Strong will try to unseat Carmen Arroyo, the 80-year-old incumbent who has held the 84th District Assembly seat since 1994, in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. The townhouse renovator says that “the quality of representation in our district is unacceptable.”

Jackson Strong talks to prospective voters in St. Mary's Park.
Jackson Strong talks to prospective voters in St. Mary’s Park.

Political newcomer Jackson Strong will oppose Carmen Arroyo in Sept. primary

As a child growing up in a small upstate town, Jackson Strong asked his mom what he should do for a living as an adult. First, mom predictably suggested young Jackson could become a doctor. Naaaah. Teacher? Nope, the precocious urchin again rejected her maternal advice.

On her third try, however, Strong’s mom struck a chord, when she suggested young Jackson could grow up to “revitalize rundown cities, like Schenectady.”

“Those words hit me deeply,” said Strong, who is now 29.

Strong says he has been transfixed ever since by the idea of revitalizing broken-down cities like the ones near where he grew up. And, more recently, the Bronx.

He went on to get a degree in architectural technology at City College, worked for a small Queens developer, started a small business as a townhouse renovator, and is now an aspiring member of the New York State Assembly.

Strong will try to unseat Carmen Arroyo, the 80-year-old incumbent who has held the 84th District Assembly seat since 1994, in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. The district includes Mott Haven, along with the area around Strong’s home near Yankee Stadium, where he shares an apartment with a roommate.

The fledgling candidate moved to the Bronx 11 years ago rather than live in the dorms, he says, because he wanted to be some place where he felt he could have a positive impact. The spark that caused him to run for office came last spring when he was checking on the property at 100 River Avenue, near his home. He was shocked to find that such a large, city-owned property serves as an underused parking lot controlled by the Yankees, doesn’t bring in a dime for the city—-and that his opponent supports it.

“The quality of representation in our district is unacceptable,” he said.

Housing reform towers over all other issues the city faces, he says, becoming emphatic as soon as the topic arises.

“Now all they talk about is giving money to developers. That’s completely unsustainable and gets to the root of why policies have to be reformed,” said Strong. Most of the voters he has met strongly agree, he added, that money the city gives developers in the form of subsidies, should instead be invested in parkland and schools.

Transportation costs are another fiscal sinkhole elected officials rarely address, says the candidate, volunteering that, “I’ve always considered myself pretty wonky.”

“There’s not one representative that even talks about it, but that’s a huge issue,” he said. “Elected officials are not knowledgeable about transportation. It’s a pretty esoteric area of policy.”

He says it is “unacceptable” that the city pays $2.8 billion per mile on subway construction, far more than any other city in the world.

Strong admits he has lots of campaigning to do to make a dent in Arroyo’s backyard. In heat that could bend steel on a mid-August afternoon, he and a supporter went canvassing in the incumbent’s stronghold along East 138th Street. Strong speaks just enough Spanish to touch on the issues with some constituents, but Yolanda Garcia, a native speaker, has his back.

“The (current) elected officials do nothing,” said Garcia, who ran for district leader, an unpaid volunteer position, before Arroyo’s team knocked her off the ballot. “Jackson wants to help; not to keep playing these games. He has a passion for these issues.”

As he campaigns, Strong is learning the reality of local politics the hard way. While fighting off a challenge to his nominating petitions in the Board of Elections by Arroyo and lawyers for the Bronx County Committee, a judge asked him if he understood that the authenticity of the signatures he’d gathered was being questioned. Strong nearly detonated out of his chair to answer that he did—and lots more.

“I went into this process knowing that I would be subject to a baseless and frivolous lawsuit,” he told the judge, and continued, even as his lawyer tried to shut him up, “so if necessary I could come to a court of law under penalty of perjury and swear that I did this process completely correctly.”

Though Arroyo’s legal team succeeded in knocking out about half of Strong’s roughly 1,200 signatures, he still had more than 100 over the 500 needed to run, and will remain on the ballot to oppose his octogenarian opponent in September.

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