Good Bye And Good Luck

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries “(Cassius to Brutus, Julius Caesar)

So this is it!  My last commentary on Brooklyn Politics.

Somewhat later than scheduled.

I received many comments on Room8NY and through the e-mail. Surprisingly, none were nasty or sarcastic. Shockingly, no one said Good Riddance. At least not so far.

As a result, I had  put together a grace-note that conveyed expressions of pleasure, satisfaction, congratulations, optimism, and all the usual blend of  truth and  falsehood which accompanies moving on.  But I choked on it for several days.

Until the DA’s office provided the sign that I needed.

So at the end,  instead of being euphemistic,  I will follow my policy of trying to tell the truth.  Of  course, not the absolute truth, since there is no such thing.

Just the truth as I see it and believe it to be.  Unlike Abraham Lincoln, I am quite capable of telling a lie. But it won’t be here!!

The truth sets us free. It gives us human beings the room to admit wrong, to regret,  to apologize, and then to change and move forward.  It permits us to stop pretending we are something different from what we really are, and then to become what we would really like to be. That‘s how truth, as painful as it is, ultimately sets us free.  Freedom needs that firm foundation.  It cannot be built on lies, dishonesty, deceit, greed, betrayal, ethnic and racial prejudice and all the other standard pillars of politics.  And it is Truth rather than flattery and deceit which provides that lasting foundation for anything worthwhile that we hope to accomplish.

A familiar visitor to Room8ny recently condemned writers who engage in feeding their ego by constantly writing about themselves.  The critic included me in the list, although, in fairness, he/she seemed to classify me as one of the least of the offenders. My own experience is that a journalist whose statements about a subject or people or communities are credible, usually has had a personal level of engagement.  Any other product is merely a kind of intellectual self- masturbation with questionable value.

People who write about the area where they live or have lived can hardly be expected to exclude their own personal experiences and emotions. They cannot be detached, and philosophical like  those who just drive through or get their information through newspapers and other second-hand sources. Those with boots on the ground in the midst of disaster can seldom disguise the personal feelings of  anger, their disgust, their bitterness, their despair and  outrage. Those emotions are an integral part of their story.  They are bound to emerge…. as witnessed in Anderson Cooper’s  outburst as he stood in the midst of the devastation caused by Katrina.  So I confess to being angry, outraged, bitter, frustrated, and even vicious sometimes. But only towards those who I have identified as being enemies of the community where I have lived.

If I had lived most of my life in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Breezy Point, or Mill Basin, my comments about elected officials would probably have been  mild,  measured, philosophical and objective.  In those areas politicians tend to be more responsive to the basic needs and services of their constituents. But I have lived in the Belly of the Beast.   I spent most of my adult life in an area bound by Fulton Street,  Church Avenue, Washington and Troy.  Almost all of the places where I lived were no more 4 blocks from Nostrand Avenue.  Two of them were just about a block away, and one was actually on Nostrand Avenue.

I have seen up close and personal what a community looks and feels like when elected officials spend their  time doing nothing else but finding ways to enrich themselves, and bribing Senior citizen organizations and other community organization leaders including church ministers to support them at the polls. I have lived in neighborhoods which were falling apart while elected representatives became wealthy, upgraded their cars from economy to luxury, and went from living in apartments or unpretentious houses to owning millions in real estate.

Next.  A subject that is taboo. I have come to the place today where I am prepared to say that the influence of large Christian churches or rather their leaders may be the single most corrupting influence in Central Brooklyn.  Someone applauded Reverend Karim Camara’s candidacy, saying that religious leaders have a history of  being exemplary elected officials.  That person  is completely wrong, and  clearly did not do his homework.  If he has not done so already,  the Reverend Assemblyman Camara of the 43rd AD, who started out as a clergyman will soon make his choice between God and Mammon. Just like Floyd Flake and Adam Clayton Powell did. Like Lloyd Henry did.  And like Father Sam and  Reverend Clarence Norman Sr. did. And that sorry pastor of St Gabriels.  Politics and Religion do not belong together. Besides, it is clear that an elected official will always favor his own church and church members ahead of the general community.  And that is unjust and un-Christian.

Instead of driving greedy businessmen, conniving politicians and ambitious lawyers from their place of worship as their Founding Father did, religious leaders in Central Brooklyn have provided crooked, unproductive elected officials with a safe haven and a solid base of voters. And most religious leaders in Central Brooklyn have permitted elected officials to disrespect their churches and their God during campaign time by allowing them to run in and out during services as though their sanctuaries are public rest-rooms.

There is one church in the middle of Crown Heights which has emerged to  be more of a political clubhouse for lawyers seeking favors and wannabee judges to deposit funds than a spiritual temple.  Reviewing the product of their political involvement, the leaders and members of that church should ask  themselves one day whether they should not hold themselves at least  partially responsible for a decade of corruption in Central Brooklyn.  There should be a Day of Atonement held at that building on Eastern Parkway when the doors and walls should be draped in black, and members should walk out on Eastern Parkway dressed in black holding bibles rather than political posters to be pinned on trees.. After State Senator Vander Beatty was sentenced and jailed about two decades ago, his “irregular” financial dealings with several prominent churches came to life. That should have been a warning sign to religious leaders in Central Brooklyn. Instead, it seemed to serve as a road-map.

