Charles Barron: On a Mission and Track to Lead

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… Charles Barron still brings the fire. Burning questions in the minds of “critical thinkers” are: what’s he done lately for the community? What legislation has he passed?
Why can’t he step aside and bring in some new blood? Is Barron “for real?”

Many folks in Barron’s 42nd Councilmatic District of Brownsville-East New York hardly find the questions relevant.

Country hangs out on Stanley Avenue.  He happened to have been coming out of the Hair Cutz barbershop when he spotted his two heroes, The Rev. Al Sharpton and Councilman Charles Barron, across the street on Van Siclen Avenue, Friday, July 31.

They had just left the IS166-George Gershwin School tour stop and jumping into their vehicle to head South to another site.  Didn’t matter to Country that they didn’t have time to speak to him.

Standing with his Uncle Leon next to his van in the middle of Van Siclen Avenue in front of George Gershwin High School in East New York, Country hammered his chest with a closed fist, and yelled, as Charles Barron’s vehicle passed by, “You got my heart, man!”

Then he extended the full length of his arm into the air like a spear, slow-rising, “You got my heart.”

And that shout out was echoed by a local pizza owner.  When asked who he considered to be the most powerful leader in Brooklyn. “Just one: Barron.”

Barron wanted to bring attention to his work in the community, and he admittedly got ours when he brought in his long-time friend The Rev. Al to tour his neighborhood.  The objective was more than to network with his fellow hell (and consciousness) -raiser.    He wanted to deliver a message.

“I really want to show the other side of the value of participating in electoral politics.  I have maintained my voice, and I didn’t compromise anything.  You can be progressive; you don’t have to take the establishment line.  You can work from within, not play the game and still get things done for the community.”

“I’m from the old school,” said Country, “Been there; done that.  New people have to learn; some learning through the grapevine; others thought the roots.  Charles has done his time on the ground, and he learned during the 70’s when people were people.  Only a few people doin’ something for the community; everybody else is waitin’ for somebody else to do it for them.  It’s time to wake up. And he’s louder and blacker than ever.”

Two neighborhood mothers basically said the same.  One of them, Edith Jenkins, a 26-year resident of the neighborhood told us:  “Whenever there’s something going on in the community he checks it out, even if it’s just for a second, but he comes by and supports us if we have things out here; it’s a big thing – Fathers Day, and he’s here. My son has a football league called the Warriors; he also donates toys to the kids, he tries to get them out of the streets.”

This does not add up to a whole lot of dollars, and with Charles’ schedule, it does not add up to very much time to “drop by.”  He had just returned from the Middle East, thousands of miles away from the 42nd District, on business that on the surface may have little to do with matters of home.

In fact, Barron says he really has been taking care of business in 42, particularly in the area of housing and parks. Edith Jenkins knows of what she speaks: Big money has gone into parks in his district.  The Venable Park, the Linden/Gershwin Park and Brownsville Recreation Space are receiving a combined $14.5 million dollars worth of upgrades and development.

The Linden Houses neighborhood will be a beneficiary of new senior units, family units, a parking lot, and a new center; George Gershwin middle school’s recording studio will be outfitted with state of the art high technology and new computers.

And another major project, a possible extension of the Gateway Mall, will add 2,000 units of housing, two new parks, a new school and a supermarket.  He’s hoping to secure thousands of jobs, and “instead of having a new mall, we’re going to secure a space for local businesses who will get low rent.”  He also insured a job training program, office space sites and other gains with a Community Benefits Agreement.

He’s partnering with Rev. David Brawley, co-chair of the East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) that’s bringing in affordable rental apartments designed for low-income families making 50 and 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI).

So, while it may be no secret at City Hall, it was a surprise to us that Barron is at the very top of the Council list of members who bringing in Affordable Housing to the community.

Through his tour with Sharpton that balmy day, Barron wanted to get out another message: “to show the other side of the value of participating in electoral politics. You can be progressive; you don’t have to take the establishment line; you can be outspoken; you can work from within. And not the play the game. I have maintained my voice, my blackness and I didn’t compromise anything.”

While housing and the economy are high up on Barron’s list, there are other concerns that keep him up at night, and bear a tremendous weight.  The shootings, the phone calls.
“It’s when I come home. I have to sit down. I wonder if another phone call’s coming.  I’m suddenly at the scene of a killing, or with a family in an emergency,” he said.

“I don’t seek these cases; 99% of the time, people call me.  ‘We want to have a press conference, to put the truth out there about our loved ones.’  I always ask them first: is this something you really want to do?  I go through the entire process of explaining the pros and cons of calling the media.  I’m not trying to get media attention for myself. And most of the time, these families want to just get the media to present a picture of their loved one as someone who is loved and not the person who might be projected. They want me to talk about their humanity, to get the message out that they want justice.

“The media has used the term ambulance-chasing,” he said. “We are not chasing the ambulance; we are the ambulance.”

Andrea Webb, who’s lived all her life since 1970, on Stanley Avenue, said, “If you are for the people and want to help the kids, you got my support and my vote. He has mine.”

For Barron, the questions may boil down to one – is he there for us when we need him, whether near or far. So you’ve got to wonder: if someone like Barron takes an about face on term limits, does it really matter to the people on the ground – like Country, Andrea, Edith and the barbers at Hair Cutz – who are looking for a leader they believe cares for them?

“We lost a lot of people to crack and murder,” says Country, who works in a funeral home. “I’m tired of looking at so many dead people. People need a way out of this hole. Need to get off that daydream and make that dream a reality.  Anybody daydreamin’ ain’t doing nothin’ but sendin’ up air. Charles Barron’s not a daydream leader. ”

(Part II: August 27)

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