Ed. Note: This is the third and final profile of the candidates running in the Democratic Primary on Thursday for the 57th Assembly District, which covers Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and part of Bed-Stuy.
As voters head to the polls Thursday to choose a replacement for Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, the name they may be least familiar with on the ballot is Martine Guerrier, but a New York Times endorsement Saturday may help lessen the gap.
While opponents Walter Mosley and Olanike Alabi are both Democratic Party district leaders with many political and union endorsements, Guerrier comes to the race from a behind-the-scenes career in education policy.
The 41-year-old Clinton Hill resident says she’s running for New York State assembly in the 57th district, which includes the neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and parts of Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, because she knows that most laws that affect people in New York City, take place at the state level.
“Everything that matters to begins in Albany, that’s why I love it,” she said in an interview Saturday, referring to her years advocating for public school children as legislative representative with the Educational Priorities Panel.
Guerrier, who has a 16-year-old son at Brooklyn Tech, is most passionate about involving parents in the New York City public school system.
Top of her agenda in Albany would be to increase the role of the district leadership teams, locally elected bodies made up of parents, teachers, principals and district superintendents.
“When I got to the Department of Education in 2007, we got them involved in school closure. They were responsible for reviewing the schools education plans. We tried it and it worked like a dream,” she said. But since then the role of the district teams has become smaller, she said.
She’s also passionate about educating adults, whether its on options for someone who lost their home, or job training for the unemployed.
“I’ve watched as people have left their homes. People are losing their homes and don't have a way to navigate anything around them. If you lose your job where do you go where do you get started?” she said. “Government shouldn’t allow people to get to the absolute bottom before helping them.”
Guerrier also believes in job training to help people move out of dead end or low-wage jobs. “What people need are ladders of progression for people in their own professional lives. It’s not ok to have people boxed in,” she said.
The child of Haitian immigrants, Guerrier grew up in Queens and went to Townsend Harris High School and Wells College in Upstate New York, where she earned a degree in social economic policy.
She returned to Brooklyn in the mid-1990s and moved to Park Slope, where she sent her son to public school. In 1999 she was elected to District 13’s school board and became its president. In 2002 she joined the Educational Priorities Panel, where she lobbied in Albany on behalf of New York City public schools.
After Mayor Bloomberg replaced elected school boards with the appointed Panel for Educational Policy, or PEP, in 2002, Guerrier was appointed to the panel by Borough President Marty Markowitz. There she became known for critiquing some of Bloomberg’s changes such as his 5th grade social promotion policy, which she said didn’t take into account that “poor test scores are often the result of poor instruction” and didn’t include enough provisions for reaching out to parents of students in danger of being held back.
Guerrier also served as a policy advisor for the Bloomberg administration and in 2007 joined the Department of Education as first chief family engagement officer where she started a number of publications for parents including RISE newsletter and the NYC Family Guide and stated such outreach efforts as the Saturday Parent Academy, and parent forums held in various languages.
In recent years she founded Empire State of Mind NYC, an organization that helps educate politicians and nonprofits in the history and background of policy issues through lectures and social networking.
Guerrier has also served on the board of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition (now the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy) and is a member of the Junior League of Brooklyn.
Most recently Guerrier was a a senior consulting associate for PCM Associates, which provides training for school districts and nonprofits. She left the position earlier this year to campaign full time.
But despite the months of handing out palm cards and going door-to-door, Guerrier hasn’t gained the recognition of Alabi or Mosley. In a several weeks ago between Alabi and Mosley, she was not invited to participate. NY1's political director Bob Hardt said via e-mail that his team didn't consider Guerrier a viable candidate because "a quick examination of Guerrier’s filings with the State Board of Elections shows that the campaign has largely been inactive this summer."
While Mosley and Alabi have raised a total of more than $70,000 in funds, Guerrier has raised about $7,500, she said, primarily because she doesn’t want to push people for money during a recession.
But Saturday’s New York Times endorsement, which called her "a dedicated community advocate" who "would bring a strong and fresh voice to Albany," may help Guerrier gain name-recognition, and she’s started a poster blitz for this week.
In addition, political and education insiders know her. She was named by City Hall Newspaper in 2009 as one of the “40 Under 40” among NYC’s future leaders and has been endorsed by Cenral Brooklyn Independent Democrats and the National Organization for Women’s NYS-PAC.
If the tides turn and Guerrier makes it to the statehouse, she said it will be as a policy expert, not a politician.
When she was working for the Education Policy Panel, her favorite part was the nitty-gritty of the legislation.
“I loved working with the legislative staff, diving into the budget, all that work,” she said. “I followed the commas, the periods and the decimal points."
Asked if she considered herself “a little wonky,” she said no.
“I wouldn’t say a little wonky, I’m a lot wonky,” she said. "That's what I do best."
Read more about Martine Guerrier on her website.