But here I go again getting angry, and hateful, and bitter…

What Cassius said to Brutus was correct.   There comes a time in our human lives when there is the unique opportunity to do something meaningful and positive.  So it is in the political life of a community. And it is up to good men and women with lofty ideals, wisdom and vision to recognize that time, and seize the opportunity.  They can be forever acknowledged and blessed for  pursuing the goal of improving the conditions of those whom they represent.  Or they can go down in history as quacks, frauds, and  cheap hustlers whose only  interest was in a comfortable living for themselves, friends, and family.

Today,  Central Brooklyn 2006 stands at the exact  pivotal point where it was  a little more than two decades ago. At that time corruption in the Courts, neglect in the schools, police brutality, inadequate medical facilities, and a myriad of other social problems cried out for  a change in political leadership.  Complete blame for the dismal condition of Central Brooklyn was placed on Democratic Boss Meade Esposito, his god-son Howard Golden, White elected officials who represented Black communities, and  Black elected officials like Woody Lewis, Tom Fortune, and Vander Beatty, who were condemned as the dishonest puppets of White Bosses.

Enter elected officials Al Vann, Roger Green, Major Owens, Frank  Boyland, Clarence Norman.  And their junior non-elected associates,  Annette Robinson, Una Clarke and Carl Andrews.  A basically anti-White organization was formed which was called the Coalition For Community Empowerment.   I refer to it as the Vann Klan(VK).  The Vann Klan promised to eradicate the sale of judgeships and corruption in the Courts. It claimed to believe in Community control of schools, and promised to bring excellence to School Districts which were struggling. The Klan promised to improve Medical facilities, increase affordable housing and support ownership of major businesses by local merchants.  At the same time, it condemned and belittled all those who were not part of their group and was committed to having  VK candidates take over every elected office in Central Brooklyn.  In effect, Paradise was to be created in Central Brooklyn, with its headquarters at  Fulton Street in Bedford/Stuyvesant.  And with Al Vann in control as God.

That was about 24 years ago.  And  here’s the report card of the Vann Klan to  date. Roger Green and Clarence Norman were tried and convicted on felony charges.  Clarence awaits another trial.  Diana Gordon, mentored by Clarence Norman, has been indicted and awaits trial.  Al Vann swapped his Assembly seat for  Annette Robinson’s City Council seat.  In his mid seventies Vann collects welfare-checks while bench-warming in a  do-nothing Council position. The former Senior Assemblyman squandered over 20 years of seniority so that Annette could collect her own welfare-checks in Albany for doing nothing.  Frank Boyland similarly wasted 20 years of seniority to do the same. He transferred  his Assembly seat to his son,  hoping to collect the “Al Vann” welfare check by moving into his daughter Tracy’s Council seat when term limits forced her out. The voters wisely dumped Boyland.

At least one major medical facility in the area has been lost and another is on the chopping block.  Meanwhile among his many business ventures one elected official has reportedly been part of a group selling health service plans in the area and as a silent partner in businesses with government contracts.  And Clarence barely missed going down in a multi-million dollar construction scam at Kings County Hospital.  If I recall correctly, District Attorney Hynes’ office once reported that within a few years Clarence Norman’s assets had risen from $40,000 to about $4,000,000...as in 4 million $$$. Another Assemblyman  is rumored to have made a huge fortune working with developers.  Junior VK member Carl Andrews went down in Kings County Court history when he was assigned him 46 receiverships,  created his own Auction company to handle the sale of these  properties.  And meanwhile the incidence of  crime among judges is probably higher than in any job category apart from dope-peddling.

The VK leaders turned out to be frauds and charlatans whose vision was restricted to protecting each other, making $$$$$$ for themselves, and putting their personal friends or relatives in office.  They squandered the support given to them 20 years ago.

Community Control of Schools ended when these (and other)elected officials passed Legislation which terminated community involvement in schools. Parents seeing School Districts worsen under Board members supported by the VK, had  rejected VK control of the schools, and with their patronage reduced, the VK and other elected officials decided that Community Control was not such a great idea after all.

The sale of judgeships and corruption in the Courts reached an unprecedented  level when one of the Klan members became County Leader.  Large, “cheap merchandise” stores on the major thoroughfares of Central Brooklyn gradually put small merchants out of business.  In-between the Crack epidemic had threatened to wipe out an entire generation of youth. Crack-houses flourished within blocks of the offices of VK elected officials, and dope peddlers conducted their business on the sidewalk in front of political clubs run by VK members.  Not a single one of the Van Klan elected officials stepped up to play leadership role in fighting that deadly epidemic.  In fact, not one of them can claim to have played a leadership role in any of the problems that distressed Central Brooklyn during 24 years.

