The English Encarta Dictionary (North America) defines a "Don Quixote" type as "an impractical idealist who loves to champion hopeless causes"; I thought of this when I watched Charles Barron last Wednesday, as he tried to make his case for becoming Speaker on the New York City Council. It was the first stated meeting of the newly elected city council. Barron was pleading his case before this semi-august body, which will be 357 years old on February 2nd, 2010.
Late last year, when I first came upon the news item that NYC Councilmember Charles Barron (#42) was challenging Speaker Christine Quinn's re-election, I thought to myself that this was a tremendous opportunity for Barron to publicly lay out his arguments for reform within this legislative body. I even went to some length to convey this to him in person.
Barron has been an official council member since Jan.1st, 2002. From that month till now, Barron has chaired the Higher Education Committee. Last week, rumor had it that his Higher Ed chair was being shopped around as punishment for his challenge to Ms. Quinn. It was also said that some of the many enemies he had accumulated over his eight years in the council were pushing hard for him to lose the chair. As of this writing I hear there were no takers from either the returnee or rookie classes.
Over the last eight years Barron has feigned running for NYC mayor, public advocate, Brooklyn boro prez, state senate, state assembly and democratic district leader (#40). In 2006 he ran for Congress against incumbent Ed Towns. After losing the primary, he did a quixotic write in campaign in the general election. I was stunned when one of his sycophants argued with me that he held winning chances in this write- in campaign. This is one of the damages you cause when you become a political Don Quixote. You delude followers when you should know better. After a while you lose followers and credibility. And the question that begs itself is this: does Barron really think these things through?
It's almost five years exact since Barron used City Hall's steps to announce his mayoral run that year (2005). Over three hundred people showed up. He was at the zenith of his popularity. Two years ago he announced his run for the Brooklyn Borough presidency and hundred people showed up; at both events there were few (if any) elected officials willing to stand up with him and support his effort. Maybe they were there but I can't recall a single endorsement for either run from a fellow elected.
Last Wednesday at the stated meeting Charles Barron couldn't get a single colleague to second his nomination for speaker. There are fifty one members in the council. Point being this: reforms are needed in the city council as badly as they are needed in Albany. So Barron is totally correct to call for reforms in the way the council conducts its business. I refuse to believe that the majority of council members there are unaware of this; so the next question that must be asked is this: was it the messenger?
It was painful for me to watch "Chucky Bee" make a spectacle of himself on the chamber floor. It was. And for him to be intellectually unprepared for the spotlight - as he clearly was- surely disappointed many who were silently rooting for him to raise the level of discourse around the issue of reform. Sure there were a handful of Barron fanatics making noise in the upper-gallery. So what's new? It's almost as if these types find some sort of comfort in being disruptive. Their almost predictable unruly outbursts hardly ever bring victory, but they do it time and time and again.
And while all the grandstanding takes place, the black community continues to metastasize. And leaders like Barron -one of the more knowledgeable and articulate amongst NYC blacks- perpetually fail to recruit allies from different races, nationalities, ethnicities, classes and creeds, too help in immediately addressing the myriad unique problems facing the black community in particular. And while Barron spent about 15 minutes speaking to the hundreds gathered, and the thousands listening or viewing, and the eventual hundreds of thousands who will see or hear him in those moments, he failed to make his case. He failed to impress one member as to the need to support his speaker candidacy. He failed to articulate the pressing needs of communities of color; whilst repeating the same ole same old tired race-laced rhetoric that alienates more than enjoins.
Charles Barron was probably correct when he said that after three and a half centuries we have never had a black person head up the Land Use or Finance Committees. And he is within his constitutional rights to ask the question: why?
And sure enough we have never had a black Council- Speaker in a city where over two million people are of the Negro race (it is even more if you include black Hispanics); but at no time did he make a profound enough point to get even a lengthy (far less standing) ovation; but he did draw some laughter at various points during his tirade: especially when he said that (he knows) the final vote will be fifty to one against him. Talk about Don Quixote!
And the pressing needs of blacks in NYC are shelved for at least another day; since reforms around who chairs which committees (and why); and which districts get what monies (how much and why); and what issues are prioritized (and why); and the rationale(s) behind capital development projects; likewise economic development projects (especially in areas of acute need during this deep recession); and the role of the speaker -beyond dictatorial posturing- isn't discussed; and a speaker serving as a deputy mayor isn't admonished (at least); and how can legislation come to the chamber unadulterated and correctly credited; and how can committees be more efficient/effective; and how can standing committees improve their oversight roles relative as to the functions of city agencies; and so on; and so on; all affect what's happening at the core of the inner-city.
Has any of our council members looked at what's happening within homeless shelters? Do they really understand the impact of our failing educational system on communities of color? Do they realize that soup-kitchens and food pantries are stretched to the max? Do they really understand the housing problem; and the fact that rents in NYC (for average working folk) are too damn high? Are they aware that the city has been losing residents for years; and that foreigners are keeping us viable? And I can go on and on like the Energizer bunny.
Barron's apparent passion for things black only, leaves him vulnerable to charges of racism from many quarters. And the obvious fact that he appears to not give a fuck about these charges leaves one to conclude that he hardly ever introspects. Thus his tactics are old and stale, and his contemporary political analysis seems stuck in anachronistic places. As I have said before, he continues to be a disappointment to many of us who felt he would turn out to be something special and worked our butts off in helping him get to elected office.
In Barron's futile attempt at becoming the Speaker of the council he invoked the names of many prominent Negro individuals - dead and alive. One of them was Dr. Martin Luther King. The problem with invoking King's name and legacy in this speech, was glaring to any half-assed political thinker viewing the spectacle. In one breath Barron called on the 27 minority members of this new council -the first time in history that minorities make up the majority of council members- to elect "one of our own" as Speaker. And yet, wasn't it Martin Luther King who prayed that one day we all will be judged by the contents of our characters rather than by the colors of our skins? In a post-Obama USA, Barron's presentation itself probably disqualified him from getting even one vote: he failed to go beyond race as a reason for changing speakers. And the fact is he had lots of ammunition against Quinn- he just never used it. Quelle dommage! (What a pity!) Many of us had shown up expecting Barron to be on top of his game: he wasn't.
Stay tuned-in folks.