Activists to Watch: Brad Lander

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Council Member Lander rallies supporters of legislation to end discriminatory policing in New York City (Photo Credit: William Altatriste)

Before being elected to the New York City Council in 2009 — which he won, on the Democratic Party and Working Families Party tickets — with 70 percent of the vote – Brad Lander was a community organizer. He’s taken those skills with him into city government, viewing his office as a catalyst for community and labor empowerment. He’s become a master at the inside/outside game.

After graduating from the University of Chicago and earning a master’s degree at the London School of Economics, Lander served for a decade as executive director of the nonprofit Fifth Avenue Committee (FAC), garnering national recognition for a combination of grass-roots organizing and community development. At the FAC, he oversaw the development of almost 1,000 units of low-cost housing, the preservation and renovation of dozens of Brooklyn buildings facing abandonment, organized tenants against evictions and displacement by unscrupulous landlords and created a successful reentry program to help ex-prisoners find jobs and housing.

After FAC, Lander spent six years as director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, which works with grass-roots groups to strengthen their capacity for organizing and neighborhood improvement. At Pratt, Lander led a successful campaign to create NYC’s inclusionary zoning program, which requires developers to set aside 20 percent of their units for low- and moderate-income families and to pay their building service workers a living wage.

On the City Council, Lander, 44, who represents part of Brooklyn, has led the fight for a living wage law, community involvement in the budget process and a greater focus on the construction and preservation of affordable housing. He has fought successfully to hold banks accountable to communities, to protect manufacturing jobs and stop tax breaks for millionaires and funding cuts to schools, firehouses, parks, libraries and day care centers. Lander led the Council’s efforts to reform police abuses, including racial profiling, stop-and-frisk practices and surveillance of innocent Muslims. He co-sponsored a bill to create an inspector general’s office to monitor the police and “conduct independent reviews of the department’s policies, practices, programs and operations.”

Lander is co-founder and co-chair of the Council’s Progressive Caucus and has been working to recruit new candidates with activist credentials to run for office and expand the body’s liberal left wing. With City University of New York urban studies Professor John Mollenkopf, Lander catalyzed a group of activists and academics to formulate Towards a 21st Century City for All, a progressive manifesto for economic development in the city. Lander has played a key role in Bill de Blasio’s mayoral campaign and will be one of de Blasio’s strongest Council allies.

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