By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
But the nature of East New York's development has been unlike the rest of the borough's. Even among Barron's critics, there's near consensus about his drive to ward off gentrification. For a building proposal to get past Barron and into the chamber, it must meet his standard for affordable housing, which he sets at 60 percent of the borough's area median income — significantly lower than the city's official 80 percent bar. Since 2002, no district in Brooklyn has gained as many affordable housing units as Barron's. Here folks can rent a studio for $800, a two-bedroom for $1,000.
Consequently, the residents moving into the new apartments and houses are a mix of locals seeking an upgrade and outsiders displaced by gentrification. Over the past decade, while the black population dropped by 2 percent across the city — including in Harlem, Bed-Stuy, and Brooklyn as a whole — it has increased by 13 percent in East New York.
"You see an area that was dilapidated come up, but nobody you remember was there when it came up," says Stevenson. "East New York was different. The people that I played with as kids, they still live here. These are people who stayed when the crime was worst; they held onto their properties, and now they can reap the benefits."
If there is a crown jewel of what city housing officials call the "renaissance under way in East New York," it is the Gateway Mall, a brick complex just off the Belt Parkway that houses an Olive Garden and a Home Depot, among other vendors, as well as generous parking.
Shortly after the mall opened, Related Companies won the contract to build an expansion, along with 2,200 units of affordable housing on adjacent land. Barron and the community board required that Related sign a Community Benefits Agreement, which included stipulations that unemployed locals make up at least a quarter of the construction workforce and that the developer grant $3 million to a "coalition of community-based organizations."
The project looked like a glorious achievement for Barron. Instead it would serve as a sprawling, multimillion-dollar reminder of the political machine some community leaders say Barron built with the power that comes with presiding over a development surge. A majority of the community board did not see a draft of the agreement until 2011, two years after it was signed in Barron's office. The only signature representing Barron's "coalition," the board learned, was that of Andre Mitchell, founder of the anti-violence nonprofit Man Up! and Barron's former chief of staff. Barron had designated Man Up! as the job-training organization that supplied workers to Related. This the board knew. But many members were surprised to learn that no other group had taken part in the negotiations.
"This has been his means of operation in his entire tenure as councilperson," says Taylor. "He has neglected certain social services and only deals with one agency."
In fact, over the past four years, of the roughly $3 million in grants Barron was free to disperse to community organizations, Man Up! received $500,000, dwarfing every other agency's take.
"I supported Charles at first, because he was an outsider and he proclaimed inclusion," says one community board member who requested anonymity so as not to damage his relationship with the Barrons. "But then, as he stayed longer, he turned into a machine. Promoted exclusion, favored only his closest allies, and locked out the rest."
The Daily News called out Barron on this favoritism in a series of articles in July 2011. "Steered $3 million from a big developer to a community group run by a longtime political aide," read one. "Pumped $350,000 in taxpayer money into a nonprofit run by a longtime political aide," read another.
Barron stood his ground, declaring that Man Up! deserved every penny. "I told them, 'Get another article ready, 'cause I'ma give him more money next year!'" he recalls. (Mitchell praises Barron as "the biggest supporter we've had.")
Two years after the Daily News series, Man Up! once again made headlines, but in a more favorable light. A July 2013 New York Times story explained that Mitchell and a team of young men patrolled a 20-square-block high-crime area "to figure out where the violence was going next so they could hit the pause button" through conflict mediation. There'd been three homicides, wrote author Jim Dwyer, "in the days before the group began." In the 363 days since, there had been none.
The Times story did not mention Barron.
"Ironic, huh?" the councilman says, parking in front of Linden Park and stepping into the chilly night.
He walks briskly through the gate and up a concrete pathway. He looks across the park grounds. A woman in a pink windbreaker jogs around the track. A half-dozen teenage boys play touch football on the regulation-size field, bright from the stadium lights encircling the premises. Barron stretches his arms wide.
"This is my pride and joy!" he says, posing beneath the gleaming goalposts.
"That's Charles Barron!" shouts a voice in the distance.
Barron sees the boys on the field pointing at him. He waves, meets them at the 50-yard line.
"Wassup, how y'all doin'?"
"All right," the boy holding the football says. "I'm tryna get a job. They say you got jobs. Can you get me a job?"