By Mary Alice Miller
Councilman Charles Barron declared his candidacy for the Brooklyn Borough President’s office on July 22nd. Marty Markowitz, the current Brooklyn Beep, will be term-limited in 2009. By declaring his candidacy 2 years in advance, Barron has officially opened the NYC campaign season, which includes this year’s judicial elections for state supreme, surrogate and city civil courts, a council election in Mathieu Eugene’s 40th District, next year’s presidential primary and general elections, NYS senate and assembly seats, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives and the 2009 elections for mayor, comptroller, public advocate, Brooklyn District Attorney and 36 city council seats.The press conference announcing Barron’s candidacy was held on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall. At least 100 community members stood behind Barron in support. Among those who endorsed Barron were Noel Leader (100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care) and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Noel Leader: “I am here representing a conglomeration of over 15 law-enforcement agencies throughout the state of NY, we are overwhelmed with enthusiasm to support Charles Barron’s bid to become the next borough president. Charles Barron has been a friend of law enforcement. He has been a critic, but so have we. Understand, Charles Barron believes in law enforcement. He has been critical of law-enforcement procedures. He has been critical of crime.” Leader went on to add, “Even though it is early in the race, there is no candidate more qualified in the borough to represent the citizens of Brooklyn. We enthusiastically throw our support behind Charles Barron. We don’t care who else jumps in this race. He is the man to lead this borough.”
Rev. Al Sharpton put Barron’s announcement in perspective. “With the waterfront being developed, with gentrification in Brooklyn occurring, with development happening in certain areas, with affordable housing affordable only for landlords, it is in that context we will have an election in 2009. Sharpton went on to say, “There is no one more qualified, no one who has paid more dues, no one who has shown more vision and courage to deal with the balancing and protection of the citizens of Brooklyn than Charles Barron.” Referring to the size and diversity of Brooklyn, Sharpton said, “We need someone who can deal with all, a borough that goes from Brooklyn Heights to Brownsville, a borough that deals with squalor and waterfront development with million-dollar condos.”
Sharpton went on to describe his personal knowledge of Barron. “I have known Charles Barron for 25 years. We’ve marched together; we’ve even gone to jail together. On the Day of Outrage, we were cell mates for 30 days. We’ve had good days and bad days in the struggle. But he has always been in the struggle. He has supported me when I ran for mayor and president. There has never been a time when he considered something beyond the reach of activism. But even more important, what the press leaves out -he had a Leadership Institute. Where he taught young people who had no vision, and thought they had no future and no skills, he taught them how to be leaders. And when we were finally given work release from jail from the Day of Outrage, he would go to that Dynamics of Leadership office to teach young people, knowing he had to check back in jail that night. Teaching them, encouraging them and giving them hope.”
Expressing his commitment to Barron’s candidacy, Sharpton said, “It is for that reason I wanted to be here at the beginning as I will be here at the end. I will work churches, I will walk streets, I will do housing projects, I’ll do subway stops, I will do whatever we have to do to elect Charles Barron the borough president of the borough of Brooklyn.”
Referring to Barron’s “courage”, Sharpton said, “None was a better example when he stood on principle against the entire city council when he protected his chief of staff Viola Plummer. No public official’s staff should be chosen by anyone but that public official. We are united in that fight. You will not divide us on the issue of Ms. Plummer; you will not divide us on the issue of the borough presidency of Charles Barron.”
Sharpton closed with a historical perspective: “In 1969, the first black man to run for borough president was my pastor Rev. William Jones. We didn’t make it that time. In 1985, the second black to run was Al Vann. We didn’t make it that time. But in 2009, we are going to make it with Charles Barron.”
Charles Barron: “I want to say to all assembled, ‘Thank you’. I will not disappoint you.”
After presenting Inez, his wife of 24 years, Barron thanked her for her “years of support, your love, for you being there with me.”
Barron then outlined his issues.
On Viola Plummer: “She will be my chief of staff as long as she chooses to be my chief of staff.”
On Operation Power: “We are going to build a new movement in Brooklyn. We are tired of complaining about ineffective leaders. It’s time to replace them. It’s about building a movement that goes beyond any personalities.”
On jobs: “We are looking at a borough that lost 6,587 jobs.”
On police: “We are looking at a borough where the police in many Black and Latino communities are out of control.”
On affordable housing: “We are trying to save affordable housing. Everyone needs affordable housing. Affordable to who? Based upon our definition of affordability. I united with the congresspeople, the senators, the local tenant associations and the local clergy around Starrett City and told a billionaire, ‘If you can’t keep Starrett City affordable, you can’t buy it.’ We organized, we won in Starrett City. And we are going to do the same thing all over this borough. Everybody needs affordable housing.”
