Richardson denies she made anti-Semitic statement
Lawmaker engulfed in controversy over gentrification
A Brooklyn lawmaker who is embroiled in controversy over an anti-Semitic remark she allegedly made at a Community Board 17 meeting is fighting back.
Assemblymember Diana Richardson (D-Crown Heights-East Flatbush-Prospect Lefferts Gardens) issued a statement denying a published report about shocking remarks she made at a Community Board 17 meeting last month.
“I did not make these remarks. These allegations are false. As a passionate leader who values individuals on a human level, I condemn hate, anti-Semitism and racism,” Richardson said in her statement, which was issued on April 13.
The New York Post reported on April 4 that during a tense discussion about gentrification, a community board member complained that strangers knocked on her door several times to ask if her house was for sale.
Richardson stated that it must have been Jews seeking to buy the house, according to the Post, which quoted a person in attendance at the meeting who said he was offended by the lawmaker’s remark.
Brooklyn community boards often tape their meetings to have an official record of the proceedings but there is no tape of Richardson speaking at the Community Board 17 session.
Community Board 17 covers East Flatbush, Farragut, Rugby and other central Brooklyn neighborhoods.
In the wake of the community board meeting, the Jewish Press, a leading publication in the Jewish community, published an editorial calling on Richardson to resign.
Republicans also pounced on Richardson. Ed Cox, chairman of the New York State GOP, demanded that she resign and called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to push her to step down.
“Assemblywoman Richardson knew exactly what she was doing when she made her hateful, anti-Semitic comments, and someone with those views has no business serving in state government receiving a taxpayer-funded salary. If Gov. Cuomo, who loves to talk so much about ‘New York values,’ means what he says, he must also demand her resignation,” Cox stated.
But Richardson, who was elected in 2015 with the support of the Working Families Party, is steadfastly refusing to step down.
“As a public servant to a district that serves as a cultural melting pot, I have had the opportunity to work with an esteemed group of rabbis, pastors and community leaders. I will continue to stand with each and every family, group, and leader that I represent,” she said.
Community Board 17 Chairperson Barrington Barrett told the news website www.collive.com that he heard someone utter the words “Jewish people” during the discussion about gentrification but that the person using those words was not Richardson.
Richardson is also getting support from religious leaders in her Assembly district who have stepped forward to defend her.
“It seemed clear to me from the reports that it was not the Assembly member who made the offensive comment. I accept her clear denial,” said Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council.
“Assemblymember Diana Richardson has always been a friend to our community. She has stated publicly on multiple occasions that gentrification is about economics not race,” said Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, founder of the Jewish Future Alliance.
Jeff Leb of United Jewish Appeal said he has known Richardson for several years. “We have traveled to Israel together and spent a lot of time discussing legislation combating anti-Semitism as well as other issues of importance to the Jewish community. Diana has actively participated in Jewish and interfaith events, showing religious and cultural sensitivity. As a member of the Jewish community, I support her in her ongoing dialogue with her Jewish community,” he said.
“Assemblywoman Diana Richardson is an elected official whom my church and I know personally. During her tenure, she has been a fighter for the rights and the issues of all people, regardless of their racial, religious or ethnic background. Never have I heard her disrespecting any group or individual. She works for all and not just any special interest group. I stand with her,” said the Rev. Edward Jenkins of Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Church.
Richardson said she was grateful for the support.
“I am humbled by the support of the following community leaders, who truly understand my heart for tolerance, inclusivity and togetherness,” she stated.
The Richardson controversy is playing out against the backdrop of gentrification in Brooklyn. While neighborhoods are undergoing change, longtime residents have expressed fear of rising rents and the possibility of being displaced.