Del. Stacey Plaskett is a New Yorker at heart
Del. Stacey Plaskett is a New Yorker at heart
Though Del. Stacey Plaskett has been a member of the House of Representatives since 2015, it wasn’t until earlier this year that many Americans learned her name. In fact, many probably didn’t realize that her job – serving as a Democratic delegate to the House from the U.S. Virgin Islands – even existed. Plaskett has limited voting power, but last month she rose to national recognition and acclaim while serving as one of the impeachment managers in former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial.
In that role, Plaskett unveiled disturbing and previously unseen footage from the attack on the U.S. Capitol and made the case that Trump incited the insurrection. The effort ultimately failed, with only 57 senators voting to convict. In the meantime, Plaskett’s star has risen, with multiple profiles in national outlets asking “Who is Stacey Plaskett?”
Despite now representing the Virgin Islands, Plaskett was born and raised in Brooklyn and Plaskett’s father became a New York City police officer when there weren’t a lot of Black officers in the NYPD.
City & State caught up with Plaskett earlier this month to talk about impeachment, her work in the Bronx District Attorney’s office and her unending New York pride. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Your parents are from St. Croix and you now represent the U.S. Virgin Islands, but you actually grew up in Brooklyn.
Yeah, I was born and raised in Brooklyn. Actually born physically across the bridge in Manhattan at Beth Israel hospital, but my parents lived in Brooklyn. And we lived there until I was about to go into high school when my parents moved to Queens. They still live in St. Albans now, in Queens.
What was your childhood like growing up in the city?
It was the ’70s, so a very different New York than it is now. I grew up in Bushwick, we lived in Bushwick projects for a number of years. And then during the birth of Mitchell-Lama housing, we moved to Lindsay Park (a coop in Williamsburg). I was explaining this summer to my children the many, many games that we played growing up in the city, from stickball to Skelly. Just an amazing childhood. I went to school in Downtown Brooklyn, so I had to take the train every day to school and back. And just that experience of riding the trains with my mother in the morning and then becoming a latchkey kid. I think about it now, third grade, being on the train by yourself, that’s almost unheard-of now. But it was very normal back then.
What does the community from the U.S. Virgin Islands in New York City look like now?
I think it's a really interesting story with Virgin Islanders in New York. Most of them came to the city in the ‘40s and ‘50s, early ‘40s, even ‘30s, because there was not a lot of work and opportunity. But initially, even before that, in the ‘20s, when Virgin Islanders would come to New York, we had an education system and a support system, like many other Caribbean people, that most African Americans were not afforded during that time. And so there was an opportunity for us when we came to New York, to really be thought leaders. And then in the ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s ... many of the people who came were older siblings and families who had to look for work. We didn’t have an area where we all concentrated, like a Little Italy or a Little Korea or a Chinatown. We were pretty much spread out around the city. But we had social organizations that still exist.
How often do you get back to the city now?
I’m a New Yorker, right? I think that my friends and my staff would tell you that I operate like a New Yorker in some ways. That New York personality is definitely there. I get back to the city often. My husband, who is not from New York, always kind of chuckles and says my demeanor changes if we’re driving into the city and we get over the Verrazano Bridge. He says I sit up a little, I look a little happier, I look a little brighter when we get to New York.
After law school, you went to work for the Bronx district attorney, who was Robert Johnson at the time.
I had several offers when I came out of law school. And interestingly, (Rep.) Jamie Raskin, who was the lead impeachment manager, was my professor in law school. And when I had three or four offers when I was coming out of law school, he was the person who said, “You really should go and be a prosecutor. Take the offer in the Bronx DA’s office. You're not going to make as much money as maybe (with) some of those other (offers), but that’s your strength, along with the fact that that skill set will be invaluable.”
District attorneys offices are undergoing major changes in New York City, as campaigns for those positions focus increasingly on criminal justice reform, racial inequities in the system and decarceration. What are your thoughts on that evolution?
I think that it's a really important discussion. One of the things I have to say that I noted about the Bronx DA’s office when I was there, was that a lot of the people that he hired were people from the neighborhood. It was a large number of minority hiring that was done, a large number of people of color. And I think that that really had a great role in how we handled cases as district attorneys, as assistant district attorneys. I also think because of who we were and what we looked like and where we came from, we were more willing to do alternative sentencing, to recognize that maybe, sometimes, young people needed a break. We weren't so enamored with the stories that the police told us, and were willing to question them.
You later moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and now here you are representing the territory as a delegate. What is it like to be a delegate to the House, and yet be a nonvoting member?
I think that's a misnomer. It’s a limited vote. We vote in committee, but when the Democrats have been in the majority, we vote on the floor, except for final passage. So there is some voting ability that members of the territories have, but it is definitely limited. It's frustrating to have legislation that deals with your constituents and you don't have a vote in that legislation in the final passage. That can be very frustrating. But I think what it means is that you just have to work a lot harder than other members to be noticed, and to make sure that you're not forgotten in the discussion by being a member of the territory. I don't have votes to get members to lobby me for, but what I have is my work ethic.
You certainly received recognition during the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump earlier this year. During your presentation, you were the only Black woman in the Senate chamber, NPR reported. What was the significance of that to you, being one of the people leading impeachment proceedings?
I guess I'm still trying to figure out the significance of it. I do recall at one point when I was on the Senate floor and (Rep.) Joe Neguse (a Black Democrat from Colorado) was sitting next to me. I pointedly was like, “Joe, do you recognize, it's two Black people sitting here, leading, speaking and fighting against the president in this trial?” There was no Black female representation in the room, in the Senate chamber, when I was there. And so I did feel a sense of responsibility to present myself in a manner that really supported Black women and supported people of color. And definitely that also supported the territory and amplified who we were and what our abilities were on the Senate floor.
What are your thoughts looking back on how the impeachment proceedings went, knowing that conviction was maybe not anticipated?
Why would you say a conviction was not anticipated?
Perhaps unlikely? Would that be more fair?
I mean, people are always asking us, “Well, you guys didn't think you were going to win?” I think we went in there with the hope that we would, and the belief that it was, in fact, possible. Would there be some watershed moment like the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, where Republican senators recognized that what had happened was so profound that they would have to vote against their president? We believed that the evidence was so overwhelming, that that was, in fact, a possibility. I think what was disappointing was that partisan politics and power has so taken over, that members were more interested in partisanship and in retaining their power and their seats, than they were in voting to convict the president. Even though a number of them approached me and told me that they believe that we made the case. And these were Republican senators who did not vote to convict.
Does that ever get less surprising or disappointing, to have someone tell you one thing off the floor and then vote the other way?
It doesn’t cease to surprise, or disappoint or even infuriate me.