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What's Your Deal

Will Bed-Stuy Elect a DSA Fit God to the State Assembly?

Eon Tyrell Huntley’s priorities are housing, health care, and fashion (in that order).

(DeSean McClinton-Holland / Hell Gate)

One glance at Eon Tyrell Huntley's Instagram, and you'll clock it immediately: You're dealing with a fashionisto, albeit one who sprinkles in photos of civil rights-era radicals like Malcolm X and Angela Davis with his fit pics. Huntley, a 39-year-old, lightly bearded son of a Guyanese father and a Black American mother, often poses in front of mirrors, dressed in sleek monochromatic outfits with tailored silhouettes. In his selfies, he slyly tags accounts like those of the Olsen twins' luxury couture label The Row and French stalwart Celine, and rocks Tabis.

Huntley also regularly posts flyers for the food bank at PS 54 on Nostrand Avenue where his two kids attend school, in the same district where his wife Rebecca used to teach, and where he was the president of the parent-teacher association for three years. He's a fit god, and he's also running for the New York State Assembly in this June's Democratic primary, with an endorsement from the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. 

Huntley is hoping to represent Assembly District 56, a slice of Bedford-Stuyvesant between Broadway and Bergen Street, with Herbert Von King Park at its west side and the block where the "Milly Rock" video was shot at its east side. It's currently represented by Stefani Zinerman, a Democrat who in 2020 ran for the seat unopposed, with the endorsement of her predecessor. That predecessor won it handily with the endorsement of her predecessor, who dodged newly imposed term limits by exchanging seats with her predecessor, Albert Vann, who had held the seat for a quarter of a century. Huntley, as a democratic socialist, is unlikely to be christened by that political dynasty—recall Jabari Brisport, a Black DSA member who got called a "coon" to the applause of a sitting councilmember when he dared to challenge the Democratic auntie conclave's ironclad hold on central Brooklyn. 

Huntley is a Parsons-trained designer, and even though he says he "grew up lining up and sleeping outside for sneakers," he told me that he very nearly didn't pursue fashion, thinking as a kid that it was too impractical of a career choice. "I initially thought architecture, because that was, in my mind, the thing that was practical," he said, adding, "There was a person in our building who actually had that as a job."

But a friend he grew up with had gotten into the High School of Art and Design, and encouraged him to apply. There, he had a teacher, Michael Cheverino, who encouraged him to continue with fashion. "Shout out, and rest in peace, to Mr. Cheverino," said Huntley. "He set up our school as a real agency." 

Huntley says his high school education allowed him to pursue his interests in fashion, which range from streetwear to mens' bespoke tailoring to womenswear. He's specialized in the latter, both as a designer and in retail jobs, at Barneys before it shuttered and today, at Bergdorf Goodman, where he's a sales rep. "I know what the potential of New York City public schools are—when they're funded," Huntley said.

These days, Huntley said he doesn't see how a kid growing up in NYCHA housing like he did could still see a path to follow their passions and make it in New York City today, which is why he's running for office. "There's really not any sort of space for people who are creative to develop and blossom and flourish," he lamented. "Where is that place now?" Somewhat ironically, he fumed that he heard a Prada store, of all things, was coming to Williamsburg: "We're in essentially a second Gilded Age." 

Huntley's grandmother was born in North Carolina, and moved to New York during the Great Migration, raising Huntley's mother in Brooklyn in the same NYCHA apartment where his mother raised Eon. He credits his grandmother with impressing upon him the importance of civic engagement. "That was always ingrained in me. I wouldn't ever think to not vote," Huntley said.

He and his mother eventually moved to a Mitchell-Lama building in East New York that was later converted to condos. Residents were given the option to purchase their apartments, which is how Huntley's mother became a homeowner. "I'm fighting for these policies that will allow that opportunity for others, if they so choose to move from being renters," he said, adding that he supports the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act. Huntley and his family rent their home in Bed-Stuy, like 77 percent of the people in the district. He told me his campaign is centered around housing affordability, education, and the New York Health Act, which would roll out statewide single-payer healthcare. 

"We have just unbelievable rental rent prices and market prices that are dictated by a lobbying industry that only seeks to increase their profit, and have no regard for the people that need to find homes," Huntley said. "They see it all as a speculative asset." Accordingly, Huntley said that his top priority is ensuring that tenant protections like Good Cause Eviction get passed.

Before he can do any of that, though, he'll have to get past the aforementioned Brooklyn Democratic establishment. Zinerman has been endorsed by the Brooklyn political club Vanguard Democrats, which was founded in 1972 to elect Albert Vann, and has endorsed everyone who has held the seat since. But she has not signed on as a cosponsor of a Good Cause Eviction bill. In 2022, after tenants' rights groups protested Zinerman's refusal to back Good Cause legislation, Zinerman accused them of "political violence." 

On a January day, I met Huntley for a walk around Herbert Von King Park. It was a chilly winter afternoon, so the park was mostly empty. But to Huntley, Herbert Von King is the beating heart of the district he seeks to represent in Albany. "It's a meeting point for everyone in this neighborhood, of all demographics," he explained. 

I asked Huntley about challenging Zinerman in the primary, and challenging a close-knit Brooklyn political establishment. "I see myself as being part of this legacy of Black politicians in the history of the state, and this neighborhood especially," Huntley replied. "I think it's important to note that…" he began, and then he sighed into the designer scarf wrapped around his neck. "You know the saying, 'not all skinfolk are kinfolk'? The longer you stay in power, the more you become detached from the material needs of people on the ground."

To Huntley, Zinerman wasn't fighting hard enough for the people in the district—he's seen friends pushed out of the neighborhood by rising rents. "We can't just stand around and continue with the status quo, and just assume that people are going to be okay and accept that," he said. (Zinerman's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.) So far, Huntley has raised $31,506, according to campaign finance records, ahead of Zinerman's $18,733.

(De(DeSean McClinton-Holland / Hell Gate)

After our initial interview at Von King Park, I asked Huntley a few times if I could meet him again, but this time at his day job selling womenswear at Bergdorf. But he balked, and at first I thought it was because he feared professional retaliation. Could we meet on his lunch break, so it wouldn't alert any of his colleagues? He declined, insisting that a different venue would be more representative of his place in the fashion industry, and of someone who was once on the bargaining committee of the union Workers United, representing his colleagues.

So instead, we met at the Fashion Avenue headquarters of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a union whose support he's seeking in his election bid. "There are farm workers that are also a part of [RWDSU], there are cleaning staff, and sales associates like myself, at other stores," Huntley said. He added, "Everyone has the same concerns. Housing is a huge concern for everyone." 

I understood: Huntley didn't want to be seen as the Bergdorf candidate in Bed-Stuy. So is his fashion career merely incidental to his politics? I remembered the carousel of Black Panther Party photos on his Instagram, and I asked Huntley what inspiration he draws from them and the way they transmuted a visual aesthetic into a politics of material empowerment. 

"Everything matters when you're putting a message out there, including the visuals, and the message that's being carried by the visuals. There's a reason that the Panthers look the way that they do," he answered. Yet Huntley seemed to worry that in a political context, his fashion background would make him seem frivolous—this is perhaps because, as cultural industries go, the fashion industry seems studiously apolitical. His Instagram bio promises he's a "proletarian in bourgeoisie clothing." I told him that, when I think about what the Black Panthers achieved with their aesthetics, they seem very direct: a projection of Black power and unity. So, with that in mind, what, in the end, should voters take away from his identity as a fashion enthusiast? "It's incidental," he said. "It's about elevating a culture and the things I appreciate."

He peered through his sunglasses and smiled. "And, you know, they looked fly."

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