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Christian Nwachukwu, Jr. Headshot

The Colossus Comes on Stilts

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All along Sugar Hill Harlem, we think it began with Caroline. The slide, the trenchant derision, the Partied and, some hope, parting exile.

"He should have appointed Caroline Kennedy," my neighbor, Ms. Helen, told me on Saturday. By "he," Ms. Helen meant the embattled Governor of the State of New York, David Alexander Paterson; and by "appointed," she, of course, was referring to the United States Senate seat recently vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and now held by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the former congresswoman from New York's 20th District.

"I mean, Biden appointed who -- a guy who worked in his office?" Ms. Helen said. Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner appointed Senator Ted Kaufman, a former Chief of Staff for now Vice President Joseph Biden, to replace the vice president in the Senate.

"He's just there until Beau (Biden) gets back from Iraq," Ms. Helen said. "But Caroline had to go all around and campaign -- have lunch with (Reverend) Al Sharpton, talk to folks on farms -- and then they made fun of her: said she couldn't talk, that all she said was 'um, uh.' It wasn't fair. We could have had a senator with a direct line to the President and instead we got, I don't even know her name; Kirsten whoever."

"Gillibrand," I said.

"Her," Ms. Helen said. "Listen, the Kennedys have shown their loyalty to black folks; to poor folks. And now they want Caroline to raise money for New York City schools. Why should she? I mean, Gillibrand? And if you don't think that she's one of the ones saying to Obama, 'Tell Paterson not to run,' think again. Who else is 'down ballot' next year? David knows it. I know he's so mad that if he wasn't blind, he'd go blind now. Appoint the woman from nowhere and this is what he gets. And David's an old hand. I mean from way back." Governor Paterson, who was elected to the New York State Senate in 1985, once led his Party in that body.

"I'm still shocked he got the thing with Caroline so wrong," Ms. Helen said. "But, you know, Hillary never wanted Caroline to succeed her. I wonder if David was listening to her. I wouldn't be surprised. Obama won; he should've been listening to the new President, not the woman he beat. You think Hillary's in there now, fighting for David?" Ms. Helen laughed, harrumphed, then laughed again. "Keep 'a thinking," she said.

"Are you voting for him?" I said.

"Is he running?" Ms. Helen said.

On Sunday, Governor Paterson, in a performance derided by many in the press for not being a swan song, told Meet the Press moderator David Gregory that he has not received "an explicit indication authorized from the White House that I shouldn't run," and that, in any case, he was running for a full term in 2010.

"I think that the people of the state of New York are the ones who should choose their governor," Paterson said.

"You know," Ms. Helen said, "David's doing the best he can in a tough, tough situation. I don't know if I'm going to vote for him. But that could change."

"What do you think about the White House asking the governor not to seek a full term?" I asked.

"Now, Christian, you're not gonna get me to talk too tough about my man (President Obama)," she said. "I love him, even down to his walk. I don't have a problem with him saying it, but why do I need to know he said it? It should have never gotten out. But you know, this could all work out. I mean, let's talk about it, get it all out there. Where is David? 19, 20 percent? His own people aren't supporting him. We're not with him. Let David come get us. Then we'll see."

"David, come on home," Lloyd Williams, President and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce said Sunday on Express Yourself with Imhotep Gary Byrd. Williams, appearing on a broadcast that also featured the deft and daring author Herb Boyd, urged caution in trying to call the governor's race more than a year in advance.

"I don't think (Rudolph) Giuliani will run," Williams said. "Giuliani is a boogeyman; and I'll point out how he, the so-called 'America's Mayor', performed when he ran for president. Now, Rick Lazio, he's the money man; he's Wall Street's guy. He's the one to watch. But I would say to the governor: 'Go to your base.'"

The governor's base -- working and middle class, civic-minded, black -- by all appearances from the show's call-ins, wants to be gotten.

"He's done a lot for people in my situation," a young man newly home from prison said. "And there's more to be done. I should be able to vote, and I can't do that right now."

"Paterson's been working for us for years," a young woman said. "And to go to the President for a minute, I think it could have been handled better, but I'm not mad at Obama. I'm not. He's doing a lot and they've got people convinced that if something's good for black people, it's bad for them. That's what's going on with health care. And I'm tired of people saying, 'White people put him in there.' No, we put him in there. Black people, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans and white people. Everybody put him there."

"If President Obama were not a person of color, he would be considered a miracle worker," Williams said. "The auto industry is turning around; Ford is doing especially well." Ford Motor Company's stock is up more than 46 percent on the year.

"The stock market is turning around. I think we're going to get a health care bill passed this year. Look where we were one year ago. And that you can organize rallies against health care where people bring loaded guns, and bring signs that say 'Kill Obama' and paint the President as Hitler--I mean, it's just incredible."

"I was looking for you," another neighbor said as he caught me heading toward the train. "You know they caught that rapist."

In Up the Hill Harlem, we awoke from an extended nightmare this past week when an accused serial rapist was removed from our streets.

"I know him," my neighbor said, and then he told me the church where two of the man's aunts worship.

"Twenty-one years old. His aunt turned him in," my neighbor said. "The last two women he raped were older, and one of them was the boy's aunt's friend. Now, that's just too much."

"Do you think his aunt knew before?" I said.

"I'm not gonna say that," he said. "I wouldn't think so. But when her friend was attacked, she made it her business to find out, if you know what I mean. But they tell me he tried to run away when they had him at the courthouse. Now, how crazy is that?"

"I wonder if his aunt got the reward," I said.

"How much was it?"

"I saw a flier that offered $12,000," I said. "Police officers were handing them out at the Subway."

"Well, I don't know about that," he said. "But that wasn't why she turned him in. But thank goodness she did. It's too much going on out here." And then he saw a young woman he had, apparently, also been looking for.

"Did you leave that door open?" he said. "I'm asking you if you left that door open. You got to make sure that lock catches. Don't you know they just caught a rapist?"

It was a beautiful Monday in New York City. Facing fine -- up to $1,000 -- and seizure -- possible jail time -- I did my civic duty and registered to serve as a juror in the hexagonal Supreme Court building at 60 Centre Street. There were policemen everywhere, including a cop "from Queens" who pointed me toward the courthouse. The Story Corps booth is there, in the center of Foley Square; and you could easily spend the better part of an afternoon congratulating couples, newly married and mugging for cameras. A woman bringing up the rear of a small Asian contingent flanking their bride, her bouquet firmly clasped in her unhusbanded hand, told me to make sure I voted "for Liu" after I congratulated them.

New York heads to the polls tomorrow for the Democratic Primary runoff elections. City Councilmen John Liu of Queens and David Yassky of Brooklyn are vying to succeed Bill Thompson as the city's comptroller. Liu garnered 38 percent of the primary election vote -- eight points better than Yassky, but still two points shy of the 40 point margin needed to escape a runoff. He would be the first Asian American elected to citywide office.

And City Councilman Bill de Blasio and Mark Green, who held the job for seven years, will battle to become the next Public Advocate.

"I think de Blasio and Liu victories would be good for Thompson," Williams said on Express Yourself. "They represent change and a new perspective."

"I'm hopeful," Ms. Helen said. "Liu will be the first Asian we've had, and that's good. Some of us are saying the next Supreme Court appointment Obama gets may go to an Asian. It's good. Don't get me wrong, I hope to see another black person on the Court. I would love to see a black woman.

"We need new blood, new ideas," she said. "People are saying if Liu and de Blasio win it'll be good for Thompson, but I think it'll be good for Obama, too. It all speaks to a new era, a new way of doing things. New people to help get the job done. Nobody, not even President Obama, is tall enough alone."