Four years after then-Speaker Christine Quinn stripped then-42nd District City Councilman Charles Barron of his chairmanship of the Committee on Higher Education, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito appointed his predecessor and wife, Inez Barron, to the post.
The decision makes sense. Barron worked as a public school teacher, principal, and administrator for 36 years before retiring then beginning her political life in the state Assembly. Beyond that, she’s certainly familiar with the nuts and bolts of the committee. She and Charles work as a single unit, with joint staff meetings and collaborative decision-making.
The Barrons’ reclamation of the committee chair, however, also may signal a new role in city hall for the couple (subjects of this week’s feature story), away from the fringe and into the fold.
Inez replaces Charles at a good time: November’s elections decreased the gap between the Barrons and the rest of city hall.
Read this week’s feature story: The Barrons of East New York: Charles and Inez Barron Aren’t Your Traditional Power Couple
Inez enters city hall alongside the most progressive leadership team in recent memory. The Barron’s supported Mark-Viverito’s run for speakership. And though Charles questions the sincerity of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s progressivism, there’s no denying that the two hold at least somewhat overlapping policy positions on taxes, education, and policing (not to mention a like-minded affection for 20th-century third world revolutionaries).
At the same time, Inez’s cooler temperament, Charles believes, enables her to play a bigger part than he did in the back-room legislative compromises of the City Council. “I think I should have tried to work closer with the Black, Asian, Latino Caucus,” admits Charles, who stopped going to the caucus meetings halfway through his tenure. While Inez shares Charles’s perspective on and passion for social justice issues — “cut from the same cloth,” he says — she’s more open to collaboration and compromise.
It was Charles’s constant boat-rocking that cost him the committee chairmanship. Quinn explained that the panel needed a “unifying force,” and her decision passed the council with a 47-1 vote. After that Barron became the only Democratic councilmember — and one of four in all — without a chairmanship or a $10,000 stipend given to those in leadership positions.
A month before Quinn dropped him from the position, Barron provided the sort of fireworks display he’s become infamous for. In December 2009, Barron marched with students denied entrance to the school, and lobbied for the construction of a new building. The issue boiled over during the groundbreaking ceremony for Fiterman Hall — a CUNY building damaged on 9-11 — when Barron got into a heated and drawn-out confrontation with Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a CUNY trustee who shouted “You’re a disgrace!” while the councilman addressed the crowd from a podium. Barron then called Wiesenfeld a “sickening racist.”
Over Barron’s eight years as chair, the committee’s most notable accomplishment was restoring $10 million in funding to City University of New York. He reflected fondly on that time period during his farewell speech at the final City Council meeting.
“When I was chair, before I was, by some crazy shape of the imagination, removed from the chair — I don’t know how that happened, but when you have that moment when you lapsed in good judgment — before that I had eight years as chair of the higher education committee, and we were able to secure $604 million for capital money for CUNY buildings.”