There wasn’t a sea of reporters around attorney Clyde Vanel Tuesday. There weren’t any guest speakers singing his praises either. In fact, Vanel’s headquarters were humbly located in the backyard of someone’s house. Those in attendance were a few volunteers who have been helping Vanel throughout his campaign. All evening there was a low-key atmosphere, with the volunteers sitting back eating pizza and soul food, patiently waiting for the results to come in.
When it was all said and done, Vanel and his humble, relaxed surroundings would face defeat against Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) in their quest for District 33 in the state Assembly.
Prior to the final numbers coming in, Vanel seemed to be prepared for the worst, yet hopeful for the best. “I’m proud of how hard we worked,” the Cambria Heights lawyer said of his campaign. He looked and sounded exhausted after a long day of campaigning.
“My first plan before [being elected] is to go to sleep,” he joked. “No matter what happens, I’m very happy to see how the community responded to us and to our campaign.”
That has been the focus of Vanel’s entire campaign - getting the community involved. “What we’ve been running on in this campaign is community empowerment” described Vanel. He admitted that his goal throughout this process was to get more citizens involved and active with community issues. “We really wanted to get more people involved and to really get folks that have been traditionally out of the process of policymaking in.”
One of the main issues that Vanel and his campaign wanted to focus on was education. Vanel had hoped to work on preserving institutions like Jamaica High School that the city plans to shut down and reconfigure.
Among supporters who were in attendance at Vanel’s campaign headquarters was Donnie Whitehead, a community organizer who, with a band of other Queens volunteers, was instrumental in helping then Sen. Barack Obama win the Democratic primaries in 2008, defying local political leaders who backed Hillary Clinton. Whitehead has been a supporter of Vanel ever since two-term Councilman Leroy Comrie cast his vote on extending term limits.
“I supported a candidate that was against term limits, and that happened to be Clyde Vanel,” stated Whitehead. “He’s an independent politician who came directly from the community. He’s not nurtured, watered, and cultivated through ‘the club.’”
Despite the individual loss, Vanel sees things as a broader scale and understands that it doesn’t just end with him. His campaign endorsed a series of other candidates for different positions, including the Democratic county committee and Whitehead for the party’s state committee.
“We’re about community empowerment,” Vanel said, “so what we’ll do is continue to empower more people in the community.”
Clark received 66.8 percent of the votes to Vanel’s 33.2 percent. She was unavailable Tuesday night. Some supporters thought she was going to watch the returns come in at Thomasina’s catering hall in St. Albans, but no one was there when they arrived.