• Eddie Gibbs could be the first Assembly member with a rap sheet who rapped with the late great Notorious B.I.G.

    Eddie Gibbs expected to be the first state legislator who served time in prison before getting elected. Gibbs, 53, is a political operative who has been a Democratic district leader since 2017. Gibbs talked to City & State about wanting to inspire ex-offenders, his thoughts on bail reform and rapping with the late great Notorious B.I.G. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. He won the Democratic nomination in December to replace Robert Rodriguez, who resigned from the Assembly after Gov. Kathy Hochul named him secretary of state.

    Do you hope to get involved in criminal justice and sentencing issues in the legislature? Or have you had enough of that in your life?

    Criminal justice reform has got to be something I focus on. I want to be part of that discussion. I'm still studying the effects of bail reform. But criminal justice is definitely on my mind. I sent the email out to (Assembly Member) David Weprin. I know he’s the chairman of the prisons committee up here in Albany. I’m focusing on housing and seniors, but that committee, I want to put my emphasis on it. I don’t think anybody out there will have better insight than me. I’m the product of a fair criminal justice system. I'm that story of redemption. When I came home, I was trying to do everything to fit in. I did stand-up comedy for like, two years. Did a lot of shows. My stage name was Good Buddy. And this name was fitting because I am a good buddy. I didn’t want that stigma. When people come home from prison, especially with a manslaughter charge, or if you’ve been in prison 5, 10 years, people form this opinion about you, that you’re tough and you’re rough and don’t bother them and they’re afraid of you. You’re intimidating. I didn’t want people to feel like that around me.. I wanted to show people I was funny. I talked about prison. I talked about life. I talked about everything. Talked about becoming an ordained deacon. Because I wanted people to relax and laugh. I did that, I did acting. I did rapping. I was rapping with everybody. I’ve got to show you these videos. I did rapping with Jungle Brothers with, God bless the dead, Biggie Smalls. I rapped with Mase, I opened up for him.

    You rapped with Biggie Smalls?

    Yeah, yeah. I did. Me and, God bless the dead, Big L. Big L is a rapper from 139th Street. He didn’t get his break yet, but he had a good following. And he was killed at 139th and Lenox. Good friend of mine whose brother Leroy and I were locked up together for three years. And when we came home, we gravitated towards Big L, and we traveled with him. And he opened up for Biggie, and they let me do some freestyles at the show.

    You said you’re still studying bail reform. What do you mean by that? Have you not made up your mind on whether the current law needs to be changed?

    In the community where we’re from, we see a lot. There’s no fear of going to jail anymore. Back then, people were afraid to get caught. You’re not coming home. To look into those windows – like "bail reform! The bail is too high! This guy can’t afford it!” But you’ve got to look at some of the charges. I’m critical on everybody. Who said that – don’t do the crime if you can’t pay the time? Right is right, wrong is wrong. If you’re caught up and you’re wrong, you’ve got to learn. I’ve got a lot of friends who just can’t make that transition. They’d rather be out there hustling. And, to each his own. But there’s going to be a price you have to pay.

    You spent 17 months on Rikers. With bail reforms, there are supposed to be fewer people spending a long time like that, ideally. Is that part of your consideration?

    Let’s look at recidivism, right? People come in and go out, go in. It’s just so much happening in the community, and this pandemic propelled everything. So there’s a lot going on, and I’m trying to get a handle on it. I don’t want people to be falsely arrested, or spend time in prison when they shouldn’t. Like the young man who was in jail on Rikers Island for three years for stealing a book bag who ended up killing himself (Kalief Browder) – that was wrong. So those cases you look at. But if you get caught with a pistol, the cops see you shooting – come on, you shouldn’t get $100 bail for a pistol. Let’s be clear. Right is right. Wrong is wrong.

    What do you do for a living now?

    I’m blessed to be an operative. I do a lot of campaign work. And I work for a few consulting companies. Dunton Consulting and Mercury. We just was out in New Jersey to help elect Governor (Phil) Murphy and Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver. And I do other campaigns. I helped Eric Adams, Adriano (Espaillat). It’s a nice little check.

    What did you do for Adams?

    I knew Eric Adams for a while. I loved him and admired him as the Brooklyn borough president. He always came across the bridge and attended my events. We did basically get the vote out for him, visibilities, leaflet drops and such.

    This seat has been held by a Latino member for almost 50 years. You’re Black, so there’s some tension around that changing. How’s it feel to represent this plurality Hispanic neighborhood?

    I love East Harlem. Born and raised here, 54 years now. Minus the four I was gone in prison. I love El Barrio. I love the community. I love the neighbors. I love the people. And I understand why and how the Latinos would feel entitled. Prior to them gaining the seat, it was the Italians. But back then in East Harlem, it was Italians and Black. It wasn’t Latinos. I can tell you stories from my cousins and uncles who would fight Italians because - if we go across First Avenue, we’re out of territory. Italians held it down for a while, then Latinos moved in and they ran and gained the seat. Granted, I don’t think it’s a Puerto Rican seat. I just think it’s an East Harlem seat. You have a pocket of Latinos who felt the need to say that they are the old guard, and the old ways said that no Black can occupy this seat. I don’t think most of the Latino community agreed with them.

    Do you speak Spanish?

    I speak un poquito.

    You won the Democratic nomination in a competitive county committee meeting in December. How’d you get the support?

    I was nervous, and I was worried. I was going up against some heavy hitters. Senior district leader John Ruiz, he’s been a district leader now for 20 years, I think. You had former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, current Councilwoman Diana Ayala and a few others supporting him. And then you had on the other hand, Wilfredo Lopez who had the former Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez’s support and some of (then-Manhattan Borough President) Gale Brewer’s staff running around calling numbers. So I mean, I was lucky, I believe. These guys are really seasoned. So what happens here politically, in East Harlem, is district leaders do not run county committee members. They usually wait until after the election, and when there’s a vacancy, they’ll just fill them in. And nine times out of 10, the names they’re filling the vacancies with, they don’t know about it. People don’t know that they’re on (the) county committee. And I think this is the problem they were having. John and Robert. They probably appointed people, and they couldn’t find them, couldn’t locate them. But on the other hand, me, I run them every two years. And I run like 120 members. So it was a no brainer. I have their information, I have their numbers. I not only do that, I interact with them daily. So we were in Puerto Rico, and that’s when it got out that Kathy Hochul nominated Robert for secretary of state. While out in Puerto Rico, I’ve just started working my phone, I just called everybody in the city telling them, hey, look, this is what we hear. There’s gonna be a county committee meeting soon. I don’t know when, but we’ve got to be prepared. And I emphasized to them that (on) the day of the meeting, we just have to be patient. It’s going to be a long process. We’ll get impatient. Don’t leave. Just make sure we stay here together in a group. And my people showed up. I didn’t have to bribe them. I had to do nothing, I showed up and told them this is what we planned for.

    Who are your legislative heroes? Who do you look up to?

    I’ve been waiting for this question for so long! Hands down, my number one is (New York City Council Member) Gale Brewer. Gale Brewer. Gale Brewer. Eric’s lucky she didn’t run for mayor! Gale Brewer, everywhere, all the time. Remember people’s names. Birthdays. Events, showing up by herself. I love her. If everybody could be a Gale Brewer? Shit, we’d get a lot done.