BETWEEN THE LINES: Some voters could care less — and others may be unaware — that there’s a primary election tomorrow for the seat being vacated by retiring 15-term Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns.
(Check out our guide to the congressional primaries, with info on all the local districts, the incumbents, and the candidates for both the primaries and the general elections.)
To begin with, the end of June is more suited for end of public school year activities, graduations and the start of summer vacations than an election.
Nevertheless, this primary, which is expected to produce an inconsequential voter turnout, has pundits and politicians anxiously awaiting the outcome, mostly because of the two candidates running for the Democratic nomination in the newly-created 8th Congressional District that cuts a swath across Brooklyn from Fort Greene and Bed-Stuy to East New York and Canarsie, and from Mill Basin and Bergen Beach to Brighton Beach and Coney Island. It even stretches east into Howard Beach and Ozone Park in Queens.
State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and City Councilman Charles Barron are facing off to succeed Towns. It would, without a doubt, be a huge mistake, if Barron was the victor.
I’m registered in the neighboring 9th District, so I won’t be able to choose between Jeffries and Barron. Nonetheless, I come to figuratively bury Barron, not praise him.
Barron frequently spews his prejudiced point of view that may have been expected when he was a Black Panther, a revolutionary group that preached armed resistance to societal oppression of African Americans, but that sort of inflammatory rhetoric has no place even in divisive politics.
When he announced his candidacy for borough president five summers ago, Barron pledged “unapologetically” to do whatever he can solely for Brooklyn’s black population. When he apparently realized he might need votes in other communities, Barron patronizingly added he would “be there for white and Asian communities as well.”
In the last few weeks, Barron has received key endorsements from Towns, who, just six years ago, referred to Barron as “a bomb-thrower” when he ran against him, and District Council 37, the city’s largest public-employee union. In its June 7 endorsement of Barron, the Amsterdam News, the nation’s leading black newspaper, noted, “Barron embodies the soul of the community… It has not always a smooth ride; (he) can be both arrogant and stubborn, but those qualities are what has made him the successful freedom fighter he is.”
However, Barron was chastised by the city’s three dailies. In a June 15 editorial, the liberal New York Times called him “an embarrassing ideologue,” while three days later the right-wing New York Post said he was “a shameless racial demagogue.” In its Sunday editorial, the Daily News said, “Democrats … must awaken to the threat posed by Barron, a councilman who has made a career of the racial taunt.”
While Barron appears to have mellowed in recent campaign stops, it’s just to attract voters, not because his extremely biased attitudes have changed. With district boundaries altered from what they were during Towns’ tenure, the new 8th District has a significantly whiter population (22.4 percent), though it retains a large black majority (53 percent). Nevertheless, if Barron, with his typical arrogance, was elected, he’s likely to become the most maverick legislator Congress has seen in many a moon.
On the other hand, even if Barron’s arrogance was less weighted against whites, which is highly unlikely based on his personal history and remarks, he would still not be a viable candidate because of his antagonism towards Israel as a “terrorist state” and his remarks when he referred to Libyan dictator Muammar Khadafy as his personal hero.
His record paints him as a divisive firebrand who would not work towards helping to heal the nation’s problems, but merely exacerbate them. If he is elected he would then have a national audience to voice his bigoted rants.
But, as Barron tries to appear relevant and worthy of serving in Congress, his record demonstrates that he has not been very outspoken on critical issues that affect his constituents.
He fittingly grandstands whenever someone appears to have been unjustly wronged in his district, but he doesn’t adequately campaign to get guns off the streets in his high-crime council district. Nor do I recall his outrage about cracking down on rampant drug use. He also seems too passive about trying to reduce black-on-black crime and pays insufficient attention to the endless gang violence that keeps residents of public housing in a constant state of fear.
For years, Barron has had only a single agenda and a narrow-minded view. A decade ago he said that he wanted “to go up to the closest white person slap him, just for my mental health.” He also reportedly threatened to storm the Treasury Department if the federal government failed to pay reparations to blacks for slavery and discrimination.
It’s one thing to espouse an agenda and promote a cause, but it’s out of place when you’re running for a public office in a district that includes a diverse constituency.
Here’s a man who, on occasion, said he will never recite or stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. The Daily Beast recently reported that, Barron was at his Bed-Stuy district campaign headquarters when a middle-aged man confronted him and said that he heard Barron is against the Constitution, the candidate replied, “I’m the biggest patriot there is.”
Barron has the right not to recite the Pledge, the Star Spangled Banner or America the Beautiful, but to still maintain you are patriotic seems hypocritical.
Earlier this month, as reported on Sheepshead Bites, former Mayor Ed Koch joined several local elected representatives, including Assemblymembers Steven Cymbrowitz and Helene Weinstein and City Council members David Greenfield and Michael Nelson, at a Manhattan press conference to denounce Barron for anti-Israel statements. The Jewish state is a vital U.S. ally in the Middle East, but that obviously doesn’t matter to Barron, who a few years ago compared what was happening to Palestinians in Gaza to “a concentration camp.”
With a portion of a district with a considerable Jewish population, including many Soviet immigrants, Barron should not expect much support on Tuesday, especially considering the recent rightward trend of voters in Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay.
Barron may have toned down his racist rhetoric in recent campaign stops in a blatant ploy to garner votes, but only the most politically naïve would fall for that strategy. For decades he has been a voice of hatred and it’s highly suspect that he has changed. And his passionate anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements, including his reference to Israel as a terrorist state and his claim that the Holocaust never occurred, will never be forgotten or forgiven by many voters.
Despite this nation’s dishonorable past of electing bigots to Congress, anyone whose history includes apparent revulsion for anyone but African-Americans should not hold public office.
The Baron of Bias does not deserve to be elected on Tuesday because to elect Charles Barron to serve in Congress would be an awful mistake that neither Brooklyn nor the nation can afford.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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