Democracy and Diversity Called For in City Council Leadership

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“I would bring Democracy to the City Council,” says Councilman Charles Barron, throwing his hat in the ring to replace the current City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and reform the rules of the Council in January 2010.

“No one should have the absolute power so that fifty-one members are unable to vote their consciences, their principles and be the voice speaking for their people’s interests because they fear punishment by this all-powerful Speaker. No one should have that, me or anyone else.”

Barron contends that the result of this concentration of power has been in the impact on middle and working-class people. He cites the statistic that 1.1 million people left New York City and their average salary was fifty-seven-thousand dollars or less and says the city has been made unaffordable for the middle-class and working-class families struggling in our neighborhoods. “So the middleclass and working class are leaving, but at budget time they say we can’t put a tax on the rich because they may leave. So while you won’t raise the taxes on the rich, you will raise the subway fare, you will raise the SUNY and CUNY tuitions, you will charge the homeless rent. The reforming and democratizing of the City Council would lead to giving priority to the working-class people in our neighborhoods over the power elite.”

In a city as diverse as New York, skin color is always a factor in power-sharing. “The Mayor is White, the Speaker is White, the Public Advocate is White, the Comptroller is Asian.” And then there is the Council itself. “Historically, the three most powerful positions are Speaker, Chair of the Finance Committee and the Chair of Land Use. No person of color has ever held one of those positions. And with the Blacks, Latinos and Asians being 27 of the 51 City Council members, it’s time for the sharing of power and diversifying the power ethnically.”

To the reasons of diversifying ethnically the power and bringing integrity to the City Council, Barron adds that there must be “a check and balance to the power of the Mayor and not a Speaker who acts like a Deputy Mayor.”

Barron insists the times call for a powerful City Council and reminds that it’s the Council that passes the budget, the laws and determines land use issues, not the Mayor. “And if they are afraid of the Mayor and the Speaker, that just won’t happen.”

Toward this end, the councilman called a meeting to explore the possibility of a challenge to Speaker Quinn, and said it was “Very spirited, very productive and very promising.” Asked to elaborate, Barron said that about 30 people attended including a representative of Reverend Al Sharpton, Tony Avella, several union leaders, Alton Maddox, notable community leaders, and several Council members as well.”

They announced the formation of the Barron/Avella New York City Council Democratic Reform Movement with Paul Washington acting as coordinator. Barron said the purpose of the movement will be to bring Democracy to the City Council, diversity to the power positions, and take power away from the Speaker and give it to the Council members, such as having an equitable distribution of capital and expense money, allowing Council members to determine the process of legislation as opposed to the Speaker who can determine whether or not it lives or dies in committee and a process to determine who chairs committees.

The councilman will be making a public announcement on the 24th of November at 12 noon on the steps of City Hall. He hopes to bring community support to put pressure on their Council members “to consider this campaign and this movement. At least support the movement,” says Barron. “The City Council should be a Democracy built from the bottom up rather than the top down.”