Black Political Power Moves to Brooklyn

Harlem was long considered the epicenter of black political power in this city, but now Brooklyn, with three newly elected black candidates, has become the new home for much of the city’s black politics, according to the Daily News.

Public advocate elect Letitia James, the first black woman elected to citywide office (above); Ken Thompson, soon to become Brooklyn’s first black district attorney; and Eric Adams, who will become the borough’s first black president, are all natives of central Brooklyn.

However, Harlem has produced three black politicians who rose to great prominence: New York’s first black mayor, David Dinkins; the state’s first black governor, David Paterson; and Rep. Charles Rangel, who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. The News notes that Harlem’s 1960s-era “Gang of Four” coalition also included Paterson’s father, former Secretary of State Basil Paterson, and former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.

But as gentrification and immigration have changed Harlem’s population, the majority of its residents are no longer black.

“We have seen the official election now begin to reflect what many of us have known for some time,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told the News. “Harlem is not the Harlem it was of Adam Clayton Powell or even David Dinkins. The population shift has gone from Harlem to Brooklyn.”

Brooklyn is also home to some of the city’s most ambitious up-and-coming black politicians: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries; Assemblyman Karim Camara, chairman of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus; and City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who recently announced his intention to run for Council speaker.

But these black political elites don’t intend to ally themselves as closely as Harlem’s “Gang of Four.” Both James and Adams supported Thompson’s rival, longtime D.A. Charles Hynes, and James worked for Jeffries’ rival, Roger Green, during Assembly races in the early 2000s. And Jeffries and Adams are known to dislike each other, the News said.

Brooklyn the New Center of Black Political Power in New York City [NY Daily News]
Image by Thomas Good/NLN via Wikimedia Commons

31 Comment

  • Bit of a loaded headline.

    • did tish murder your puppy or something?

    • Montrose Morris

      When I lived in Crown Heights, Tish James was always there for us, even though her district covered only about 4 blocks of our community. Whenever we needed an advocate, she was there. She was also personable, listened to our concerns, and worked as hard for Crown Heights’ issues as she did for the rest of her district. I was on a committee she was involved with to prevent the Bedford Armory from becoming the intake center for the entire city’s homeless shelter system. She was great, and although there were other politicians involved, including some of those mentioned in this article, Tish was the only one who came to every meeting herself, and led the fight. I was impressed.

      She always was aware of Brooklyn’s changing demographics, perhaps more in her district than almost anyone else’s, and worked with everyone. That’s not easy, and you are not going to please everyone. I especially admired her for being an advocate for the more powerless among the residents in her district – the people in the projects, the senior citizens, and the old timers, not just the more monied newcomers.

      I’ve disagreed with a few of her positions, and I’m sure she’s made mistakes, who hasn’t? But I think Tish is a fine person and is what a politician should be, a representative of her constituents. Works for me.

      • Tish is a great representative for all of us. Tish has been a part of many meetings and organizations I have been involved with, and what I have found most astonishing about her as a representative is that she listents to ALL of us. Like Montrose, I don’t agree with all of Ms. James stances, but I believe all of them are well thought out on her part, and fair to the extent each particular decision demands I think those disparaging her as a leader must not know her. The only thing that will come from having so many of our elected officials from our own neighborhoods is that we will have an easier time getting thru to them, because of previous relationships with them.

    • Tish is extremely dedicated…to keeping herself on the public payroll.

  • Way to stir the pot there Rebecca, definitely picked the right place to do it. The same could have been said with a little more literary maturity.

  • Well given that the boro is becoming less black every day, they better not govern like this headline implies

    • Montrose Morris

      Whatever gives you the impression that black politicians would govern too much differently than white politicians, or politicians from any other group? It doesn’t matter if the borough is becoming less black or more black. The needs of the city are the needs of the city. It’s insulting to think that a non-white politician would be answering to a different call.

      • Really? Are you new to New York (or America)???
        If Black politicians govern the similar to their white fore-bearers/counterparts you can be sure that their agenda will favor the issues, priorities of their base support (often to the intentional detriment of other groups) – and thats what the headline implies.
        Obviously I have higher hopes for these black politicians in terms of actually doing the moral thing – but even for self-preservation with a declining base, they’d be wise to rise to a higher level. Please dont be obtuse just to try to start a fight with me, its beneath you.

        • Montrose Morris

          No, I am not new to New York, or America. How about yourself? I don’t find the headline at all insulting, first of all. The phenomenon of a group of black politicians from Brooklyn rising up to an unprecedented number of elected offices in New York City this time around is notable, and politicians do have power. And it is new to Brooklyn, as Harlem, as the article states, has always been the center of black political power in this city. So the title is not a problem for me. I don’t see it implying anything else. If people choose to read more into it, that’s on them.

