April Somboun knows what it’s like to struggle and knows the challenges facing Brooklyn families everyday. A Lao refugee and immigrant, Somboun cut her political teeth working on the campaigns of Washington state Governor Gary Locke and Barack Obama and actively volunteers within her Brooklyn Heights community. “I hope that me being a mom, and a working mom to two young kids that I can be a voice to this district that is growing, that has a lot of families, but also has a lot of young individuals struggling to make ends meet,” Somboun tells Greenpointers, “I get it. I’ve been through that in my life. I can speak to all levels, from a caregiver to the CEO of a company.”
For our readers who might not know you, can you give us a quick introduction? What motivated you to run in the first place?
Although I wasn’t born in Brooklyn, I was definitely made for Brooklyn. I’m the daughter of a Lao immigrant, a refugee mother who fled communism for the American dream. I was born in a refugee camp, and when we arrived in America, my single mother had to rely on Section 8 housing, food stamps, and public schools to help provide for us. From that foundation came opportunities to grow, to become self-sufficient and prosper. Today, I’m a mom to two young kids, ages six and three. I’m a wife, and I’m also a working professional.
Something I’m really proud of is that I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. I hold a master’s in public administration from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. I hold a BA in English from the University of Washington. My story is what the American dream is all about. I’m running for city council so everyone has access to that dream. Like Brooklyn, I have overcome hardship, am hopeful for the future, and I embrace diversity. As a mom, I just want the best for our communities.
What would you say are the top three issues specific to this district that you plan to tackle?
On my website, I have made a contract with District 33 based on input from a diverse pool of voters. I am beholden to all voters, not just those with special interests, and my approach to representing District 33 will be inclusive of everyone. That’s why my contract outlines realistic, common sense initiatives that will benefit all. Some of my priorities include equity in education, opportunities for economic empowerment and a commitment to safe, desirable communities with affordable housing. Students in District 33 deserve an education that is not only exclusive of their backgrounds but affords them to have the same opportunities as their peers. This means ensuring that all students have the resources they need to do their school, to work online, including access to laptops, tablets, and broadband services.
I, as a constituent of District 33, have not even received a device for my own son who goes to public school. I understand what families are going through right now. I also want to give kids the opportunity to go to low cost or free after school enrichment classes, such as learning life skills, financial literacy, arts, tutoring, robotics, to name a few. Part of this would require partnerships with non-profits, and this in turn will help the working family’s schedule. We need to hold the mayor and the chancellor accountable to the families and the 900,000 plus children in our New York City public school system.
The other priority of mine are small businesses that deserve more support. That includes vacancy mitigation, the passage of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, and public-private partnerships that bring more revenue. Based on what I’ve heard from residents, District 33 deserves to have the chance to enjoy all of these things in safe sustainable neighborhoods that are both contemporary and affordable.
I truly believe that my vision of the neighborhood includes safe and clean parks, ensuring there are comfort stations and adequate garbage cans to eliminate litter and [having] staff to maintain the parks. That’s why I will fight to restore the park’s budget and bring back sustainability initiatives like city-wide composting, and I will be proactive with developers to ensure there is adequate affordable housing and mixed use properties that work within our community to create local jobs and help us towards economic recovery.
I’m not out to punish companies or landlords or raise taxes. I want to work with businesses and residents to facilitate meaningful outcomes that really work for everyone. I’m not looking to do politics as usual. Brooklyn deserves a plan for tomorrow, and my contract with District 33 is realistic and is what our neighborhoods have been asking for.
What lessons have you learned from being involved in community service and being a working professional that will serve you in this role?
I know what it’s like to struggle, and I know what it means to have help. Without help, there is no hope, and many of our neighbors need city council’s help right now. My experience in the corporate and non-profit sectors creating partnerships that benefit communities have shown that in order to have a fresh start, you need new leadership. I am a mom, a woman of color, and I am pragmatic. I’m a number cruncher, fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I believe that I’m the fresh start that Brooklyn needs.
