Last week at the Castle Royale, Mike Khader announced his candidacy for City Council president. Khader, a first-time candidate, is the only announced Democrat seeking the party nod to challenge incumbent Republican Council President Liam McLaughlin in November, in what will be Yonkers’ biggest election of 2017. Who is Khader and why is he running for council president? “I’m the son of immigrant farmers from a small village in Jordan,” he said in an interview with Yonkers Rising. “I’m the youngest of seven siblings, and all of us were born and raised in Yonkers… My father was a factory worker and my mom worked at a hospital in the Bronx, and they both instilled values of hard work and true grit.
I am the first in my family to graduate from college, and become a lawyer.
Khader, 40, is a business litigation attorney in private practice. All of his brothers and sisters still live in Yonkers.
“I worked in Washington, D.C., and overseas, and then came back to Yonkers to raise my family,” he said. “I have three kids, ages 4, 5 and 6, and all of them attend the Yonkers Public Schools. I’m a homeowner and a small business owner.
That’s who I am… We all stayed in Yonkers because of the importance of family and having all of us close and together. But all of us also see the potential of Yonkers, and that is why I’m running for council president.”
We asked Khader: Why make a run for council president as your first run for political office? Why not run for City Council first?
“I’m doing this to make an impact, not to pad my resume,” he replied. “What truly inspired me to run for council president is that our education system in Yonkers is abysmal. When you look at what other school districts and private schools spend per pupil, and YPS is spending more – over $20,000 per pupil – and our education system is subpar. Something has to be done… I commend Mayor (Mike) Spano for pushing the ‘Rebuild Yonkers’ program and I will be a partner with him, but we have to have a quality education for all of our children to succeed.”
Khader related two stories about his young children in YPS.
“My daughter was in her classroom and it was more than 100 degrees,” he said. “She came home and was dehydrated with a nosebleed. We decided to keep her home for a few days until the heat wave cooled down. How can a child succeed when we are setting them up for failure?”
Khader also explained that he his 4-yearold son receives special services through YPS. “My wife and I spend our nights talking about what we are going to do with our son,” he said. “This is the city that I love, that I was born in and decided to raise my family in, but my school district cannot meet the educational requirements of my son. That is what motivates me to run for office and fight for change.”
Khader touched on one theme again and again during our interview: Yonkers is progressing, but the progress isn’t touching all of its residents.
“Right now, the development and the shopping and the nightlife are all fun and good, but if you want to get families to move here and live here, then look at the quality of our education system,” he said. “Otherwise they will continue to go to Ridge Hill for the day and leave. And for those without children in the schools, our education system affects their home values. They want to know where their tax dollars are going and right now, they see no accountability.”
Khader was not shy about criticizing his opponent, McLaughlin, and his 14 years on the City Council.
“Liam has always respected me and my family, but he’s not doing the job,” said Khader.
“He’s old and stale and out of touch. We need a fresh perspective, and new ideas for the old problems… If we have a budget crisis every year, then it’s not a crisis, it’s the norm. We have a funding emergency that is standard operating procedure. The status quo is unviable.
“I think Liam has dropped the ball and is out of touch. He has been in City Hall for 14 years, we have gone through different presidents and mayors, and the only commonality in Yonkers is our budget crisis and Liam. But I think in the end, the voters will make their decision based on the issues and on the future of Yonkers.”
In addition to education, Khader said the other big issue in this campaign will be what he calls “the hidden taxes” in Yonkers. “There is a lack of accountability with the hidden taxes, like our water bills, which were once $200 and are now $600,” he said. “Or the $65 red light camera fines, or the $85 parking tickets. A lot of resident I have met don’t understand how we got to this point with so many nuisance taxes.” Khader called Yonkers “A Tale of Two Cities.”
“On the southwest side, people feel that they are not being represented or heard, and that our government is overlooking an entire population,” he said. “One the east side, when I speak with homeowners, they know who Liam is, but nobody knows what he has done.”
Currently, there is no other Yonkers Democrat even willing to put his or her name out as a possible candidate for council president. The executive committee is expected to meet in April and have its convention in May, but some of the possible Democrats who could have run against Khader – Councilmember Christopher Johnson and Minority Leader Michael Sabatino, former Councilman Dennis Robertson and former Council President Chuck Lesnick – have all declined to run.
“I think everyone agreed that I am the best candidate,” said Khader.“I’m raising funds, meeting voters and building bridges. I don’t govern or run for office with a bully mentality, that’s not the cohesion we need to move this city forward. I’m reaching out to get the heart and minds and votes of Yonkers residents… This is the biggest race in Yonkers this year, and I don’t think it’s a Republican or a Democratic way to govern on the issues. I want to govern with common sense and base my decisions on how this benefits the taxpayer, homeowner and the students.”
While it is too early in the campaign to get into specifics, Khader said that, if elected, he would continue to maintain his independence. “My family will not be working in the administration, that way I can maintain my independence,” he said. “People in City Hall are supportive of my campaign, but they are afraid to express it publicly, which is sad… I’m going to talk about things in this campaign that nobody else will discuss because of family members working for the city. Nobody in my family works for the city, and I’ll call it like I see it.
“My message to the voters is, ‘Let’s make Yonkers the city we all know it can be,’” continued Khader. “Let’s raise the level of governance and change the level of governance. Yonkers has the potential to be great but we need leaders who want to do the right thing and not just feather their nests… I’m going to be a partner with Mayor Spano and in the end, the voters will decide. One Democrat told me that if you work hard and raise money in this campaign, you can win. I want to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem.”