Lashawn Hawkins — who first rose to prominence organizing her signature “silent” style of Black Lives Matter protests over the summer — has decided to throw her hat into the ring to run for a position on the Common Council.
“Large change, large hope and large love will be the change that we will need,” Hawkins said. “So, I ask all of you listening and watching me this afternoon to stand with me, as I announce that I will be running for councilwoman-at-large for Gloversville, New York.”
A political newcomer, Hawkins first moved to Gloversville in 2012 as the single mother of three children whose father had been killed when she was 19.
Until Oct. 15 she worked for Lexington Center providing services for people with mental disabilities who live at home or in group home settings, but her life changed when she became involved in organizing protests of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
She organized a series of “silent” protests in Johnstown, Gloversville and other locations, connecting her to many young people throughout the area.
Hawkins gave her speech inside the “Dorn Space” building at 99 N. Main St. on Monday. The building was formerly the location of the Knights of Columbus, but now serves as a gathering space for writers and performers. The main room of the location has a stage and lights, which is where Hawkins gave her speech in front of a socially-distanced crowd, which included some young people, an unusual sight for a campaign speech in Gloversville.
Hawkins said she organized her silent protests because she wants everyone to be heard. Hawkins acknowledges she is a political newcomer who has a lot to learn about local government, but said she’s a person who knows how to listen and who cares about transforming Gloversville back into one of the best cities in the state.
“A lot of people question who I am,” she said. “Let me make it clear who I am, in the shortest way possible. I am a strong believer in listening to people, not just hearing, but listening, even people who don’t agree with what I have to say, even people who are against what I have to say.”
Hawkins has said her activism was originally aimed at ensuring all of the police officers involved in Floyd’s death were charged, but after that happened she broadened her scope to include raising awareness of the death of Breonna Taylor, shot dead in her apartment during a raid by police on March 13, in Louisville, Kentucky and the death of Rayshard Brooks, shot dead by a police officer June 12 in Atlanta, Georgia after fleeing from his arrest after having been found sleeping in his car.
Hawkins’ protest style was praised by local police agencies, and she was invited to have a seat at the table as a community activist as part of the local state-mandated police reform plans. Hawkins has worked with Montgomery County Sheriff Jeff Smith, Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino, Gloversville Police Chief Anthony Clay, Amsterdam Police Chief John Thomas and others.
After she stopped working for Lexington, Hawkins formed a nonprofit organization — “I will Breathe and I will Speak Inc.” — an organization that provides consulting and advocacy work helping people access legal assistance, housing, food pantries, school issues and county social services, as well as providing community feedback for the police reform plans.
During her speech Monday she highlighted police reform issues, and the need for more opportunities for young people.
“Our children don’t even have a decent place to play within our community,” she said. “Our mental health crisis is rampant. We burden our police department with mental health issues that some of them have no clue how to deal with.”
Hawkins said she does not plan to run on Mayor Vince DeSantis’ fusion ticket “The Gloversville Party”, but that she has discussed her candidacy with DeSantis and that he and she “share some of the same values.”
DeSantis is a Democrat, although when he ran in a special election for mayor in 2019 to fill-out the remainder of the term of former Mayor Dayton King neither he, nor Democratic councilman-at-large candidate Steve Smith or Democratic 4th Ward council member Brenda Leitt, received endorsements from the Fulton County Democratic Party after Fulton County Democratic Committee Chairman Ed Jacewicz decided not to have an in-person vote of that committee regarding candidate endorsements during the committee’s September 2019 meeting. Jacewicz said at the time that the 22-member committee did not have the required 60 percent attendance for a quorum, although the committee’s bylaws only required 25 percent of members to be in attendance.
Greg Young, a Democrat and Gloversville’s 5th Ward Supervisor, attended Hawkins’ announcement Monday. He said Hawkins will get full-consideration for an endorsement from the county Democratic committee. Frank Lauria, a Democrat who serves as Gloversville’s 2nd Ward Supervisor, was also in attendance at Hawkins speech.
DeSantis, and incumbent council Democrats First Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss and 3rd Ward Councilwoman Betsy Batchelor also did not attend the speech. Weiss and Batchelor have also run on DeSantis’ Gloversville Party ticket in the past.
If elected, Hawkins would not be the first African American elected to city-wide office in Gloversville, which was former Republican Councilman-at-Large James Robinson, or the first woman, former Mayor Susan Hammond, but she would be the first African-American woman to win a city-wide election.
DeSantis said he wants to withhold any comments regarding the council races until he knows for certain who is running for all of the open council seats: council-person-at-large, 1st Ward, 3rd Ward and 5th Ward.
DeSantis said he knows Hawkins and holds her in high regard.
“I’ve worked with Lashawn on a couple of things,” DeSantis said. “She’s a member of our wider team in the community who’s going through the mandatory police [reform] review, and all of that, which has really been a lot of work for our police chief, and he’s doing a great job with that. She’s really a community player, a team player, and she has a really positive attitude. I’m always very supportive of anyone who wants to get involved, because the more voices we have at the table, the better.”
DeSantis said he will not be attempting to fill out a “complete ticket” for his independent party the “Gloversville Party.” He said he formed the party as a means of getting beyond partisanship, but he will have an informal process for candidates who want to also circulate an independent petition to run as part of the Gloversville Party.
Former Councilman-at-Large Steve Smith Tuesday said he will not be running for the office again this year. Smith is a registered Democrat from the 4th ward who was appointed by the council to the ‘at large’ office after DeSantis was appointed acting mayor in 2019. Smith also ran on the Gloversville Party line, but he was defeated by current Councilman-at-Large William Rowback Jr.