True Bethel Baptist Church Pastor and Ellicott District Council member Darius Pridgen often tells members of his congregation that he does not endorse political candidates from the pulpit “because you get to choose who you want to choose.”
But it was pretty clear from his introduction of Leah Halton-Pope on Sunday morning that Pridgen views the behind-the-scenes veteran of local and state politics as a worthy successor in the seat Pridgen has held since 2011.
“After much prayer and reflection, I’m ready for my next, and I don’t know what’s next, but I believe there is a next for Darius Pridgen to continue to serve people,” Pridgen said Wednesday afternoon in his Northampton Street home.
With Pridgen at her side, Halton-Pope announced she would seek the Ellicott District seat, saying if elected she intended to “continue the progress” started by Pridgen, who has won several elections by wide margins.
Halton-Pope, senior policy adviser to state Assembly Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes and the wife of Marc Pope, Pridgen’s chief of staff, said she planned to focus on bringing back “family-supporting jobs” to the area, working with Buffalo Public Schools to create strong neighborhood schools and improve bus service and promote homeownership, generational wealth and affordable rent for District residents.
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Halton-Pope, 47, is the fourth candidate to declare his intention to run for Pridgen’s seat since the Council President announced in January that he would not seek re-election.
“I want to be clear: I’m not running against anybody. I’m running for Ellicott, and I’m here today to ask all of you for your support,” Halton-Pope, a member of True Bethel, told her fellow congregants at a service Sunday morning in the East Ferry Street sanctuary.
Pridgen urged Halton-Pope not to try to fill his shoes, but to go his own way and respect the work he had done on the Council.
“If the Lord wants you there, put your shoes on,” Pridgen said.
The field of candidates for Pridgen’s seat is getting crowded.
Longtime Buffalo police officer Cedric Holloway announced his intention to run Saturday morning, and Leah Halton-Pope, senior policy adviser to Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, planned to make a similar announcement Sunday.
Veteran Buffalo police officer Cedric Holloway announced Saturday his intention to run for office. The Reverend Michael Chapman, pastor of St. John Baptist Church, and Matt Dearing, a former staffer and organizer for Assemblyman Patrick Burke, announced their candidacies in February.
And Emin “Eddie” Egriu, a contractor who lost to Rep. Brian Higgins, in the 26th Congressional District Democratic primary last August, told The Buffalo News on Saturday that he is exploring whether to enter the Ellicott District race.
Pridgen described Halton-Pope as a faithful member of the church and called for her to “run on issues” in her campaign. He told the congregation that he does not endorse candidates from the pulpit, while urging them to “get out and vote.”
In a separate interview with The News later Sunday afternoon, Pridgen said he supports Halton-Pope because she is an independent thinker and will take office immediately and understand the ins and outs of government.
“Some people may know politics but not government. It takes time to learn and Leah knows that inside and out, even at a higher level, especially when we’re talking about working at the state level and in Albany for so many years,” he said.
Pridgen said he did not recruit Halton-Pope for the position. She reached out to him to ask for his support. None of the other candidates have asked for his endorsement, he said.
Halton-Pope said at a news conference Sunday that Pridgen’s support was critical and she was honored by the pastor’s induction.
Peoples-Stokes, State Senator Timothy M. Kennedy and Mayor Byron W. Brown have also issued statements in support of her. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, attended the announcement at True Bethel.
Halton-Pope has spent 10 years as an adviser to People-Stokes, working on state legislation to create neighborhood schools, legalize cannabis and secure $50 million in funding for the East Side, among other initiatives, she said.
Halton-Pope was the Buffalo field organizer for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. She was also director of government and community relations for the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and coordinator of advocacy and special projects for the Girl Scouts of Western New York.
Raised in Buffalo, she is the daughter of the late Reverend Nathan S. Halton, a well-known Pentecostal minister who was pastor of the Greater Faith Bible Tabernacle Church and chaplain to the Common Council.