When Jumaane Williams won a crowded, contentious special election in February to become the city’s next public advocate, one of his closest allies, Rodneyse Bichotte, took the stage with him. Bichotte, an Assemblymember from a neighboring Brooklyn district, was the chair of the campaign, and aggressively defended Williams when a female rival suggested he had a problem with women.

Less than three months later, with an even more bitter special election being waged to fill Williams's old City Council seat, Bichotte has a new take: Williams might be problematic after all.

“I’ve been on the front lines speaking for Jumaane on women’s issues and here he disrespected two women who had his back … he didn’t give a crap about me, about our community or the things we’ve done for him,” Bichotte said in an interview. “What does this say about how you feel about women? It’s horrible. I’ve spoken to other women. They’d had that same experience with Jumaane. I’ve never had that experience until now.”

While the nonpartisan special election to replace Williams on May 14th boasts eight candidates, most political observers see it coming down to two women, each featuring a bevy of support in the district and beyond: Monique Chandler-Waterman, recently endorsed by Williams, and Bichotte’s own candidate, Farah Louis.

Both women worked for Williams. Louis was a Williams staffer for nearly six years, rising to be his deputy chief of staff. Chandler-Waterman, the executive director and CEO of a local nonprofit, East Flatbush Village, served in Williams's office for a two-year stint from 2012 to 2014.

The race between the two well-funded candidates—Chandler-Waterman has almost $77,000 in the bank, compared to Louis's nearly $119,000—was already heated before Williams's endorsement came down on April 16th. Shortly after, Louis went on a local radio station and attacked Williams's record, arguing the district doesn’t “have the resources anymore to ensure we can thrive and move forward.”

In an interview with Gothamist, Williams, who insisted he encouraged Chandler-Waterman to run and initially considered staying neutral, said he waded into the race when it “turned nasty” and “divisive.”

“Do I encourage a black woman to run and not support her when the race gets nasty?” he asked.

Williams didn’t single out any one moment that drove him to dive into the race, but Bichotte did. She claimed Williams brought Chandler-Waterman to speak at a community event for Haitian doctors last month (Louis and Bichotte are Haitian-American) and tried to get her to speak there. Bichotte, who had long been supporting Louis, took umbrage, and Williams in turn decided to make his support for Chandler-Waterman formal, even as other community leaders in the district, including Bichotte, expected him to not back any single candidate.

Williams disputes that version of events and said he had long planned to support Chandler-Waterman in one form or another. He questioned why another elected official would be trying to pick a successor for his seat without his input.

“A great elected official can be nothing without staff,” Williams said. “Monique Waterman is the one. She was part of the early staff that helped build the foundation when no money was involved, to figure out how to address issues on the ground. When I was out in the streets at one in the morning, Monique was there, speaking to young people about gun violence.”

Williams represented the 45th Council District, which spans the heavily Afro-Caribbean neighborhoods of East Flatbush, Flatlands, and Canarsie, as well as parts of Orthodox Jewish Midwood, for nearly a decade, unseating an incumbent in 2009. He became one of the highest profile city councilmembers, challenging the Bloomberg administration on stop-and-frisk, getting arrested at Occupy Wall Street and protesting the detention of immigration activist Ravi Ragbir, and making two unsuccessful bids for City Council speaker. In 2018, he ran for lieutenant governor and lost, but won decisively in Brooklyn, setting up a dominant citywide victory for public advocate in February.

The district, the candidates and Williams agree, is still facing challenges. Crime and gun violence are down, but gentrification and the displacement that comes with it remains a top concern. As more residents are priced out of other parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, they have been migrating to the eastern end of the borough, where home prices continue to soar and real estate speculators hungrily eye a region they see as ripe for development.

“What you find happening over there is wholesale gentrification coming into play,” said Lupe Todd-Medina, a Democratic strategist who has worked on many campaigns in central and eastern Brooklyn. “These new residents are coming in already armed with their registration to vote.”

Gentrification doesn’t necessarily mean just an explosion of white residents, Todd-Medina explained. It’s also the arrival of upwardly mobile black renters and homeowners, which has led to rising rents and home values.

Louis and Chandler-Waterman, like most of the other candidates in the race—Anthony Alexis, Victor Jordan, Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, Adina Sash, and L. Rickie Tulloch—agree on most issues of policy. Both women want to prioritize the construction of affordable housing and expressed concerns about a federally-mandated formula, known as Area Median Income (AMI), that determines what housing is deemed affordable. (AMI ropes in other counties, not just local neighborhoods.)

If elected, Chandler-Waterman said she would fight to reform the police department so more mental health professionals, and not cops, are called to care for mentally ill people who are in distress. “The NYPD should not be responding to those who have mental health illnesses; there should be professionals who deal with mental health,” she said. “There should be a different number, not 911 but maybe 811, that a loved one can call when a loved one is in crisis.”

Louis said she would hope to change the AMI formula and, in the meantime, find funding to assign urban planners to community boards so locals can be better informed when developers propose new projects in the community.

“The issues I’m trying to work on are decreasing foreclosures in our district and minimizing the displacement of tenants,” she said.

Endorsements have poured in for both women and are indicative of the fault lines in the district and beyond. In addition to Williams, Chandler-Waterman has the backing of State Senators Zellnor Myrie and Kevin Parker, Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, and Assemblymember Nick Perry, as well as the Working Families Party.

Louis has drawn the support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Brooklyn Democratic boss Frank Seddio, and the United Federation of Teachers, in addition to Bichotte. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a frequent antagonist of Williams, also recently backed Louis.

Notable among her backers is the number of Jewish elected officials and leaders, which has been viewed in the district as a clear rebuke of Williams. The Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, as well as Assemblymember Helene Weinstein and the late former Councilmember Lew Fidler, endorsed Louis. Williams's relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community in particular has been strained, according to community insiders, over Williams's decision to abstain from a City Council vote condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Williams hopes that after the campaign, the community can unite and move forward, no easy task in a district where as little as 5,000 votes could determine the next councilmember. “Elections come and go and we have to do our best to remain unified because this area is ripe for gentrification and everyone has to be focused on preserving this district,” he said.

Bichotte, who once nominated Williams for lieutenant governor at the state Democratic convention, may not be so willing to move on.

“He will be in for a rude awakening in the future,” she said. “People will remember what he did. That’s not a good person to be. That’s not a good human being to be.”

Find out more about the candidates and details for Tuesday's special election in City Council District 45.