Who could defy the barons of East New York?
Flamboyant and oft-ostracized power couple Charles and Inez Barron are determined keep the neighborhood’s Assembly seat in their hands — and a special election could help them brush aside a rival from the Brooklyn Democratic establishment.
The pair of Democrats has dominated the political scene in the impoverished and crime-plagued area — along with similarly-troubled Starrett City, East Flatbush, and Brownsville — since Charles Barron became a councilman in 2001. Ms. Barron took the Assembly seat in 2009, and when term limits barred Councilman Barron from running in 2013, and his wife successfully captured his seat in the city legislature and stepped down from the state government.
Charles Barron has already announced that he intends swap spots with his wife by winning her position in the Assembly. But he faces a challenge from Chris Banks, co-founder of the anti-poverty group East New York United Concerned Citizens — and Inez Barron’s opponent for the Assembly in 2012, and for the Council 2013. Banks is also a member of Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Frank Seddio’s powerful Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club.
Both Barrons have made themselves political pariahs with their outspoken opposition to their party’s leadership, whether clashing with Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, heckling Governor Cuomo, or battling disgraced Kings County Democratic bosses Clarence Norman and Vito Lopez. The Barrons were the only two votes against Seddio, Lopez’s successor, in 2012. Banks argued that Charles Barron’s divisiveness in the Council led to his district ranking third to last in city funds obtained, despite its enormous economic needs.
“The district suffers when you have a representative who is as radical as Charles is and doesn’t want to compromise,” said Banks, who enjoys the strong support of the party establishment.
Barron defended his record, pointing to the affordable housing, park refurbishments, and new school funding he brought to the district, but he could keep Banks off the ballot entirely if Governor Cuomo call for a special election before the scheduled November ballot to fill Assemblywoman Barron’s seat.
There are no primaries in special elections. Rather, the candidate for each party is selected by county committee members living in the area that has an open seat. There are two or four committee members for each election district — a unit usually composed of a handful of blocks with a shared polling place — depending on the number of residents, and they are usually allied with the party machine.
Because the Barrons’ personal political operation in the area is so strong, however, County Committee members in the East New York Assembly district would likely buck the party leadership and put the former Councilman on the ballot — cutting Banks out of the process entirely.
It’s not surprising then, that Barron favors a special election, arguing that if the election to replace his wife isn’t held until November her constituents will go a year without a voice in the Assembly. What may be more surprising is the slogan the former Black Panther invoked to make his case.
“It’s like they say — ‘no taxation without representation,’ ” the former Councilman said.
Barron is not known for his fondness for America’s Founding Fathers, mainly due to their ownership and abuse of black slaves. The former Black Panther has demanded the removal of George Washington’s portrait from the wall in Borough Hall, and even called Thomas Jefferson “a rapist and a pedophile.”
Banks hopes for a normal September primary and November general election. On top of Seddio’s endorsement, Banks also has the backing of Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D–Fort Greene). Jeffries is a major player in Brooklyn’s black community, and he crushed Councilman Barron in 2012 in the race to replace outgoing Representative Ed Towns.
Banks said he believes Jeffries’s support will prove crucial in running against Charles Barron in 2014 — especially since Jeffries beat Barron by several hundred votes inside the lines of the contested Assembly district.
But Barron is confident that he will end up in Albany, even he loses a Democratic primary. The pol said he is prepared to run as a third-party candidate, as he did for governor in 2010.
“People will vote for me no matter whether I have the Democratic Party line or not,” Barron said.
Governor Cuomo said he has yet to decide whether to call for special elections this year.
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But insiders say there’s no doubt who will replace Assemblyman-turned-Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Marine Park) — special election or no. It will be Canarsie resident and Seddio ally Roxanne Persaud, a registrar at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn Heights. Persaud is a member of Seddio’s Thomas Jefferson club, and served on the Council Redistricting Commission, which re-drew the lines for Council seats in 2010.