Through my personal experiences, what I’ve lived through, and what I’m currently living through, is what I will bring to the table. The reality is that Brooklyn needs help recovering from the pandemic. The past year has resulted in shuttered businesses, inconsistent schooling, and loss of jobs….What I’m afraid of is that raising fees and taxes isn’t going to solve the problem. Look at what’s happening to California’s Bay Area right now. Large employers like Oracle and HP and hundreds of start ups are leaving because of fees and taxes. Instead of raising fees and taxes, we can make shifts in how we’re spending our tax dollars and we can do things that attract all those businesses that are leaving California right now. First and foremost, my personal worldview is I know what it’s like to live in poverty and low income housing and to work my way up and live the American dream. I got myself through college.
I paid for everything, and I am still paying for everything. I’m just so lucky with where I am today. I volunteer at the food pantry in Brooklyn Heights, and I’m a member of the Brooklyn Book Bodega that offers free books to family and children, to be able to have libraries in their own home. Speaking to residents who tell me they just want hope in our city. They just want to be able to live and work with dignity, and I understand that because I’ve seen my mom and my family struggle through that.
What is your favorite thing about living in this district?
My favorite thing about Brooklyn really is the people. It’s what made me really excited to move here and the reason why I’m running for city council. I’ve met some really incredible moms, dads, seniors, kids, environmental and small business advocates, and lifelong Brooklynites who have so much hope for the city we all love and share. I love our parks and community gardens. They have been a welcome retreat for my family during the pandemic. They are essential places of refuge for us to be able to think, to gather, to enjoy the outdoors, that is crucial to our mental and physical health. Unfortunately they are being cut year after year because of budget constraints but also because of developers who are incentivized to build rather than redevelop and create a sense of community.
That’s what connects this whole entire district. The neighborhoods are vastly different but what connects us is the East River. We are the entryway for people who come into Brooklyn and it’s vital that we protect our shores and the open and green spaces, so people can enjoy.
District 33 is a waterfront district. What are some climate-change initiatives that you plan to implement?
Climate change is real, and I believe that the state and the city can reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but we have to work together to make that happen. We can’t do it by ourselves. As a City Council member, you only have so many years to do XYZ, so one of the things I’m really passionate about is bringing back our composting program. If we were to bring back our city wide composting program, it could put a huge dent in methane emissions from the city’s landfill. It would be equivalent to removing 4 billion pounds of carbon dioxide each year or taking nearly 400,000 cars off the road.
Small acts can have big impacts. It doesn’t sound like a lot but when you get the community together and rally behind something, we can really make a difference, and that is one thing that I think can help mitigate climate change, in addition to providing tax incentives for developers to build on net zero buildings. Another way I’m passionate about reducing our carbon footprint is making sure everyone has access to public transportation, especially in areas where they’re hard to come by, so residents aren’t reliant on cars.
Any other last thoughts about what our readers/voters should know about you?
I’m a political outsider, and I don’t owe anyone any favors. If you truly want to see real change and a leader who’s pragmatic, I’m the candidate for you. I’m also a mom, and moms get things done. When you elect moms, legislative priorities change that will benefit all. We need more representation in city council that can be the voice for families and for our elderly, because we’re taking care of them. And the working class.
My family is the embodiment of the working class. I look at my mom who continues to work at essentially a factory assembly plant. She’s working minimum wage. She is the type of individual who I’m here to fight for. In addition to that, I always say that, and I mean this – my children are my guiding light. They are my north star. I have to look at them every day with honesty and integrity, and it is my utmost promise to the residents of District 33 that I will work for you with ethics and grace. The way that I champion for my children is the way that I will champion for everyone. That truly is my commitment. I can’t say that enough, because I’m doing this for my children, for everyone’s children, and their families. I was made for Brooklyn, and they were made in Brooklyn, and I hope to see more moms in office.
In my professional experience, working for organizations like Scholastic and in nonprofits and in the international sector in economic empowerment I think brings a very different viewpoint to the table, because I think it’s time to get someone who has fresh, new ideas and who understands what partnerships are all about.
New York City’s 2021 Primary Election is on June 22. Ranked-choice voting will allow voters to select their top five candidates for each position. Greenpointers will feature an interview with every City Council Candidate for District 33. Catch up on our conversations with Lincoln Restler, Victoria Cambranes, Ben Solotaire, and Elizabeth Adams.