WHO IS KEVIN POWELL?
Kevin Powell, candidate for New York’s 10th Congressional District, has been of late bombarding readers of the Huffington Post with an angry tirade against the incumbent, Congressman Ed Towns. Through tags this post will appear on the Huffington Post; some readers of Huffington know me from posts here on Room 8, and I’ve been comfortable expressing my opinions and fact finding here. Up to now, I’ve focused my writings solely on issues of policy: proper reporting of crime stats, Hispanic issues of the day, and an essay about being a District Leader that has become (arguably) the de facto job description used by many political clubs around the state when vetting candidates for that job. However, I believe now is the time to break away from the relatively safe position of criticizing policy—not candidates—and that’s because what is potentially at stake: not just losing our local congressman, but also the chair of the powerful government reform and oversight committee, and his seniority that is matched by few in the House of Representatives.
I’d like to begin with the issue that Mr. Powell seems angriest with: the petitioning process, and what he says has been a waste of time and money to taxpayers a petition challenge has been. There is another side to this story, one that has been partially expressed in some of the replies to his posts. While it is true that Mr. Powell’s petitioning team collected over 8,000 signatures, it is also true that a great many of these names were challenged for two significantly serious reasons: the signer was not a registered voter, or the signer lived outside the 10th congressional district. In regards to these two reasons, we are talking about thousands of signers. Mr. Powell focuses on the fact that over 2,000 signatures were not challenged, so why should he even have to defend himself? He also uses words like “democracy” to invoke a sense of outrage from you, the readers of his blog. Constituents of the 10th Congressional District should be frightened by what Mr. Powell is suggesting and I’ll explain why.
In the vast majority of cases, his petitions had ten addresses from ten different points of the borough (and in some cases, other boroughs). This means one of two things: His petitioners had the superhuman ability to crisscross the borough ten times per sheet while completing several sheets per day, or, the likely case, his petitioners were gathering signatures at events, street corners, and train and bus stops, with the most likely case being events, since street corners and train/bus stops would still produce a sheet that had addresses in reasonable proximity to each other.
So with so many signatures being collected at events, Mr. Powell’s question of why 2,000+ valid signatures wasn’t enough to immediately get him on the ballot is the wrong question for voters to ask. The right question is “Why were so many persons from outside the district asked to sign a document that can impact the lives of the residents of the 10th Congressional District?”
I have a serious problem with that. Mr. Powell’s petition organizers know full well that this is the reason why the Board of Elections publishes books and data sets with the registered Democrats listed within them. Why wasn’t this data used? And most importantly why, of the 8,000+ signatures collected, were 70% of them given the opportunity to have a say in our local congressional race despite the fact that they didn’t live in the 10th Congressional District or even registered to vote? Mr. Powell, this is a question that requires an answer and you owe it to the voters of the district.
Mr. Powell often sites President Obama in his writings and often likens himself to him, which is a strange and curious notion. President Obama did not seek the presidency on his first entre into public office. Before that, he was U.S. Senator Obama of the Great State of Illinois, and before that served in that state’s legislature. Years before that he worked as a community organizer (something that the president and I have in common). A common question that Mr. Powell has been asked and has not delivered an adequate answer to is, why run for Congress when you have no legislative experience of any kind? Let me get back to that in a bit. I want to elaborate on community involvement first.
Community involvement is a way that organizers use to empower people, giving people the opportunity to gain and maintain control of their lives. This involvement can come in the form of block and tenant associations, as well as attending the local precinct council and/or community board meetings. Those that want to go further and be part of their community’s leadership often apply to be a voting member of the community board, or run for their precinct council’s executive board. Some volunteer or go to work for local nonprofits, others work in the public sector at the district offices of their elected officials, and in this capacity also attend the local district cabinet meeting, having direct input and oversight in the delivery of government services to the neighborhoods served.
Over the past few years I’ve attended many different community board, district cabinet, and precinct council meetings. I know others that have attended even more than I have. We’ve compared notes and have concluded that we have never, I mean never, seen Mr. Powell attend these meetings, much less be an active participant. Where has he been? Where has this “21st Century Leader” been when we’ve needed him to fight the good fight on behalf of his community? Has he tried to work within these structures to influence local policy, or joined his local board to become part of the guiding leadership there? There seems to be a fundamental lack of respect for these structures by Mr. Powell and that too should concern any voter of the 10th Congressional District because he hasn’t taken the time to learn how to lead from a small legislative body like the community board, nor has he run for city council, state assembly or state senate, each a legislative district significantly smaller than a congressional one. Voters are taking the chance that Mr. Powell will learn what he needs to know through on-the-job training.
But Mr. Powell’s “activism” is not an adequate substitute for the experience that he could have gained in these structures over the past few years. He speaks of his activism work in the form of concerts, forums, and events are annual at best, and in the 364 days in between there remain the less sexy, less neat, (less self-aggrandizing) tasks of day-to-day life in our community, tasks undertaken by community boards and precinct councils. So the next question that Mr. Powell needs to answer for his constituents is: If you haven’t taken the time to work within existing structures of leadership that affect smaller groups, what makes you ready for the big time, representing 600,000 people in the House of Representatives? In one of your recent essays attacking Congressman Towns you wrote about people dying of AIDS and any number of other conditions. These people don’t have the luxury of waiting while you figure out your way around public policy. Some of these people are my family, my friends, and my colleagues. Will one of your essays help cure them?
