Voters in Brooklyn on Tuesday selected two new lawmakers to succeed some of the Statehouse’s top advocates for New York’s sweeping juvenile justice reforms from the past decade.
Jabari Brisport, a New York City public school teacher and Democrat, will replace another Democrat, retiring state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, representing central Brooklyn and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Insurgent Emily Gallagher, a tenant organizer and Democrat, ran unopposed after ousting Joseph Lentol in the state Assembly party primaries earlier this year, to represent Brooklyn neighborhoods including Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
Montgomery, head of the Senate’s Children and Families Committee, was one of the first lawmakers to preside over hearings on raising the state’s age of juvenile jurisdiction – the landmark reform known as “Raise the Age,” which barred 16- and 17-year-olds from adult prisons and jails, including those on the notorious Rikers Island. More recently, she helped lead the push for a major child welfare system reform that raises the standard of evidence for deeming child abuse and neglect charges credible. The reform also significantly shortened the amount of time parents accused of neglect will have their names visible on the state’s central registry for child maltreatment, a key social justice issue for advocates for the poor and communities of color.
Montgomery is one of the longest-tenured legislators in the Statehouse and has been known for her advocacy on youth and families issues since she was first elected in 1984, joining an elected body controlled by the opposing party for much of her tenure.
Lentol has sat on the powerful Ways and Means and Rules committees in the Assembly. He was instrumental in negotiating the details of Raise the Age in the lead-up to its passage in 2017, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, as well as a range of other high-profile criminal justice reforms. Those include the repeal of draconian 1970s-era criminal sentencing laws, expanding mandates to videotape police interrogations, and to seal criminal records, as well as more recent changes to bail, discovery and speedy-trial rules. He was first elected in 1972.
Montgomery’s successor, Brisport, endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Socialists of America, has echoed this summer’s calls from Black Lives Matter protesters to defund the police, or to “end policing as we know it,” as his website states. He’s also called for New York to fully divest from fossil fuels and endorsed the Green New Deal, and he supports a single-payer health care system.
The race to replace Montgomery this year was called a marquee contest between the city’s old-school liberalism versus upstart socialists. Brisport won the Democratic primary against Montgomery’s chosen successor in June and is projected to have won the bright-blue Brooklyn Senate district this week after running unopposed.
In an emailed statement to The Imprint sent by a spokesperson in September, Brisport said that as a teacher he related to his predecessor’s fight against the school-to-prison pipeline and “can’t wait” to continue that fight.
Lentol was defeated by Emily Gallagher in their district’s Democratic primary this year. His defeat was called a “big Brooklyn upset” by observers.
Gallagher did not have the same formal support as Brisport from leftist groups like the Democratic Socialists. But her campaign was similarly expansive as Brisport’s in its progressive ambitions. She supports a home guarantee, among an array of aggressively pro-tenant reforms. In the area of youth and families, she has called for a banning of “facial recognition and other biometric surveillance technology in schools” and backs a ban on “social media surveillance of minors.” She has also pledged to pressure the New York Police Department “to erase the gang database that collects and monitors tens of thousands of New Yorkers who haven’t been accused of a crime,” including teens. She also wants to expand New York City’s popular summer youth employment program, which lost funding this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.