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Community Board chair Xavier Santiago challenges incumbent Eddie Gibbs in East Harlem Assembly race

Assembly seat in East Harlem up for grabs on Tuesday
Assembly seat in East Harlem up for grabs on Tuesday 02:27

NEW YORK -- New York voters will decide on several primary races on Tuesday, including a heated contest for an Assembly seat in East Harlem. Local Community Board 11 chair, Xavier Santiago, is pounding the pavement to challenge first-time incumbent Eddie Gibbs for District 68.

Their faces are pasted on almost every corner in East Harlem. Santiago aims to replace Gibbs, who won the district seat in a special election two years ago.

A look back at Eddie Gibbs' first term

After a career as an advocate for criminal justice reform, himself convicted of killing a man in self-defense, Gibbs hopes to seal the deal to stay at the state level.

"I'm not a politician," Gibbs said. "They call me a 'people-tician' because I touch them. I know them…It's a community affair."

Gibbs said he is proud to have sponsored five successful new laws benefitting the neighborhood during his first term.

"We gave out $800 million to safety net hospitals, $15 million for a free bus line on 116th Street," GIbbs said. "It continues to grow."

Perhaps the most personal, though, is one that seals certain criminal convictions after three to eight years. Gibbs still hopes to help those who remain incarcerated with legislation to limit strip searches, a request directly from female inmates that is now awaiting the governor's signature.

"To come on this side of the fence and legislate on their behalf, and to actually get that legislation passed, for me is one of the greatest accomplishments," Gibbs said.

Who is Xavier Santiago?

As a local-level leader, Santiago said he still sees a set of challenges he wants to address as an Assembly member, opening opportunities instead of offering obstacles like the ones he has faced accessing funding for affordable housing.

"Housing Preservation Development is waiting for those funds to come," Santiago explained. "They need that. That's something I'd like to fight for, to make sure we can actually build more affordable housing on our corridors."

Santiago aims to advocate for the wider distribution of drug treatment options to alleviate the oversaturation in East Harlem.

"They can actually track and disclose the results without violating HIPPA," Santiago said, "where people are domiciled, how things are improving, so we understand that we're having a positive impact on people's lives."

Both men are eager to keep leading El Barrio, their home.

Polls are open Tuesday from 6 am to 9 pm.

Have a story idea or tip in Harlem? Email Jessi by CLICKING HERE.

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