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Cambria Heights activist raises more than $55K in campaign for City Council

James Johnson, community activist and organizer in Cambria Heights, is running a grassroots campaign that will bring capital to District 27. (Courtesy of James Johnson.)

James Johnson, a community organizer, activist and lifelong resident of Cambria Heights, is hoping his prior experience working in government can pave the way to him becoming the next City Council representative for District 27. 

Johnson has worked as a community liaison for Councilman I. Daneek Miller’s office and the NYC Comptroller’s Office. Now, he is putting that experience to work to bring necessary resources to District 27, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, St. Albans, Queens Village and Springfield Gardens. 

“We need to bring the community together to the table in making the necessary decision that will shape the policy to address these needs and many more,” Johnson said. “This is a ‘we campaign,’ not a ‘me campaign.’” 

Johnson’s people-centered grassroots campaign has surpassed the qualifying thresholds to run for office and maxed out in matching funds. Through a diverse coalition of support, Johnson has raised more than $55,000 in three months from 932 contributions and 258 in-district donations that average $59.  During these difficult times, southeast Queens needs resources now more than ever and leadership that will allocate money to the community, Johnson said. 

“I am humbled, inspired and grateful to have such support from the constituents in the district that I continue to work for and who have continued to see me grow as a leader,” James said. “Thank you for being a part of our journey. I appreciate the love, but we’ve got more work to do. There is still more to come.” 

Born and raised in Cambria Heights, Johnson is a member of several local community organizations and has organized rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Johnson inherited his commitment to community participation from his union-strong parents. His father, Bryant James Johnson, is currently a nurse but previously served as a longtime union leader for TWU Local 100, and his mother, Joann Linning, served years working as a central staffer for 1199 SEIU.

Johnson is a product of the district’s public school system serving as a proud alum of P.S. 136, I.S. 159, and Campus Magnet High School (formerly known as Andrew Jackson High School). His road to advocacy began when he attended Benedict College in South Carolina, where he earned his bachelor of arts degree in Mass Communication. 

In his campaign for Council District 27, Johnson’s top three initiatives include: education funding reform, housing justice, and community-led economic development. 

As an advocate, Johnson has been critical of the inadequate funding level for the district’s local schools for years. He says it is inequitable to allow the city’s disadvantaged to continue to go on without a proportionate level of support from city, state and federal funds. 

Johnson says he will work to shift the city’s education funding formula to ensure the district’s youth have what they need. 

“My peers that lived in Cambria Heights and St. Albans did not go to school at Campus Magnet,” Johnson said. “They went to Bayside High School, Cardozo High School, Thomas Edison and Francis Lewis.” 

According to Johnson, schools in the district are stigmatized due to parent’s who say there are low test scores and lack of resources, and it’s a narrative he has been trying to change for the past five years. 

“We actually have great programs now inside the schools but parents don’t know that,” said Johnson, who was able to bring allocated funding for a new football locker room and basketball gym at Campus Magnet through the participatory budgeting process. “I believe the community has to do a better job of highlighting the positive things that the schools are doing, and I believe that the stigma continues because gentrification is something that has been advertised as well.” 

If elected, Johnson is prepared to join the conversation of reforming the city’s property tax system, where he will work to prioritize a fairer and more transparent property tax system that will provide relief for low-income and senior homeowners. 

According to Johnson, homeowners in the district, and other districts like theirs, pay the lion’s share of the city’s property taxes while others enjoy years of tax abatements and credits. 

“We need to take advantage of using organizations such as NACA, a first-time homebuyer program that will help elders, baby boomers, Gen-Z and millennials get a home,” Johnson said. “There are no closing costs or down payments, and more importantly, it helps prevent foreclosures, especially during a time like this amid COVID-19.”

When it comes to community-led economic development, Johnson will focus on bringing more dollars to the district and establishing a vacant commercial property tax to force landlords to give southeast Queens businesses and entrepreneurs a chance. 

Amid calls for equal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in communities of color that were ravaged by the virus, Johnson said “it’s no secret that southeast Queens is the last to get resources.” 

A survivor of COVID-19, Johnson recalled traveling to Long Island in March 2020 to get tested for the virus due to lack of testing sites in the district.

“We were the last in southeast Queens to even have testing. We’re always the last at the table to get anything,” Johnson said. “We need somebody in office that is going to bring everyone to the table and be a part of the real decision-making process.” 

Additionally, Johnson’s vision is to increase union memberships for residents in District 27 and along southeast Queens who are sanitation workers, teachers, correctional officers, FDNY, nurses, and school crossing guards, among others. 

“I want to make sure that we are increasing memberships with young people so they know the benefits of being a part of a union, and having someone to fight for them,” Johnson said. 

Johnson joins 11 candidates in the race for District 27 that includes Marie Adam-Ovide, Kerryanne Burke, Jason Clarke, Leroy Gadsden, Rene Hill, Al-Hassan Kanu, Harold Miller, Jermaine Smith, Timothy Turane and Nantasha Williams. 

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