Charles and Inez Barron Two-Step in East New York

Inez Barron, Assembly Member from East New York, is running to succeed her husband, CM Charles Barron, in the 42nd Council District.  The two districts being largely coterminous, Inez Barron has a good shot of taking over her spouse’s seat.  At which time, presumably, Charles Barron would run for her Assembly seat, and the two Barrons (assuredly, of no relation to your writer) could continue to serve the overlapping districts for another decade or so.

It is not a sure thing, however, as Chris Banks, the man who ran a tough primary race against Inez Barron in 2012, is seeking the Council seat this year.  He has spoken of “Barron fatigue” in the district, and has outraised the field substantially.  However, he has taken a great deal of money from Manhattan real estate and taxi interests, which doesn’t necessarily play well in the heart of black Brooklyn.  The Barrons, with their Panther past and Garveyite “anti-gentrification” platform, will surely make hay of their opponent’s ties to moneyed interlopers.

It is truly amazing to behold Charles Barron, generally held to be the moving force behind the family’s political life, in action.  Yesterday, for example, during the City Council’s vote to overturn Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of the stop-and-frisk and police oversight bills, it was startling to hear Barron, following his customary sit-in during the Pledge of Allegiance, stand up and pay tribute to Viola Plummer, his former chief of staff: “There wouldn’t be no today if it weren’t for Viola Plummer, the December 12th Movement, Rev. Herbert Daughtry, who put it on the line, to make this day history.”

Viola Plummer, of course, was the woman who was fired from the Council in 2007 for calling for the assassination of CM Leroy Comrie.  “If it takes assassination of his ass, he will not be a borough president in the borough where I live,” opined Plummer, angry that CM Comrie had abstained from voting to co-name Gates Avenue after Sonny Carson.

Viola Plummer complained that she meant “assassination” in the metaphorical sense, arguing that as an “educated, extremely intelligent black woman,” it would be “preposterous” for her to call for the actual murder of the head of the Queens Delegation.  CM Barron announced that he was so proud of his chief of staff that he wanted to “give her a raise.”

The December 12th Movement, incidentally, named for the date of Kenya’s independence, prides itself on bullying Harlem shop owners to close for Malcolm X’s birthday:  “December 12th Movement shows the power of a small group of dedicated people: for years now DEC 12th has forced Harlem merchants to close down their businesses on 125th Street on Malcolm's birthday. Now that's people's power!”

Charles Barron is certainly a throwback to old-style radical black nationalist politics, with his dithyrambic praise of Robert Mugabe and Muammar Qaddafi.  What other council member could hope to have David Duke release a video endorsement of his or her congressional campaign, on the basis of shared antipathy to Zionism and belief in black self-determination?  Of course, Charles Barron would surely repudiate David Duke’s support, just as CM Margaret Chin has repudiated independent expenditures made on her behalf by the real estate industry.  But where there is common ground or common interests, one supposes that even presumptive enemies can make common cause.

Charles and Inez Barron have together earmarked hundreds of thousands of dollars for Man Up!, a community group in East New York run by Andre Mitchell, a political associate of the Barrons.  Charles Barron supported Mitchell, an ex-con (convicted of manslaughter) who now runs violence prevention programs, in several runs for district leader and state committeeman, none of which was successful.  Questions arose in 2011 when it emerged that Inez and Charles Barron had also paid Mitchell substantial sums to work as a campaign aide, and also paid campaign funds into a related organization called Hip Hop Stand Up and Vote, which shared the same address.  This kind of electioneering on the part of non-profits is strictly illegal and has sent Hiram Monserrate, among others, to prison.

Man Up! has also benefitted richly from a recent major real estate deal in District 42.  The Related Companies, requiring the support of the Barrons to implement the building of their Gateway II mall in East New York, acquiesced to a $3 million Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) that would fund and provide operating space for various local organizations.  The East New York Restoration Local Development Corporation (ENYRLDC) was formed to administer the funds from the CBA.  The executive director and associate executive director of the ENYRLDC are both contributors to Inez Barron's current campaign, and Andre Mitchell is the chairman of the board.

Furthermore, Man Up!, which Andre Mitchell still runs, has the contract to run all job training programs funded by the CBA, and can slot preferred candidates into construction and retail jobs at Gateway II.

So it is really classic, Tammany-style dealings going on in East New York.  Charles and Inez Barron set their friend up in a “community based organization” which receives a steady flow of public money.  The group has a lot of visibility, and functions basically as a permanent campaign machine for the Barrons.  Then Charles Barron works out a sweetheart deal with a major real estate developer to give his friend a job and power over local hiring—always the key factor in a Daleyesque machine.

Thus the Barrons come to resemble ever closer their idols Mugabe and Qaddafi: erstwhile fighters for freedom who are transformed by power into grotesques.