After failed campaign, Bed-Stuy candidate looks forward
Reported on Nov. 3, 2009
Even before the sun rose on Election Day in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Mark Winston Griffith‘s campaign office was humming. Young staffers fed orders to a growing group of volunteers and paid workers. A fleet of vehicles shuttled people to subway stops and polling places, bags full of posters and fliers in tow. Optimism prevailed.
“It’s time for a younger generation to step up and make a change,” said volunteer Russell Cheek, 38, of the Bronx.
Though 46-year-old Griffith ultimately fell short in his grassroots effort to beat Democratic incumbent Al Vann in the 36th Council District, his campaign displayed the sort of sustained energy that can be difficult to muster in a local race. The community activist from Crown Heights substantially raised his profile among thousands of voters in Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, after running first as a Democratic candidate in the primary and then as an independent candidate for the Working Families Party in the general election. Even following the loss, Griffith set the stage for a possible run in 2013.
“I know that there is another 40-something-year-old man who lost his first race in Illinois,” Griffith told a group of supporters on Election Day, referring to President Obama. “So I know that I’ve got good precedent on my side.”
After finishing second to Vann in what Griffith viewed as an encouragingly close Democratic primary on Sept. 15, he pressed on under the Working Families Party’s umbrella. That party’s endorsement ensured Griffith, a Democrat, a spot on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“A lot of older politicians find it difficult to mount a secondary campaign,” said Skipp Roseboro, 64, who has worked on campaigns for Working Families Party for the last 12 years. Griffith’s “machine was continuing forward right up until now.”
After the primary, Griffith’s campaign moved its headquarters from his basement to a new office on Gates Avenue and raised $24,366 of $91,206 in campaign contributions between the primary and general election, according to the city Campaign Finance Board.
Vann, a noted civil rights activist who has held a state or local elected office for more than 30 years, pulled in $64,279 this election year, including $11,985 after the primary.
In the days leading up to Nov. 3, Griffith sought to paint Vann as an absentee councilman who had lost his edge and who no longer listened to the residents he served. Though he acknowledged the incumbent’s previous accomplishments, Griffith tried to capitalize on the excitement surrounding last year’s presidential election by mobilizing a young organizing operation manned by volunteers from all over the country. Campaign manager Bernard Holloway called the campaign “Obama 2.0.”
That tactic did not sit well with Vann supporters.
“I think that it is disrespectful and borders on offensive to stand up there and shout from the rooftops that Al Vann should relinquish his seat simply because he’s not 46, like Mark Winston Griffith,” said Lupe Todd, Vann’s communications director.
Once the polls opened, a clear advantage emerged for Vann. His name on the ballot appeared on the Democratic Party line in a neighborhood stocked with lifetime Democrats.
“I had allowed myself to think that maybe we could persuade them that it was OK to vote Democratic along the line except for in one situation,” said Alan Smith, Griffith’s communications director. “But we didn’t seem to get there, so it’s frustrating.”
Final returns showed Vann easily won a third term, receiving 10,501 votes cast, or about 64 percent, compared to 5,331, or 32 percent, for Griffith, according to unofficial results from the city Board of Elections. Republican Robert Hunter received the remaining four percent.
Vann vowed on Election Day to continue fighting for Bedford-Stuyvesant residents during his third term. Griffith’s next chance to represent the neighborhood on the City Council will not come until 2013, when Vann will have to vacate his seat due to term limits.