Black People : Sun setting on Harlem

Discussion in 'Black People Open Forum' started by panafrica, Mar 8, 2010.

  1. panafrica

    panafrica Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Aug 24, 2002
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    The Diaspora
    NEW YORK — The New York Amsterdam News, the creaky weekly newspaper that is the voice of Harlem’s political establishment, is making the best of a bad week.

    “Paterson Demands Facts, Not Fiction” reads the headline over a defiant picture of New York’s sinking governor. Below that, “Rangel Requests Leave of Absence From Chairmanship.”

    The active verbs did little to conceal what a difficult winter made clear: The sun is setting on Harlem as the seat of New York’s black political elite and the symbolic national center of black politics. Rangel could end up being the last black congressman from Harlem. Gov. David Paterson, the son of Basil Paterson of the legendary “Gang of Four” who have dominated Harlem for a half-century, has come to embody their central shortcoming: the failure to cultivate a strong second generation. The gang itself is down to three, Rangel, the elder Paterson and former Mayor David Dinkins, who were among the mourners at the December funeral of the fourth, politician-turned-tycoon Percy Sutton.

    Harlem’s politics are still run largely by that elite group and its children. The new generation of black political stars are from elsewhere: President Barack Obama, Newark Mayor Corey Booker, Alabama Democratic Rep. Artur Davis. Even more than in Chicago’s aging black political world, Harlem lacks prospects. It can’t boast of a single black elected official younger than 50. Within the Upper Manhattan neighborhood, black political power has ebbed. Its makeup is increasingly Dominican and white, less and less black, and it would be “nearly impossible to draw a majority African-American congressional district” in Manhattan, said a local expert, John Mollenkopf.

    Within New York, African-American political power has quietly shifted across the East River to Brooklyn’s nearly 1 million black residents, where boosters say they have done what Harlem didn’t: produce an independent new generation of political leaders.

    “The guys who have started getting elected in Brooklyn have more freedom, because they were building as insurgents rather than from the establishment,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, now a pillar of Harlem, though he’s a son of Brooklyn and until recently lived with his family in Flatbush. “The new generation of electeds are coming out of Brooklyn.”

    Central and Eastern Brooklyn has always represented an alternate center, with its vast black hub of Bedford-Stuyvesant the font of a more independent, more confrontational and at times more openly anti-white arm of the civil rights movement than Harlem’s deal-making black elite, which produced the first black borough president, Sutton, in 1966. Now, with immigrants from the Caribbean replacing African-Americans who have departed for the suburbs, it remains demographically vital.

    Sharpton and others trace the shifting political poles to 1984, when Harlem’s Democrats endorsed Walter Mondale for president. Brooklyn’s leaders endorsed the Rev. Jesse Jackson and captured some of the energy he infused into black politics.

    They sputtered out the next year. Al Vann, the leader of a racially charged feud with the United Federation of Teachers in Brownsville, had been christened “the city’s hottest black politician” by New York magazine’s Joe Klein, but he lost his bid for borough president amid bitter feuds between Brooklyn and Manhattan leaders and started a long, slow fade from prominence. (He still holds elected office.) He and three others seemed to concede Harlem’s primacy when, in a major symbolic gesture in the black politics of the era, they marched over the Brooklyn Bridge one day in November 1988 to formally request that Dinkins — the fourth of the Gang of Four — run for mayor.

    The dynamic of insiders and outsiders repeated in 2007, when Harlem’s leaders sided with then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, and many younger Brooklyn officials endorsed Obama. (One of Brooklyn’s two black members of Congress, Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke, made a show of holding out before eventually endorsing Clinton with the rest of the delegation.) But Obama won and took a premier black Brooklyn operative, the Haitian-American Patrick Gaspard, to the White House as his political director.

    “The fact that we were willing to take that stand represented a degree of independence, a degree of stepping out of the shadows,” said Karim Camara, a state assemblyman from Crown Heights who backed Obama.

    At 38, Camara is Brooklyn’s youngest black elected official. In Harlem, by contrast, the lowest-ranking black official, freshman City Councilwoman Inez Dickens, is the 60-year-old daughter of a lesser political dynasty. Another Brooklyn 30-something, Hakeem Jeffries, is seen as a front-runner to replace Rep. Edolphus Towns, 75, when he retires. The state Senate Democratic leader —a powerful post, if he’s able to hang on to it, is Brownsville state Sen. John Sampson, 44.

    Harlem remains the symbolic center. When Sharpton convened a gathering of black leaders to discuss, and ultimately defend, Paterson last week, he did so at Sylvia’s, a legendary soul food joint in Upper Manhattan.

    The night was a classic Harlem political scene, with Dinkins and other figures emerging to give impromptu interviews on the sidewalk to a giant press pack, with passers-by joining in on news conferences, and with the neighborhood’s more radical denizens holding signs denouncing a New York Post columnist critical of Paterson by name. Two observers remarked, separately, that it recalled a raw, urban Spike Lee film from the 1980s; Lee, whose production company has long been based in Brooklyn’s buzzing Fort Greene, has long since moved on to other topics.

    But Sylvia’s, any given afternoon, is likely to be as packed with European tour-bus passengers as with black political stars. The young Brooklyn politicians are easier to find in a wave of new coffee shops and similar places that represent — they hope — a kind of “careful gentrification” of Bed-Stuy, one that keeps it a black center for some time to come. And the Brooklynites say they’re deliberately modeling themselves on the fading Harlem power structure.

    “We watched them; we learned how they did it, and we replicated it here in central Brooklyn,” said Lupe Todd, a political consultant.

    Harlem, of course, isn’t going without a fight. And while its politicians may be old, they like to point out that their rivals remain junior figures in the state Legislature. The two black members of Congress are relatively low-key figures, and they lack a clear local leader or an officeholder at any but the most local level. Sampson is the only official with much institutional clout.

    “You have young people there that have no seniority,” said Harlem’s Keith Wright, a state assemblyman and chairman of the Manhattan Democratic Party. “It seems transitory.”

    Brooklynites shoot back that there’s something to be said for youth.

    “Harlem hasn’t had new leadership in decades,” said Tyquana Henderson, another Brooklyn political consultant. “I’m not trying to stomp on anybody’s grave or say Harlem is dead, but Brooklyn is doing what it needs to do in grooming new leadership.”
  2. Ankhur

    Ankhur Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Oct 4, 2009
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    owner of various real estate concerns
    Like Gil Noble said on "Like It Is", a minute ago

    "Is Harlem still Black?"

    There are more Black folks in Brooklyn then in Lagos.