BY JACOB HENRY
Khaleel Anderson was scouring the new 900-page executive budget in Albany while speaking on the phone about his experience serving as the new assemblyman for southeast Queens and the Rockaways.
“I haven’t criticized the budget yet, because I’m not finished reading it,” Anderson said. “I want to make sure I do this thing right.”
At 24, Anderson is the youngest member in the history of the New York State Assembly. He wears his age as “a badge of honor,” earning respect from colleagues and constituents alike with his experience as an organizer and activist.
“People understand that experience does make a difference,” Anderson said.
He was born in Crown Heights, but his family moved to Far Rockaway when rent in Brooklyn became unaffordable. This shaped his activism and community work, but also gave him an understanding of what issues the area faces.
Anderson said that whether a person is living in Rosedale or South Ozone Park, the issues are still the same. They include environmental racism, lack of access to food, poor schools and living in a transit desert.
Food insecurity is a focus for Anderson, and his district faces not just a lack of access to grocery stores and delis, but also a scarcity of fresh ingredients and produce.
“I can’t fuel my body off a Twinkie,” Anderson said. “Most of my constituents have to travel two miles or more to get to a real grocery store or get real access to produce.”
He wants to put his community “back in the driver’s seat” by empowering his constituents to grow their own food.
“It’s really that community-led effort and empowerment piece that can move folks in a direction that creates a space in which we are rolling back some of the decades-long inequity and systemic oppression,” Anderson said.
However, he noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these issues, along with bringing tragedy to the area. The assemblyman himself lost family and friends to the virus.
“This has been a really morbid time for our people,” Anderson said. “But it has also exposed a lot of the flaws in our society that we as activists have been kicking and screaming about for decades.”
He called for “bold action” in the Assembly to bring better healthcare access to his community, as well as protection for workers, renters and mortgage payers.
“These are things that we otherwise would not do,” Anderson said. “And we should be doing them as it relates to getting us out of this pandemic.”
He said that police reform cannot be forgotten among all these issues.
“Police reform will always be in the front seat so long as our people continue to be beaten and killed at the hands of police,” Anderson said. “Now more than ever, we should be focused on redefining public safety and holding our police forces accountable.”
Through all of his accomplishments, Anderson has remained personable and humble, giving his staff credit for helping him achieve his goals.
“I don’t run this show by myself,” Anderson said. “I have a tremendous staff that helps me live out my vision and message.”
That message is one of unity, but he remained steadfast in his activist roots, making sure that his constituents know he is there for them.
“I’m prioritizing working-class families, prioritizing people of color who live in a geographically and politically isolated community,” Anderson said. “A community that’s lacked a fighting voice for so long. That’s where we need to start, and I’m ready to take the bull by the horn.”