New York City Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan announced Tuesday morning that she would end her reelection campaign and leave office at the end of the year. And other than KRJ herself – who isn’t talking – there’s probably nobody who understands why she’s leaving better than Council Member Charles Barron.
“She was under a tremendous amount of pressure. And it’s a damn shame that the machine and the media pressured this young lady – who was a rising star in Harlem, in the electoral arena – out of the race. Because it’s not easy,” Barron told City & State in a phone interview Tuesday. “I make it look easy sometimes, but it’s not easy getting beat up like that by the media, and the machine – two very powerful forces in the electoral arena.”
Sure enough, Richardson Jordan was the subject of numerous negative news stories – for her slow response to police officers being shot in her district, for her tweets justifying the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and for her poor attendance record, missing nearly half the council meetings where she was expected. She was also politically bruised for her role in blocking a major mixed use development project called One45, which she argued contained too many market-rate units and was too tall.
Richardson Jordan had little to no institutional support, and three serious opponents had stepped up to challenge her in the June Democratic primary: Assembly Members Inez Dickens and Al Taylor, whose districts overlap with hers, and activist Yusef Salaam, who has the backing of Manhattan Democratic Chair Keith Wright.
“This was her own decision, I was trying to talk her out of it,” Barron said. But all the negative media coverage “was just a fresh wound. And she couldn’t handle it.”
Few friends left
Barron is Richardson Jordan’s closest ally in the council and a mentor to her. They are both Black radical socialists who aren't willing to go along to get along. Both won their seats with little to no backing from interest groups or even progressive organizations like the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party, so strong support from voters in their districts was the only thing keeping them in office.
Barron, 72 years old, has been in the game a long time. This is his second go-round in the council, after serving 12 years before, and another eight in the Assembly.
Richardson Jordan represented a new generation. She is relatively young, 36 years old, for a district that usually elects much older politicians, and a lesbian, the first out queer person elected in Harlem. She was new to elected politics – an art teacher, poet and socialist activist who took office in 2022 after defeating incumbent City Council Member Bill Perkins, who just died this week.
Barron said she should have stuck it out in politics. “I had big, big pages in the Post and the Daily News, even the Times, TV stations… You become hit proof after a while,” he said. “I was telling her, ‘it’ll bounce right off you.’ What people don't realize, these hits, sometimes it’s just a day in the media. It feels like ‘oh my God, a million people saw this.’ Next week, they’re not even going to remember that happened.”
In recent months, the pressure seems to have gotten to Richardson Jordan. She deleted her campaign Twitter account and largely stopped responding to journalists’ requests for comment. When she did speak to the press, she let her frustration show. She told the Daily News this week “your whole profession is pretty awful” and declined to answer specific questions.
Barron thought Richardson Jordan’s prickly negotiations with developer Bruce Teitelbaum, who is the public leader of the One45 project, played a big role in her leaving the race. “She took a stance, and this low-life developer just castigated her in the media. And the machine was beating her up. Because all of them candidates now, usually are with the real estate industry.” Teitelbaum didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Barron said that Richardson Jordan’s radical politics put a target on her back. “They put pressure on her because she wanted to transfer money, like I do, from the police budget to social services. They put pressure on her because she was against an exploitative capitalist system, like I am, and she supported socialism. They put pressure on her because, like I did, she voted against a speaker who we thought was married to real estate and law enforcement.”
But a consultant for an opposing campaign thought Richardson Jordan was leaving not entirely because of politics, but because of the drudgery of being an elected official. “I think she thought she would come like Che Guevara and ride around Harlem with her fist up,” they said. “I don’t think she appreciated the amount of work it would be.”
Richardson Jordan’s name will still be on the June 27th primary ballot, since she missed the deadline to decline her spot. And while it can be hard to predict council races, especially in a low turnout year like 2023, Richardson Jordan was widely considered to be the one incumbent most in danger of losing in the primary.
She was facing three serious challengers, and in a ranked-choice voting primary, any one of them had a shot. She was also expected to be slammed by hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside spending from multiple independent expenditure committees opposing her. And some of those groups welcomed the news of her dropping out.
“People Enhancing New York is prepared to spend resources across the city defeating elected officials and candidates who espouse anti-common sense and anti-business beliefs,” said Gil Cygler, a car rental magnate who founded the super PAC to support moderate Democrats. “We thank the Councilwoman for allowing us to spend those resources elsewhere.”
“For once,” Richardson Jordan “is doing the right thing for her constituents,” said New York City District Council of Carpenters Executive Secretary-Treasurer Joseph Geiger. A super PAC aligned with the carpenters union, too, was planning to spend in the race, and Geiger said her quitting the race sends a message that you can’t win reelection “if you are against union jobs and affordable housing.”
Richardson Jordan didn’t respond to a request for comment, and didn’t reveal much in her Instagram post announcing the decision. “Thank you for seeing the true possibility for radical love in the loveless land of politics – it is not easy to do!” she wrote, in part. “Unfortunately I am writing this to inform you that I have decided not to seek re-election and not to commit to another two years. I want to thank all those who have stood in solidarity and all volunteers for your time and hard work. I look forward to finishing out this term.” She committed to continue fighting “for community care, economic justice, abolition, liberation and radical societal change.”
Richardson Jordan’s sudden announcement came at a strange time for Harlem politics. Just minutes after she posted, a spokesperson for Perkins announced that the former City Council member had died. Richardson Jordan had defeated Perkins in a crowded Democratic primary just two years ago. Perkins, then the incumbent, was running for reelection despite struggling with apparent memory loss and cognitive decline and barely campaigning at all.
Barron had served with Perkins for many years in the City Council and remembered backing him for speaker in 2002 – an especially high compliment from Barron, who has voted against consensus speaker candidates multiple times. “Bill was extremely intelligent, and formative on the issues. Progressive,” Barron said. “Rest in peace, my brother, for a job well done.”
Barron, who was raised in Harlem before moving to his current Brooklyn district, also had kind words of send off for Richardson Jordan.
“She’s just a wonderful person, just a beautiful person,” he said. “Her heart was in the right place, her head was in the right place. But it’s the emotions that could wipe you out.”