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A Second Look at Brooklyn Now

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Two big victories shook Brooklyn on Primary Day last month: Julia Salazar’s win over longtime State Senator Erik Martin Dilan and Zellnor Myrie’s takedown of IDC Senator Jesse Hamilton.

In her thrilling win, Salazar was buoyed by grassroots energy and the strong support of the Democratic Socialists of America. This victory for the left came in spite of vicious media attacks and a calculated smear campaign. Salazar, an unabashed progressive, will be a consistent voice for the LGBTQ community and a welcome advocate for tenants.

Myrie’s victory was no less satisfying, coming as it did over Hamilton — an elected official whose solution to tragedies in our community was to hold prayer vigils, the go-to answer for those with no other solution to offer. Hamilton also reportedly made an horrendous anti-trans statement, saying, “I’m Not For That Third Gender Shit,” according to a Facebook posting by a Prospect Lefferts Garden resident who pressed him at a subway station about his position on the long-stalled Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.

In total, six of the eight members of the IDC went down on Primary Day. That’s an amazing accomplishment by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, one attributable to the efforts of Cynthia Nixon, Jumaane Williams, and Zephyr Teachout, who motivated progressive voters statewide. Even though these three candidates did not win their races for statewide office, they put those at the top of the ticket in November on notice that progressives are mobilized and ready to hold them accountable.

Sadly, Brooklyn has seen only one out member of our community elected to government office: City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. On this score, Brooklyn falls short of Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx — and ties the far more conservative and considerably less populated Staten Island.

The smartest political gay in Brooklyn is Alan Fleishman. Dogged and well informed, Fleishman was the borough’s first out gay elected Democratic Party official, having served as district leader. The straight version of Fleishman is former Councilmember Lew Fidler, who still spends a great deal of his time helping to secure housing for homeless LGBTQ youth.

In addition to Menchaca, Brooklyn’s Council delegation includes other notable friends of the community. Rafael Espinal is a terrific guy who showed leadership in creating the Office of the Nightlife Mayor. The concept is a great idea but has fizzled into a big disappointment — due to no fault on Espinal’s part, but rather to the mayor’s office and to Julie Menin, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.

Other consistently good councilmembers include Laurie Cumbo, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Jumaane Williams, Steve Levin, Antonio Reynoso, and Justin Brannan. Robert Cornegy and Brad Lander are disliked by their colleagues, and I share their distrust.

My favorite Brooklyn state legislators are Assemblymembers Jo Anne Simon, Rodneyse Bichotte, and Robert Carroll, while Peter Abbate and Charles Barron consistently prove themselves to be on the wrong side of our issues. Then there’s Helene Weinstein, to whom I wouldn’t give the time of day. I’ll get criticized if I say why, but it’s hardly a secret.

Our State Senate foes are Simcha Felder and the IDC’s Diane Savino, who represents parts of both Brooklyn and Staten Island. She was a strong voice for marriage equality years ago, but her alliance with the Republicans in recent years prevented passage of pro-LGBTQ and abortion rights legislation.

Borough President Eric Adams, a former police officer, has been terrific on criminal justice and attended a rally and vigil at the Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Westchester home protesting the his refusal to grant clemency to elderly inmates in state prisons. Adams is also great on all things LGBTQ.

On the issue of clemency, Judith Clark — incarcerated since 1983 for her role in a 1981 Brink’s robbery in which a security guard and two Rockland County police officers were killed —is still in prison. In 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo granted her clemency making her eligible for parole, and State Supreme Court Justice John Kelley recently ordered the State Parole Board to give her a new hearing. However, Acting State Attorney General Barbara Underwood has appealed Kelley’s order, and framed the case as though Clark was actually at the scene of the shootings. It’s clear that Underwood doesn’t give a damn about mass incarceration or about the lives of elderly incarcerated women — Clark turns 69 next month. For now, justice and compassion will have to be found outside the office of the state attorney general.

Out gay Bronx City Councilmember Ritchie Torres has been criticized for having endorsed Letitia James for state attorney general and then weeks later flipping his support to Zephyr Teachout. I commend Torres for not playing politics and acknowledging that the situation changed — as did his judgment on who merited the post. Torres decided that James’ decision to attach herself to Cuomo and accept his fundraising on her behalf raised serious questions about her independence.

We faced the exact same issue at the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. After having endorsed James, several members wanted a reconsideration — which under the club’s constitution required a vote by two thirds of members. Opposition to reconsideration was spearheaded by Aaron Soriano, an employee of the State Democratic Party and, therefore, Andrew Cuomo. Reconsideration lost by one vote and the club stuck with its early endorsement of James. Club founders, including myself, and outside progressive allies were quite disappointed and saw this as an abandonment of the club’s progressive mandate.

On primary day, I voted for Teachout, sharing Torres’s concerns about James’ independence. For five years, James has made commitments to visiting elderly women inmates at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, where Clark is held. Advocacy from elected officials is needed for these women to have a chance to secure compassionate parole. James has consistently failed to honor her commitments to make the trip to Bedford Hills.

Next Up: The Borough of Queens

Updated 5:53 pm, October 15, 2018
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