Seven months into his first term, he invited Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe to speak at city hall. Thirty-six councilmembers boycotted the event, to protest Mugabe's wretched human-rights record. Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate at the time, said in 2008 that his decision to attend was "a mistake. . . . I feel ashamed of it."

"I dreamed of lifting my people up. Of being the catalyst in the liberation of my people."

Barron calls Mugabe one of his heroes, alongside Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Kwame Nkrumah, Muammar Qaddafi, and other 20th-century revolutionaries. He has less respect for the men considered heroes to most other American politicians. When he discovered his seat in the chamber placed him beside a towering bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson, he unsuccessfully lobbied Speaker Christine Quinn for a move away from a monument to, as he phrased it for reporters, a "slave-holding pedophile."

In his ninth month in office, during a speech proposing reparations for descendants of slaves, Barron declared, "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, 'You can't understand this, it's a black thing,' and then slap him, just for my mental health." Barron is not the type to slip into political blunders. He does not back down; he doubles down. So when he defends the line by calling it "hyperbole," he adds, "They're lucky we're talking about a verbal slap. They murder us, lynch us, still shooting us down, and you're talking about me saying some damn rhetoric about a 'slap'?"

Inez Barron
Christopher Farber
Inez Barron
Charles Barron secured $3.6 million for the 2010 renovation of Venable Park, which now boasts educational features such as multiplication table blocks, a wall of music notes, and a puppet show stage.
Christopher Farber
Charles Barron secured $3.6 million for the 2010 renovation of Venable Park, which now boasts educational features such as multiplication table blocks, a wall of music notes, and a puppet show stage.

His stubbornness has left him isolated. He stopped going to meetings of the Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus several years ago because he didn't feel his colleagues adequately represented the city's minorities. In 2010, Quinn, with the council's support, removed Barron from his chairmanship of the Committee on Higher Education, reasoning that the panel needed a "unifying force." In an editorial applauding the speaker's move, the New York Daily News deemed Barron's rhetoric "far out of step in a country struggling to get past race as a defining characteristic in the age of President Obama."

Barron's constituents have paid for his antics. Though the 42nd District has one of the highest poverty rates in the city, Quinn consistently allotted Barron little more than the bare minimum in discretionary funding. From 2009 to 2012, for instance, the speaker granted Barron a total of $11.2 million, third least among the 51 districts; the councilmember at the top of the heap brought home more than $60 million.

Not surprisingly, Barron has been in a poor position to climb the political ladder. Twice, he challenged Quinn for speakership. He lost 48-1 and 50-1, winning no vote other than his own. He launched similarly impossible runs for mayor and governor, protesting that "white men have too much power in this city."

His strongest bid for higher office came in 2006, when he took on 24-year incumbent U.S. Congressman Edolphus Towns. Barron lost by just 8 percent, so when he ran to replace the retiring Towns six years later, the city was on notice, particularly when the departing congressman lent his endorsement. Weeks before Barron's Democratic primary contest against state Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, a group of city leaders held a press conference to denounce the councilman. They reminded voters that Barron had called Israel "the biggest terrorist in the world" and had described the Gaza Strip, which he'd visited with the Free Palestine Movement, as "a virtual death camp, the same kind of conditions the Nazis imposed on the Jews."

Former New York mayor Ed Koch attended the event and described Barron's rhetoric as vile and vicious. Councilman David Greenfield called Barron an anti-Semite, a hatemonger, and a bigot. Congressman Jerry Nadler said anyone who does what Barron did "has no right to be in civilized society, never mind in Congress." In the month leading up to the election, Jeffries's campaign received $470,000 in contributions, 60 percent of which came from donors outside the city. Barron's war chest contained a paltry $50,000. He lost in a landslide.

So he returned to city hall, and after the council extended term limits in 2008, Barron won the 42nd District election for the third time. His neighborhood still loved him. The bulk of the city knew Charles Barron best for his headline-grabbing quotes, but the residents of East New York knew him for all those photo ops.


'Capitalism is a failure!" says Barron, pacing through his district office. "The elites have enjoyed it and everybody else, the 99 percent, has struggled to say the least. Some have suffered severely in the most powerful, richest country that the planet Earth has ever had."

The décor is minimalist, but the furnishings have been carefully selected. On the wall behind his desk hangs a framed photo of Malcolm X. A poster on another wall shows before-and-after shots of Linden Park: patchy dirt swath in 2002; green turf with football goalposts in 2005. A similar one features Robert E. Venable Park: empty concrete lot in 2002; jungle gyms in 2010. On the desk sits a scale model of the Spring Creek Community School campus, which opened in 2012.

"I'm not in this to be careful," Barron says. "There's a lot of politicians — when they talk, they talk all slow and hesitantly, 'cause they're always thinking about who they might help or hurt or offend. I try to speak truth to power. Oftentimes, people aren't ready for that. I didn't come here to be a coward or a political punk."

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5 comments
Mary
Mary

I miss Charles Barron! He was fun! I loved seeing and listening to him speak during the rallies/protests against Bloomberg's failed educational policies.   I told him once that it was on my bucket list to get arrested with him for civil disobedience while protesting the closing of NYC public schools.  Luckily that won't be necessary now that we have a new Mayor and Chancellor.

I didn't agree with everything he said or everything he believes in, but he was always true to himself and I respect that.  Oh, and not that it matters but I'm probably not the typical Charles Barron fan,  I'm a 50 year old white woman. 

Jerome
Jerome

Following the footsteps of Frank Lucas. 

The Voice neglected to report that.

Where's the investigative journalism. 

cybergrace
cybergrace

Thank you, Village Voice, for reporting on the many under-published good works of Charles Barron and amplifying the voices of New Yorkers of color. 


Charles Barron is extremely hard working and excellent at working with community coalitions of all races. He has consistently supported actual help for New Yorkers living with HIV and New Yorkers fighting fracking when other politicians only offered lip service. This is why he actually brings a LOT more money to home to his district, even with his blunt speaking.


Significantly this article leaves out the tremendous problem of graft and selfish criminality by a large percentage of New York elected officials. That Christine Quinn's presentation of grants to council members she "liked" (overwhelmingly to white-led nonprofits "helping" people of color) was presented as "business as usual" -- but is was really racism. It is byzantine that in the 21st century so much money is allocated through white-dominated friendship networks instead of need-based competitive, professional proposals and grants.


New York State has had a glut of politicians convicted of bribery and other charges last year. The outspokenly un-bribable Charles Barron moving to the Assembly will be a boost to ethics in Albany. And while Christine Quinn et. al. may continue to maneuver discretionary appropriations to white-led members of the city's nonprofit industrial complex, Inez Barron will continue the good fight in the City Council to a transparent, professional, anti-racist allocations process.

hkguy
hkguy

At the end of this long story, I was left with the same question as when I started: Why is the Voice dedicating so much space to a woman who has passed no significant legislation and is widely considered a nonstarter, and a buffoon whom other councilmembers at best ignore? 

 
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