Mr. Powell’s lack of respect for existing structures of our local communities goes much further and now becomes ironic. The right to vote, and the responsibilities that it carries are always a core issue in the 10th Congressional District, as many persons of the civil rights era know all too well. Voting, as an issue for persons of color, is of tremendous importance because of how hard our ancestors had to fight to get the right to cast a ballot, so aside from how it reflects upon us as citizens of this nation, it really is a shameful disgrace when those of us that know better don’t show up to vote. And voting is what this is all about right? A vote in the Democratic Primary for the incumbent, Congressman Ed Towns, or his challenger, Kevin Powell? Mr. Powell writes prolifically about a number of substantive issues, and as a writer his stuff’s not bad. I’ve read quite a few of his essays. But when it comes to the responsibility of voting and respecting what that means, Mr. Powell’s writings don’t mention something of particular importance in any election.
I’m talking of course about Mr. Powell’s own voting record. I’m going strictly by Board of Election records, which are public records and go back as far as 1992 on the data disks, further I believe at the Board of Elections itself. Let’s take a look at both Mr. Powell’s and Congressman Towns’ public voting record from 1992 to 2009:
We need to expand on a few of the above line items. There are several significant standouts in Mr. Powell’s voting record, for example:
Anyone that thinks a candidate’s voting record isn’t important during an election should give Kathleen Rice’s campaign office a call. They’ll be sure to help you understand why this is indeed relevant. Regarding personal voting, where has Mr. Powell been on election day, and what does this say about showing up for voting, which is one of the principal, most fundamental role of a legislator?
Mr. Powell also has some explaining to do regarding his fundraising, particularly when in his April – June 2010 filing there is a lack of support from constituents of the 10th Congressional District. Where is this groundswell of support that he constantly blogs about? Even small donations from the 10th were absent. Anyone that thinks that this is not an important way of vetting a candidate’s strength in the community need only look back to 2007, when then-Senator Obama was quietly building a powerful base through small donors, even while the media was still painting him as the underdog. Donations are a time honored way of assessing how a community is taking to a particularly candidate, and while far from being an exact science, surely it is suspect when there is an absence of support from the very district a candidate is running in. So that’s the next question for Mr. Powell: Where are your local donors (defined as living in the 10th Congressional District)?
Reading Mr. Powell’s blog and you see that he has wanted a debate on “issues” for some time now. Constituents of the 10th Congressional District shouldn’t be too quick to believe some of Mr. Powell rants, because there are a few things you need to know: the organizers of the event didn’t consult with Congressman Towns office, and had they, they would have been told that the congressman was scheduled to be in session that day. This was no ordinary session as the extension of unemployment benefits was the hot topic of the week on the floor of our congress. It leaves constituents with two choices then, either the event organizers were so inexperienced in organizing these types of events that they never bothered to consult the legislative calendar, or worse, that this was done deliberately. I would much rather believe the former of the two. We elect legislators to legislate, we do not elect them to be “community social worker” of their respective districts, and the human services side of their work is the responsibility of their district office staff, so the argument that the forum was more important than being in session is ridiculous, and if you want proof, ask someone from the 10th whose benefits were just renewed what he/she thinks about that.
In a recent blog post Mr. Powell writes about his own personal issues regarding domestic violence, and violence in general. He phrases this issue as though it was something already vetted and that should be put to bed, yet as a candidate he should know better, particularly when some of his incidents of violence were not that long ago in the past, and that overall there have been several repeated incidents, mostly against women. Like it or not Mr. Powell, this issue is fair game in any election, and the public has a right to question you on it, regardless of what you say on the matter. We really do have the right to ask if there have been any recent incidents. We have the right to ask how many incidents there were overall, and over what time span. 2010 is an excellent year for you to set this record straight once and for all. Violence, particularly domestic violence, has taken center stage this year and it’s about time. It’s why Hiram Monserrate is no longer Senator Monserrate. It’s the principal reason why Governor David Patterson is not running for reelection, thanks to one of his senior aides. It’s why the Puerto Rican Day Parade came within days of losing its female Grand Marshal, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, in protest to the parade committee's original choice to have a woman beater as the male Grand Marshal. And why my fellow Room 8 blogger just tonight highlighted Senator Kevin Parker’s own issues of violence. Mr. Powell, be fair to the constituency of the 10th Congressional District and stop being so defensive and evasive on this subject. Be humble and come clean about this part of your life.
I’ve lived in East Brooklyn the majority of my near-45 years of life. I’m an active voter, as are all the members of my family and most of my friends. We discuss local political races over dinner or drinks, and frame the discussions based on pertinent issues of the day, and how well a candidate or incumbent has handled those issues. We can do this with every incumbent and candidate in East Brooklyn, except for Kevin Powell, and that’s because when his name comes up, one of my friends inevitably asks, “Who is Kevin Powell?”
Kevin Powell has not be involved in the leadership of our communities. He’s ignored playing a role in our community boards. He’s ignored playing a role in our precinct councils. His personal voting record is cavalier at best. His past history of violence is not nearly as vetted as he thinks. No one from the 10th Congressional District has been donating to his campaign. All that, and he had no problem allowing thousands of persons from outside the 10th Congressional District sign a petition that can affect our very lives.
Who indeed is Kevin Powell?
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