New York Daily News: Brooklyn the new center of black political power in New York City
Brooklyn has the buzz, Barclays Center and — when it comes to black politics — it now has the power.
In this city election cycle, the borough produced the “firsts” for the city’s black politicians — making it clear that Brooklyn has definitively displaced Harlem as the seat of the city’s black political establishment.
Harlem has for decades been the cradle of black political power in New York.
The city’s first black mayor, David Dinkins; the state’s first black governor, David Paterson, and the former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Charles Rangel, all climbed the ranks through Harlem’s political machine.
But this year, Letitia James, the newly elected public advocate and the first black woman elected to a citywide office; Ken Thompson, who’ll be Brooklyn’s first black district attorney, and Eric Adams, who’ll be Brooklyn’s first black borough president, all hail from central Brooklyn.
As gentrification and immigration have changed the demographics of Harlem — the majority of the population there is no longer black — Brooklyn has seized the position of power.
“We have seen the official election now begin to reflect what many of us have known for some time,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said. “Harlem is not the Harlem it was of Adam Clayton Powell or even David Dinkins. The population shift has gone from Harlem to Brooklyn.”
Power players in Brooklyn’s black political establishment include Rep. Hakeem Jeffries; Assemblyman Karim Camara, chairman of the powerful Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, and City Councilman Jumaane Williams of Flatbush, who recently threw his hat in the ring for Council speaker.
All are Democrats and all are relative newcomers, elected for the first time between 2003 and 2006.
But unlike Harlem’s “Gang of Four” — the black political coalition that included Rangel and Dinkins along with powerbrokers Percy Sutton and Basil Paterson — this group doesn’t want to be viewed as a bloc. In fact, some of them don’t even like each other.
“I think it’s coincidental that Ken (Thompson) happens to be my neighbor,” James said. “I think it’s coincidental that Eric Adams happens to live in my district, as well as Hakeem Jeffries.”
Instead, James said she wanted to align herself with a different group. “I owe my victory to women,” she said.
The politicians are united more by ideology than racial identity, said Adams spokesman Evan Thies. “Even more so than race, each of those candidates represent progressive values that have become mainstream in Brooklyn,” he said.
The rising Brooklyn stars have sided against each other more often than they have leaned on each other for support.
Neither James nor Adams supported Thompson’s bid for DA. Instead, they endorsed his rival, longtime incumbent Charles Hynes.
James also worked for Jeffries’ rival, Roger Green, in Assembly races in 2000 and 2002. Both times, Jeffries lost.
Jeffries and Adams are known to dislike each other so much that they are barely on speaking terms.
A spokeswoman for Jeffries did not agree that the two politicians did not get along.
“We may disagree as colleagues from time to time on certain political races. However, we will always work together to address issues of social and economic justice on behalf of the community,” Jeffries said.
Jeffries and Thompson, who are close friends, appear to be the only true allies in the group.
“I’m proud to have worked closely with Councilwoman James throughout the years and supported her campaign for public advocate, as well as supported the campaign of Ken Thompson,” Jeffries said.
The politicians don’t appear interested in creating a dynasty together — and that might be for the best, insiders said.
“I’ve never been in favor of dynasties, even if I was in one,” David Paterson, the former governor and the son of Basil Paterson, told the Daily News. “Prestige is derived from ability, not location. . . . I’m proud to see how much talent exists in the black community these days overall because the residents have great needs.”
But some ambitious Brooklyn lawmakers think their coalition can amass citywide clout that will be greater than the old group ever achieved. “We’ve acquired significant political power in Brooklyn,” said Jeffries. “We can build upon the house that Harlem created in terms of black political empowerment and take it to the next level.”