Clarke narrowly beats challenger in primary

Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke addresses supporters after her Democratic primary victory June 26, 2018.
Photo by Nelson A. King

In what has been described as a “squeaker,” incumbent Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke got the scare of her political life Tuesday night, narrowly defeating a relatively unknown challenger in New York’s Democratic primary elections.

Clarke, 53, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, beat Adem Bunkeddeko, 30, the son of Ugandan war refugees, by 3.8 percentage points.

With 99 percent of the precincts (528 of 532) reporting, Clarke received 14,804 votes, or 51.9 percent, to Bunkeddeko’s 13,729 votes, or 48.1 percent.

Bunkeddeko’s unexpected showing put Clarke and her supporters on edge Tuesday night at her campaign headquarters on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn.

“I want to give a special thank-you to my entire campaign team who fought the fight until we made it to victory tonight,” said Clarke to jubilant supporters at her victory party about 11:30 p.m. “And even with this great victory, we can’t rest on our laurels; we still have a lot of work to do,” she added, flanked by a host of elected officials, including New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who introduced her. “Your commitment has motivated me to recommit myself to the people of the 9th Congressional District.”

A week before the primary, Clarke and Bunkeddeko debated for just 20 minutes, on NY1, in the only televised debate in the campaign.

Earlier this month, the New York Times endorsed the Harvard-educated Bunkeddeko, saying that his resume was “impressive.”

On Monday, Clarke told Caribbean Life that she was confident of victory, adding, however, that she wanted “to make sure people come out and vote. To me, it’s how I can produce a margin of victory,” she said.

Voter turn-out is usually low in New York in a non-Presidential election year.

In her victory speech Tuesday night, Clarke said the country was at a “crossroads,” stating that, under the current Trump administration, citizens are “confronted with assaults on our rights on a daily basis. Whether we are working people, people of color, women, immigrants, or anyone who believes in their heart in the tenets of fairness and opportunity for all, we all share the sobering awareness that we are in the fight of our lives.

“Now, more than ever, we have to choose whether to change course or keep moving forward together as allies in the struggle we share,” she added.

For the past 11 years, Clarke said she devoted her life to serving the people of New York’s 9th Congressional District “in ways that have been positive and productive for all of us.

“It has tested me personally and professionally as a human being, working hard every day to prove myself to my constituents as a woman who can effectively serve their needs at home and in Washington,” she said.

“These experiences have done much to ready me for the challenges we now face, as I have battled on the front lines with my fellow Democrats in Washington in a Congressional minority where every small victory we earn is hard fought, and takes our fullest persistence, maturity, perseverance and resiliency,” Clarke added.

She noted that, in Brooklyn, there will always be challenges, but she focused on “some of the positive changes we have made together.”

As a member of the Small Business Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, Clarke said she has “opened doors to allow many small businesses throughout our district to thrive.

“We have built affordable housing and encouraged homeownership,” she said. “We have seen efforts at substantial criminal justice reform take real shape in our public policy and our communities.

“We have mobilized as a population against the current administration and made our voices heard loudly in Washington,” she added. “We have put the rights of people before the rights of corporations; and, as a sanctuary city, we have fought to protect our immigrants from unfair prosecution and deportation. We, we cannot afford to just sit on the sidelines. We must continue to stand together as one in our fight for a better tomorrow.”

“Thank you again for your support, and it is my honor to continue to represent you at home and in Washington,” she said.

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