“People, Not Power”: Alum Announces Mount Vernon, NY, Mayoral Bid

March 12 @ 9:31 pm

Emphasizing youth development, community building, and housing, Delia Farquharson (MSW’09) feels ready to lead her city.

A city of 68,000 just north of the Bronx, with a diverse population and considerable disparities in housing, education, and services, Mount Vernon, New York, has been home to many social activists. Residents Nina Simone, Betty Shabazz, Adam Clayton Powell, Sidney Poitier, and Robin Morgan have all made their mark on the world.

Now, a Social Work grad is making her mark on this vibrant and complex city. City Councilor Delia Farquharson is drawing on her Columbia training as she runs for mayor.

“I am not a part of the political establishment,” she says. “I am a social worker who cares about people, not money and power.”

In an interview, Councilwoman Farquharson remembered the exact day she decided to become a social worker. She was substitute-teaching in a special education classroom.

“A student in the classroom was distressed and expressed that he wanted to die. He was clearly unable to sit still enough to engage in the lesson. I was so moved by that experience that I realized then that helping children emotionally was more important to me than helping them academically. I recognized then what I preach now, that emotional and psychological wellness is crucial to a child’s ability to learn.”

After receiving her MSW, the Jamaica-born Farquharson branded herself as a “concierge therapist” for busy people. With the tagline “Meeting you where you are,” she saw clients in their homes and offices, even in coffee shops.  She worked to reduce mental illness stigma and coached parents on developing children’s self-regard. She facilitated a local National Alliance on Mental Illness group and co-created Wellness Week Mount Vernon, a program offering mental health workshops and a safe method of discarding prescription drugs.

In addition to being a mental health provider and advocate, Farquharson collaborated with local leaders to develop young people’s capabilities.

With co-convener Frances Wynn, she brought President Barack Obama’s program My Brother’s Keeper to Mount Vernon. MBK helps young black men connect to resources and skills they need to read better, graduate from high school, find employment, or enroll in college. Farquharson and Wynn also created YouthTalk, a series of forums where teens could share concerns and solutions.

Unfortunately, Mount Vernon lacks adequate affordable housing. Its school district is one of three in Westchester County with a high rate of students who are homeless. In 2016, this number reached 888 out of 7,820.

Says Councilwoman Farquharson, “As a community in the midst of displacement, lack of housing is a crisis we are facing. The rate of evictions has increased and the school district has more than 10 percent of the student body homeless or housing insecure.”

Accordingly, she regularly holds Community Conversations in which residents can question housing officials. This access to information is critical, she says: “I believe knowledge is power and I am committed to ensuring that  community members have more information rather than less, so they can make sound decisions.”

Mount Vernon is somewhat segregated. Most black people live in the southern half of the city, Latinx people in the northwest, and whites and others in the north and northeast. According to the draft of a city report, these divisions affect both housing availability and school quality. As mayor, how would Farquharson address these disparities?

She replied in part, “While the northern section of the city is more diverse than it has been in the past, some difference in access and service delivery is believed to still exist. As mayor, I will promote equity in the delivery of service. I will use data to drive my decision making, and I will continue to be open and accessible to all community members. This is not about differences. This is about what our community deserves and ensuring that needs are met.”

Like another alum who’s forged a career in government, New York State Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus (PhD’15), Farquharson is running as an anti-corruption candidate. The incumbent, Mayor Richard Thomas, has been charged with stealing from his campaign funds and failing to report $75,000 in donations.

Of the recent controversy, the Councilwoman said, “Restoring dignity to the office of mayor is very important to me. The narrative that is publicized about our city is not representative of the majority of the community….We will do business better and represent the best interest of the entire city.”

Will the “concierge therapist” who “meets people where they are” continue practicing social work while she’s mayor?

Her answer is no.

“The office of mayor is a full-time position in Mount Vernon,” Farquharson replied.

However, she intends to keep her qualifications current.  “I hold a New York State LCSW license, and I am also on the New York State Mental Health Professionals Panel,” she said. “I will work hard to maintain these designations.”