A candidate who blamed the displacement of Harlem’s black and Hispanic residents on “greedy Jewish landlords” is on the ballot in New York City today after his campaign received nearly $100,000 in public funds.
Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a candidate for New York City Council in Harlem and upper Manhattan, removed the “greedy Jewish landlords” line from his campaign materials in July, after his rhetoric drew extensive press coverage in the spring.
Yet he has stood by his attacks on Jewish landlords. “Too many landlords of Jewish descent own real estate in black and Latino communities, and they are focused on horrible, horrible racism and ethnic cleansing,” he told the JTA in July.
Lopez-Pierre raised only $17,000 for his longshot campaign. But thanks to city laws that provide public funds to candidates who meet a certain threshold, the city’s Campaign Finance Board has given him $99,000 for his campaign. According to the Campaign Finance Board’s website, he has $59,000 left.
Lopez-Pierre’s opponent, incumbent City Council member Mark Levine, has raised $407,000 in private donations and opted out of the public matching fund system.
One leading City Council member called in April for Lopez-Pierre to be kicked out of the Manhattan Democratic Party over his anti-Jewish rhetoric, though that seems not to have happened.
A longtime political gadfly, Lopez-Pierre has been known for years for his inflammatory and offensive remarks. In 2013, he called a sitting member of the State Assembly a “$20 political slut”.
In April, Lopez-Pierre told the Forward he had reined in his offensive tendencies — but wouldn’t back down on the Jews.
“My political supporters asked me to behave myself,” Lopez-Pierre said. “I agreed that I would. But that never included not being direct and honest about the terrible things that Jewish landlords are doing to push black and Latino tenants out of Harlem.”
While Jews historically have owned much real estate in Harlem, and Jews feature prominently on lists of bad landlords published by the city’s Public Advocate, observers at the time said that Lopez-Pierre’s language was blatantly anti-Semitic.
Following the wave of attention to his anti-Jewish comments, Lopez-Pierre announced in a video posted on Twitter that he would no longer use the phrase “greedy Jewish landlord”. He recorded the video standing outside of an uptown Manhattan synagogue.
“Instead, I’m going to say just ‘greedy landlord,’” he said.
Yet despite his pledge, Lopez-Pierre has continued to talk about “greedy Jewish landlords” on Twitter, at times putting the phrase “greedy landlord” inside of triple parentheses, shorthand among internet anti-Semite for Jews.
Despite his extreme rhetoric, local political activists told the Forward in April that Lopez-Pierre has a base of support within his neighborhood.
“He has a support base,” said Cheryl Pahaham, a former City Council candidate in a district just north of the one where Lopez-Pierre is running. “You may not realize it, but he has people who vote.”
Polls close at 9 P.M. tonight.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.