On schools: “In this borough, the schools need to be fixed. We need a culturally relevant curriculum, not one-size curriculum fits all. And we need to get rid of mayoral control of our schools.”
On Area Median Income: “We want the congressional level to bring down the AMI (Area Median Income). If the AMI in the South Bronx and parts of Brooklyn is $19,000-$23,000, then don’t tell us we can only get an affordable home if we are making $50, 60, 70,000. That’s gentrification. That’s racism in policy.”
On race: “And, by the way, for those of you who say I talk about race too much, you haven’t heard enough yet.”
On luxury housing: “We want to send a message to Magic Johnson: When you buy the Williamsburg clock building and tell us that it is only for luxury housing, you need to bring something different. We need to stop that kind of stuff in Brooklyn. Brooklyn should be for everybody, not just the rich.”
On eminent domain: “We are not going to allow developers to abuse the use of eminent domain to displace businesses and housing to maximize profit over people. Those days are over.”
On health care: “We have a disparity of health care services in our communities. The primary caregiver in the Black and Latino communities is the emergency room. Other people have doctors. We need health care insurance for everybody. We should make sure in our lifetime we have a government with a single-payer health care system that is universal for everybody.”
On being borough president: “Am I going to be borough president for all the people? Absolutely. But I am letting you know now; I am taking care of Black folks. Unapologetically. I am going to take care of all the communities in need.”
On representing all communities: “To my white communities, you cannot vote for a better person than Charles Barron. Because when I take care of black folk that’s going to impact you. When I sit with you, I want to know what your interests are for your community. Just tell me what your interest is and you will not have a stronger, more intelligent, more courageous fighter for your interests than Charles Barron.”
Noticeably absent from Barron’s press conference were locally elected officials. Also absent were representatives from any of the wide variety of constituency groups residing in Brooklyn. In particular, no representatives from the large Latino, Asian, or Jewish voting blocks stood with Barron.
In spite of the absence of diversity endorsing him, Barron exuded confidence: “When we get in Borough Hall, there are going to be some major changes in this city. Everybody is a part of that change. This is going to be a good change for the entire borough.”
Barron’s confidence continued when he was asked this question: If 2 white males (current council members who voted against Vann’s Carson Amendment) and 3 or more black candidates entered the race, would he participate in a community assembly to pick one candidate, in order to avoid splitting the black vote? Barron’s answer: “I am encouraging all the other black candidates to join our campaign. It is time for us to unite. There is no black candidate that can honestly win with me in the race. There are Russian Jews and Pakistani’s that live in Starrett City that are ready to come out and support me. All the other black leaders considering entering the race, the only thing your entrance will do is give someone else a chance to win and take our opportunity to make history. They should join my campaign.”
If Barron’s early announcement was a ploy to discourage other black candidates from considering the borough president seat, it didn’t work. There are several elected officials who are reported to be considering the race, including State Senators Velmanette Montgomery and Kevin Parker, as well as Assemblyman Nick Perry. Chris Owens is also reportedly interested in the borough president seat.
The 2007 election season will host 2 interesting events. Councilman Mathieu Eugene in the 40th council district is running for a 2nd time for the seat vacated by Yvette Clarke, who is now in congress. Eugene’s campaign manager, Wayne Ragguette, states Eugene submitted his petitions by the July 9 deadline. According to Raguette, to his knowledge, no other candidates submitted petitions, which means Eugene will not have a primary in Sept. because he is unopposed. This is an odd development, considering the plethora of candidates in this past spring’s election for that seat.
There are several candidates running for a variety of judgeships this fall. Among them are Debra Silber, Frederick Arriaga, Carolyn Wade and Robin Sheares – all running for NY Civil Court. Diana Johnson is running for a seat in Surrogate Court.
The issue of how New York State elects judges will be national news this fall when the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case of NY Board of Elections v. Torres. This case began when Margarita Lopez Torres took exception to how former Brooklyn Democratic County Committee Chairman Clarence Norman and Vito Lopez (then her district leader) responded to her request for the county’s endorsement of her candidacy for a judicial position. Torres is essentially contesting NYS’s judicial convention system for selecting judges to run for election. The U.S. Supreme Court will reveal to voters what is a judicial convention, who are judicial delegates and how exactly they select judges prior to Election Day. Most voters take for granted the whole election process related to judges, although the judiciary is one of the 3 co-equal branches of government. Judicial decisions in both civil and criminal courts affects every area of our lives. Voters need to take every opportunity to participate in their selection. Voters also need to watch how the U.S. Supreme Court decides this case. It will affect how judges are elected in NYS.