A city council president for all

As Yonkers chief ombudswoman, newly elected City Council President Lakisha Collins-Bellamy wants to advocate on behalf of the entire city, ensuring diversity in housing, education, the workforce and government.

There is a new face on the Westchester County political scene with Lakisha Collins-Bailey, who was elected in November to become the next Yonkers City Council President.

Collins-Bailey is a native of Yonkers who graduated from New York Law School in 2015 and opened her own practice the following year, focusing on real estate and family law. The Democrat’s first foray into elected politics, a run for the city council in 2017, was not successful, but she found a place in Yonkers’ government in 2020 when she was appointed to the Board of Education Trustees.

In this WAG interview, Collins-Bailey discusses her goals for the first term of her presidency.

This is your first time in elected office. How does it feel to win the popular vote?

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet. Maybe it will at the inauguration. It’s awesome to be done with the campaigning because it gives me breathing time. 

“I never had a doubt that I would win. From the time that I put my hat in the ring, it just was divine intervention. From the moment I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ God put it in my path and everything lined up. And every time I asked for a sign — saying, ‘This is getting crazy. Is this really what you want me to do?’ — I just continued to get signs, so I knew that this was the path and that I was going to be victorious. 

“It is gratifying, and the best part of it is for my 15-year-old son to see it all play out.” 

For the benefit of those who are not up to speed on the Yonkers political system, what is involved in the job of the city council president?

“The city council president is the head of the city council, which is made up of seven individuals. There are six council members that represent their elective districts and the city council president is elected citywide. 

“It is sort of an ombudswoman — the legislation says “man,” but we’ll have to change that — who advocates on behalf of the entire city to pass legislation, to approve or reject the mayor’s budget and to vote on zoning changes throughout the city of Yonkers. “

Do you consider Yonkers to be a well-run city?

“Absolutely. I was born and raised here in Yonkers and we’ve come a long way from how we were in the past. There are things that we still would like to accomplish, like ensuring that we’re providing the most quality education to students here.

“Taxes are fairly high and we have to ensure that we are spending the taxpayer dollars wisely here. And affordable housing has long been an issue.” 

Let’s focus on affordable housing. As city council president, what positive changes do you hope to accomplish?

“We have been developing a lot of housing on our waterfront, on the west side of Yonkers. What the city council had been advocating for prior to my election was to increase the number of required units in those buildings. 

“Any building that is built in Yonkers with more than 100 units currently has a 10% affordability requirement. That’s not low-income housing, but affordable housing that has your rent based on your income. But you have to have a certain income requirement in order to afford the unit. 

“The city council was advocating to double that number from 10% to 20% and was unsuccessful in getting it done. So come January, we will absolutely be back at the drawing board and coming up with legislation that works, and not only for affordable rental property. I would love to see some pathway to ownership programs and affordable housing and low-income housing for seniors. It’s a diverse need and I feel like one form of legislation does not address it all.” 

Your campaign website stressed the need to “promote diversity in hiring, ensuring that the municipal workforce reflects the diversity of the city.” How do you hope to achieve more diversity in municipal hiring?

“The mayor is responsible for hiring, but we have advocated for diversity with the police and the fire departments. There was a Yonkers police exam that was held a few months ago and organizations like the Guardians, which is made up of the African American police officers, sponsored individuals to take the exam because the cost of the exam is $100 and it’s not affordable. Then there was an exam prep, to ensure that individuals did well. 

“These are things that we are working on to ensure there’s more diverse representation in the workforce. Presently, the overwhelming majority of the workforce here in Yonkers is older, white men, and that is not representative of what the population of Yonkers is.”

What do you see as Yonkers strengths in terms of its economy? And what do you see as the areas where improvement could be brought in?

“We have some of the most valuable real estate in the state of New York along the Hudson River, and I think that is one of our valuable assets that sets us apart from other places. Our proximity to New York City (also) makes us different from other municipalities.

“Where we could use improvement, I go back to education. We’ve had excellent graduation rates, but we need to ensure that we are adequately preparing our students for graduation and in college. The pandemic exposed our equality gaps when it came to access to the internet and devices to log on to school. We have multiple children not having an adequate number of devices in (a) city that was able to afford to give every single student a device. So, bridging that gap is an area that could use improvement.”

In your work as the city council president, are you going to be dealing directly with the governor’s office and the legislature in Albany, as well as with our elected officials in Washington?

“Absolutely. We work very closely with our state and federal delegates. I have the personal cell phone number of Congressman Jamaal Bowman. We speak and interact on a regular basis. It’s that type of relationship building that will ensure that Yonkers gets all that it deserves.”

What advice would you give to young people in Yonkers who see your positive example and would love to follow in your footsteps in politics?

“When I think about what I would have wanted someone to tell young Lakisha, it would have been to take school and your education very seriously. Because how well you do in high school will determine the college that you attend, and the college that you attend can determine the rest of your life.

“You can do anything that you want to without regard of where you were born and raised.”

For more, visit yonkersny.gov.

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