          Secondly, none of the new office holders were elected without a large number of non-black voters casting their ballots in their favor. And all of them know it. They were elected to do their jobs, and that’s what they’ll do. What do you think is going to happen? Thompson is not going to prosecute black criminals? Tish is going to hand out city funds only to black organizations? Adams will declare Brooklyn a black homeland? I mean come on. None of them have ever done anything but represent their very varied constituencies, and will continue to do so. As I said, to imply otherwise is insulting. If you find that obtuse, then so be it.

  • I find it very odd that a White writer would think that the ORIGINAL title of this post would somehow resonate with the Black population of Brooklyn. It was an insulting title, regardless of the race of the reader. Thank you NYU, you keep molding superb graduates.

  • I happen to spend a few hours with Tish and I have to say this woman works HARD! She gave me and a friend a ride home from Manhattan and I saw first hand how her personal phone never stopped ringing. She was like some kind of superwoman going around from place to place helping the little guy who normally would not have a voice. From what I know of her she is a lovely person and best of luck to her in the future.

  • What!!! Policies that favor a politicians constituents? Heresy, I say!

    “Whatever gives you the impression that black politicians would govern too much differently than white politicians, or politicians from any other group?”

    And therein lies the problem/fear.

    Clearly some folks believe that their race puts them outside the constituency of these, as Rebecca call them, “natives.” Is this bias or just an honest assertion about the nature of politics?

  • gotta love all the faux outrage. get a life

  • daveinbedstuy

    Black or white isn’t really yhe issue. You’ll all regret the big swing to the liberal left. More taxes, more spending, more kowtowing to unions.

  • Yes the title , now changed, is polarizing. When you say “_____ Power” in the context of politics, it implies a group working mostly for that group, at the expense even of others. In this case, it also had historical references that taint it.

    I agree with Dave, the far swing that’s been made will not bode well for the poor. I had cautious hopes with this presidency, but every objective study and data release shows its only hurt the black/poor/young more than helped.

    • Montrose Morris

      “In this case, it also had historical references that taint it.”

      I’m sorry, Mr Shankly, but I’m not seeing how the “historical reference” of Black Power “taints” anything. The historic Black Power movement of the late 1960s and 1970s was an important outgrowth of the Civil Rights movement, and important to the history of black people in this country. As in any large social movement, there were those who perverted the original intentions to their own agendas, and some unfortunate violence and death resulted, but that was not the entirety, or majority of the movement. What was most important was a sense of black empowerment and truth that we could be in charge of our own identity and purpose in this country.

      The black power movement codified the idea to a new generation that we, as black people, shaped our own destinies, we were not going to wait around for the rest of society to get around to noticing us or pay attention to our concerns. That spirit has always been a part of the black experience, but it wasn’t until the 60s, 70s that it was made made manifest in such a bold way. And society changed for the better because of it. A lot of white people found that disturbing, and still do, but it made possible the election of every politician mentioned, not to mention President Obama. There is no historic “taint” there, whatsoever.

    • It’s realy only a taint if you whitewash history and reappropriate facts to fit what you would like to be your narrative of the world. As if power and the ability to be heard/recognized as a person/etc…, as expressed through the history of this country, has nothing whether you were born of a certain hue. So yes, it connotes something very different you simplisticly say “white power” versus “black power”. Live with it. It was those in power (hint: not black folks) who created the dichotomy to begin with. These are its effects.

  • citigyz

    How about this? Tish James was at the forefront of the opposition to Forest City Ratner, Bloomberg, Markowitz, deBlasio, Lander, Pataki,, City Planning Comm.,ESDC et al. on the Vanderbilt Yards project. She had nothing to gain and everything to lose. She knew the “affordable housing”, basketball, jobs promises were a scam. And, they were. People who were promised jobs are now suing. With all the services the city must provide and the abuse of eminent domain, State and city subsidies to the developer,the project will be a net loss for the city. We see this all around the country. Mostly businesses in the arena profit not the surrounding area. And what about the businesses that were displaced, tenants and owners.
    Tish could have sold out as FCR used the race card. She didn’t. Whatever you think of Barcley’s, she acted with honor and integrity. So, if she wants to use the PA as a stepping stone, fine with me.

  • minard

    A better headline would have been that Black Political Power Shifts to Brooklyn, as the point of the piece is that Harlem is no longer the sole powerhouse of Black political power. However it does make the point that the Black politicians out of Harlem attained higher office than the Brooklyn crew.
    After Rangel and Dinkins pass on, they are both ancient, who will replace them? Sharpton? James? It is an interesting question.

    • Montrose Morris

      Of course, I have no idea what’s in Al Sharpton’s mind, but I don’t see him running for anything. He knows how unpopular he is in many circles, and I think he’s quite happy with his television show, and his appearances as some kind of elder statesman. Personally, I see Tish and Jeffries moving on to higher office.

      I also think it’s great, in one sense, that Jeffries and Adams are not best buds. Whoever said all black politicians have to like each other? We are not a monolith, not politically, economically, religiously, or any other way. We think and feel differently on issues, just like everyone else. No one remarks about all of the white politicians who can’t stand each other. People are people are people.