Council candidate reaches out, one voter at a time

Tamika Mapp

Tamika Mapp says her views are ‘to the left of everyone else’

When there’s a knock on the door and Mott Haven residents open it to see Tamika Mapp, the last thing they could imagine is that the woman in front of them is running for elected office. That’s exactly how the City Council candidate wants it.

As a small business owner who was once homeless and became a mother in her teens, Mapp, 41, is running for the District 8 seat soon to be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. She has spent the campaign season walking through the district, introducing herself to everyone along the way. When people are surprised to learn that she’s campaigning, she tells them “then I did my job right.”

“You’re asking somebody to put their trust in you,” Mapp said, explaining her shoe leather campaigning style. “How can you trust somebody if you never see them?”

Mapp was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., where she was raised by her grandmother until the age of 14. She was still a teenager when she gave birth to her son, then moved into a shelter for teen mothers while trying to distance herself from abusive family members. She later had a fleeting marriage and gave birth to a daughter, over whom she endured a long custody battle. She went on to to college and the army, where she served as an administrative assistant, before moving to New York on a whim.

Today, Mapp resides in East Harlem, where she and her wife own and operate a financial services business.

Mapp broke into politics working on phone banks during then-President Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, before being invited to join the campaign full time in Ohio. After returning to New York in 2013, she decided to run for District 8, but dropped out of the race when her 15-year-old daughter took her own life. The candidate picked up the pieces and ran for State Assembly District in 2014 and 2016, but was knocked off the ballot both times by incumbent Robert J. Rodriguez, an opponent yet again in this year’s Council primary.

Mapp attributes one of her most passionate pursuits—-reforming family courts—-to her daughter’s suicide. The candidate says she wants them to redefine their interpretation of children’s best interest in custody battles, by mandating mental health counseling for all children whose parents are divorcing.

“I’m going to be bold, and I’m always going to be to the left of everybody else, because this is an issue that really needs to be taken care of,” she said.

Mapp differs from her opponents about how government should handle the urgent need for housing. While others echo the mayor’s call to build new housing wherever there is space to be built on, she emphasizes preserving and fixing existing building stock as the more important priority. In light of a recent revelation that NYCHA lied about its inspections of thousands of homes, Mapp said she intends to make sure the agency is held accountable.

The homelessness crisis, she says, would be best tackled with more holistic case management than now exists, because “sometimes when you’re on the street for such a long time, it takes a while to get back into the swing of things.”

Recognizing that immigrants constitute a large percentage of those hurt by the housing crunch, the candidate says that, if elected, she would ease their pathway to citizenship by making the process less expensive. That could be achieved, she says, by having the city subsidize immigrant advocacy organizations.

In addition, Mapp wants to raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour, to help generate loyal and dependable employees, and cut down on the number of employees having to hustle between jobs to make ends meet. Small businesses can—-and should—- pay their employees more, she says, pointing out that she paid her own employees $15 per hour before that became the mandatory minimum.

Although the candidate has received only one endorsement so far, the 504 Democratic Club, she says that about 2,500 people have told her that she has their vote. So far she has just $2,495 in contributions, according to the NYC Campaign Finance Board. The leading fundraiser in the race, her old nemesis Robert Rodriguez, has so far brought in almost $135,000.

But no matter what happens in the Sept. 12 primary and Nov. 7 general election, the underdog candidate said she is just going to stay true to herself. That means when she isn’t out meeting voters, she’ll probably be cooking, working with the Girl Scouts, playing candy crush and listening to BB King.

“That’s the hard part, trying to figure out who you are in the process,” she said. “You have to be able to laugh. You can’t be serious all the time, and you have to be relatable.”