by Stanley Kinard
Crown Heights Calamity
The conviction of Clarence Norman on corruption charges makes official what many of us have been saying for years: that many of the leading politicians in central Brooklyn are greedy, selfish, miserable failures. They individually and collectively bear a heavy load of responsibility for the problems that plague our community.
There was no dispute about the facts of People v. Norman. In 2000 and 2002, Norman solicited contributions from an Albany lobbyist that far exceeded the legal limit of $3,100 and went to convoluted lengths to prevent anybody, including his campaign treasurer, Carmen Martinez, from realizing what he was up to or reporting the violations to the state Board of Elections.
Along the way, the trial exposed a raft of minor offenses committed by Norman that weren’t included in the indictment, such as raising money from his state office and depositing $6,000 in checks made out to a political club into his personal account. Norman’s defense, essentially, was that he was busy and just plain forgot to follow the rules.
It was a preposterous defense. Norman sat on the Election Law Committee of the state assembly for more than 20 years, and surely knew the rules as well as anyone. On the witness stand, he pretended to be confused about dates, events and cash amounts. That, too, was preposterous, coming from a man who wore carefully tailored $2,000 suits to court each day.
Norman’s choice of Edward Rappaport as his attorney was particularly brazen, given the ethical cloud under which Rappaport, a former judge, left the bench. As a judge, Rappaport was told that a fellow jurist named Victor Barron was shaking down attorneys for bribes in exchange for favorable rulings.
Rappaport never reported the courthouse criminality. Barron eventually ended up in state prison for bribery, and the chief judge in Brooklyn removed Rappaport from handling civil cases.
Although the state Commission on Judicial Conduct eventually cleared Rappaport, he became one of only four Supreme Court justices out of 50 who weren’t reappointed in 2003 when it came time to hand out extensions to judges who had passed the normal retirement age of 70.
By hiring a tainted insider as his advocate, Norman gambled that the clique of political and judicial cronies and hacks on Court Street would pull one last rabbit out of the hat for him. They didn’t.
What matters now is whether voters in central Brooklyn have learned a lesson about electing crooks to office. Councilman Angel Rodriguez got sent to federal prison for shaking down a developer. Assemblyman Roger Green was convicted of larceny for taking favors from a for-private prison company. Judge Victor Barron was convicted of demanding bribes from lawyers in order to give them favorable rulings.
And now Norman, the party boss who promoted and supported all of these thieves over better, more honest men and women, is facing the possibility of jail time when he is sentenced in November. If there is any hope of fixing our schools, building strong businesses, creating healthy families, curbing street violence and healing our community, it has to begin with everyone understanding that our leaders must be held to a high ethical standard.
Blacks for Bloomberg
This election season, black voters are a swing constituency that’s largely up for grabs, and that’s good news for Republican Mike Bloomberg. The mayor has already secured endorsements from three of the city’s most influential black preachers: The Rev. Floyd Flake of the Allen A.M.E. Church in Queens, the Rev. A.R. Bernard of Brooklyn’s Christian Cultural Center, and the Rev. Calvin Butts of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.
The three ministers collectively preach to at least 15,000 people every Sunday and reach many more by television and radio. They also influence a gaggle of pastors who lead smaller flocks and aspire to the salaries and status of the big preachers.
A trip to any of the three megachurches makes clear why Bloomberg is popular with many black voters. Allen A.M.E., the Christian Cultural Center and Abyssinian Baptist preach a version of the Prosperity Gospel, a quintessentially American notion that God wants us all to live joyful, prosperous lives.
Prosperity theology holds great sway with members of the anxious, striving black middle class – the city workers, small business owners and corporate professionals who often are the first in their families to attend college. They tend to be overworked, obsessed about raising healthy families and desperately afraid of losing their hard-won middle-class status.
To these upwardly mobile strivers, Bloomberg’s self-made economic success holds a dazzling allure: In purely financial terms, he has already embodied their wildest dreams. They don’t just want to vote for him, they want to be him. If prosperity is holy, then Bloomberg is a demigod.
Fernando Ferrer can’t win unless he repeats that feat and encourages black voters to not only turn out in big numbers, but go 80% or more for the Democrat, as usual.
That won’t be easy: Bloomberg pulled an unheard-of 25% of black voters in 2001, and has been prying black voters out of their traditional place as a pillar of the Democratic Party ever since.
Bloomberg has also hired several young, smart strategists with experience in working black neighborhoods, notably Larry Blackmon, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer; Terence Tolbert, who spent years on the staff of Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright; and my former Daily News colleague Jonathan Capehart.
These men have been diligently working their lists of preachers, tenant association leaders and those all-important unofficial “mayors” who informally wield great influence at the block and neighborhood level.
And Bloomberg has made policy gestures squarely aimed at black voters. He recently announced that city agencies will be required to report on how much contracting they do with minority-owned businesses – a long-standing sore point with black entrepreneurs. It’s an unusual strategy. But it just might work.