As Democrats increasingly promote diversity and inclusion among their candidates, local drag artist Marti Gould Cummings (D) has earned the honor of being the first nonbinary candidate for City Council in their effort to succeed Mark Levine (D-Manhattan Valley, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, Hamilton Heights) as the representative of District 7.
Born in Maryland, Cummings would often come to the city when visiting their aunt in Tarrytown with family. They finally made the move permanent in 2005 at the age of 17 fresh out of high school.
“I feel like in a lot of ways, I’ve grown up here because of that,” they said.
Initially, Cummings hoped to get into musical theatre, but ultimately got into drag artistry. They used this career path to get into local politics and activism, including working with organizations that support homeless LGBTQIA-plus youth.
However, it was the 2016 elections that began Cummings’ ascent to public office.
“[The 2016 election] was a big eye opener,” they said. “I have this platform, and I want to use it for good. I want to really dive into politics more, and that led to where we are today running for City Council.”
However, they asserted their decision to run did not come easy. “I really had to, you know, figure out. Okay, Is this the next step? Is this what? How can I best be of service to others? And for a lot of meditating and crying and talking to my husband and And then I was like, `You know what? Let’s do that.’”
On policy, they have made housing a top priority, which includes adequate funding for NYCHA, supporting the homeless, and allowing established home and business owners to keep their assets.
Cummings also has emphasized the importance of education, grilling the de facto segregation rampant in city public schools.
“That is morally bankrupt,” they said. “To me, every child deserves an education. It is a human right, just like housing is a human right, and we have to make sure that every student is given equal education.”
Cummings linked education to their criminal justice platform, which involves replacing cops in schools with more social workers as well as defunding the NYPD “by at least a billion dollars.” They hope the reduction in funding for police and new jails can instead go to housing, education, and infrastructure.
Cummings’ platform also highlights the importance of environmental justice.
“I think climate change can begin at the local level. Our campaign is doing a lot of trash clean-up,” they said. “I want to be the candidate that puts in the time and the work to be of service to the community, and those are the big issues we’re fighting for.”
On the subject of experience, they asserted that their background as “a gig worker,” would provide them with a unique ability to empathize with New Yorkers who experience financial hardship.
“I know the struggles of living paycheck to paycheck. I know the struggle of `Are we going to be able to make rent this month?’ And I know what it’s like to not have health insurance as a gig worker, you know, to not have access to that,” said Cummings. “I want to use the experience I’ve been given to lift up the voices who are struggling with the same things, and I want to use my experience as a drag artist and a nonbinary queer person to show up.”
When asked about any concerns they have about running for office, Cummings acknowledged that some voters may not take their candidacy seriously as “a first time candidate” with an unconventional political background, but offered a pragmatic response.
“Because of my experience as a drag queen, some people might think `You don’t have the experience for this job,’ but I think everything that’s led to this point has given me the experience to show up, to listen, and to do the job to help other people,” they said. “There’s gonna be times where maybe I don’t have the answers, and i think to get the answers, it’s about being open and listening to criticism.”