Minister with business background enters political forum
Creating jobs and new businesses is a central theme in the campaign of a political newcomer, Rev. J. Loren Russell, who is running for the vacant seat for city council in District 17.
Former Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo resigned from the council position on Dec. 31, two years short of the end of her third and final term as councilwoman to take a job in the public sector. A special election has been called for Feb. 23.
The other candidates who have declared so far include businessman George Acevedo; Helen Foreman-Hines, a political project director of SEIU 1199, the health care workers union, and a member of Bronx Community Board 9; banker and community organizer Marlon Molina; former Arroyo chief of staff, Joann Otero; Mott Haven small businessman and community activist, Julio Pabon; Community Board 2 District Manager Rafael Salamanca; Rep. Jose E. Serrano’s district supervisor, Amanda Septimo; and most recently, a former west Bronx Assembly candidate, Carlton A. Curry.
“When you help people become the best they can be, you provide them with the opportunities to step up,” Russell, 58, said in an interview in early January.
An associate minister at the Goodwill Baptist Church in Crotona Park and the Greater Universal Baptist Church in Melrose, Russell was born in Harlem, raised in the Bronx and now lives in Morissania with his wife of 21 years.
Rev. Russell has a background in the private sector, starting with his first job as an insurance salesman. He went on to start his own financial firm, JLR Financial Services Co., in 1989, which specializes in providing financial planning services to churches and faith-based organizations.
Although change has been afoot in the district with many new construction projects, the revenue generated from those developments should be reinvested to fund entrepreneurial opportunities in the community, which would in turn create jobs, he said.
The area’s business strategy should include an emphasis on creating incentives for local entrepreneurs to stay in the community, he said, but he acknowledged that many residents lack crucial skills to find good jobs. More must be done to connect them with those jobs to bring down unemployment rates estimated to range between 15 and 20 percent, he said.
Russell points to his experience developing job-training programs as a sign he’s the right person for that job. As an advisor to the board of the Greater Universal Community Development Corporation, he negotiated with the McDonald’s Corporation to launch a training program for fast-food managers in the district that will launch this month. Job seekers who complete the six-week program delivered will be considered for managerial jobs for McDonald’s or referred to other employers.
“It gives them a leg up and gives them something they can work with,” he says.
Strengthening relationships between law enforcement and residents is another area where Russell says his experience will benefit the community. Since 2014, he has been clergy liaison to the 42nd Precinct in Morrisania, a position created to build bridges between religious organizations, residents and police.
“Police have to be shown how to work with the community, and the community needs to understand how to work with the police,” he says. “This is a joint effort.”
Although he is a registered Democrat, Russell says that does not define his platform.
“What’s right is right. I don’t let party affiliation define what to pursue,” he said, adding that, if he is elected, his calling as a minister will not hamper his decision-making.
“Governing has nothing to do with my religious belief,” he says. “Every single person, no matter what their faith is, has a right to a quality of life and governance that will enable them to be the best they can be.”