And at the end of two decades Central Brooklyn is no better than what it would have been under Tom Fortune, Vander Beatty, Woody Lewis and White elected officials. In fact, conditions have deteriorated in critical areas.  Joblessness has increased to a dangerous level. The jobless rate among Black and Latino males has been cited at above 40%.  At the same time affordable Housing of any kind has virtually disappeared. Few local residents can afford to purchase homes that begin around $350,000 or pay rents that begin at close to $1000 per month.  

Clearly the time had come for a new cycle and completely new leadership in Central Brooklyn.  The voice of the voters clearly cries out for it. The Boyland Royal family is now on the verge of extinction after several painful defeats. Al Vann and Annette Robinson were rejected last year when they were leaders in a race-based campaign to make John Sampson the District Attorney.  They were again rejected this year in their  sneak attempt to put over Carl Andrews by making the Congressional contest in the 11th a racial referendum.  Roger Green is out off office and will probably be seeking employment at the Ratner Corporation. Musa Moore, Clarence’s appointee who succeeded him as District Leader was rejected by the voters of the 43rd in the unusual defeat of an incumbent.

Carl Andrews, was backed by Elliot Spitzer who will probably become Governor with the most overwhelming victory in New York State history.   Spitzer had made Carl’s Congressional candidacy a personal, and prioritized project. Through letters, personal contacts, and advertisement, Spitzer virtually strong-armed Union leaders, elected officials, business men into supporting Carl.  Carl’s deficiencies in dealing with the English language, his inability to discuss concepts at an intellectual level, his vision of  a Congressional position as that of  a campaign worker, his resume as a glorified messenger, his questionable career as a receiver in Surrogate Court, and his role for two decades as Clarence Norman’s assistant, all pointed out to the fact that the man would be an embarrassment and a disaster if elected to Congress.

Future analysts of Carl’s campaign finance report will read  with amazement. They will wonder how  and why the multi-millionaire, and maybe billionaire CEO of Met Foods, Food Town, Western Beef and several other companies would be serving as the treasurer of a candidate who was elected to the State Senate only through nomination. They will be astonished by the amazing number of $5,000 and $2,000 contributions to a Black candidate with a mediocre reputation in 3 years at the State Senate, and who had no prospect of making a meaningful contribution in Congress. I have estimated that including the value of Elliot Spitzer’s endorsement and support, the endorsement and support of the major labor unions, the endorsement and support of  David Dinkins, Bill Thompson, Alan Hevesi, David Paterson,  and numerous other elected officials,  more than 3 million dollars in cash and in-kind support was donated to Carl’s campaign.

Carl had at one time or another been an elected official representing the majority of voters in the 11th Congressional District.  He had been School Board member representing about one third of the 11th CD for 9 years. He had been State Senator representing another large part of the District for 4 years. He had been a District Leader in the 43rd.  So how in the world did Carl Andrews lose?  Carl lost because too many voters in the 11th CD knew him.  In spite of Elliot Spitzer. In spite of the UFT. In spite of  the AFL/CIO.  In spite of David Dinkins, Bill Thompson, Alan Hevesi, David Paterson. In spite of  dozens of Black ministers,  Assemblypersons, State Senators behind him, the voters rejected Carl Andrews because they knew him too well.

The good news is that 5 key players from the old Vann Klann are no longer in office. And as a result of the recent elections several fresh faces have emerged which raises hope for exciting change and improvement.  And I have certainly expressed that optimism.  The bad news is that these results may be an illusion. Removing the rose-tinted glasses, and making a reality-based appraisal,  it is clear  that 2026 could find Central Brooklyn  mired in conditions more horrible than they are today. And that is a true nightmare.

Voters in Central Brooklyn are clearly seeking change.  Although Hakeem, and Eric Adams had the County endorsement, their history is not one of association with club-house politics and that endorsement came only after they were already considered easy winners.  Yvette and Jesse were definitely NOT County candidates. So in theory these four Central Brooklyn representatives should be independent, and servants of the people, not of Vito Lopez and Jeff Feldman.

In an earlier article, Hakeem Jeffries And The Train That Left The Station
posted by maurice gumbs, Sun, 09/24/2006 - 1:11am, Room 8ny.com

After reviewing Hakeem’s background I expressed optimism, and some confidence that as Assemblyman, he would fight for the interest of his community rather than that of developers.  I was criticized for being naïve, and not understanding how the system works in responses like the following:

Hakeem Jeffries
“Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/24/2006 - 10:52am.

The confidence Maurice Gumbs shows in Hakeem Jeffries is amazing, kind, and completely missplaced. Today's Hakeem Jeffries is a slippery, ambitious, arrogant creature who breaks promises, speaks out of both sides of his mouth and goes along with whoever can advance his political future. Talk to him now while you can, between now and December 31st, Maurice. Maybe you'll be lucky. But guaranteed, he won't have time to listen to you after that.”

After two decades of watching the stuff rise in Brooklyn’s sewer,  I am hardly naïve.  And the truth is that if this were a horse race at Belmont, and I had a bankroll of $100 to bet, my investment would be very conservative.  I would wager the minimum of $1.00..as in a single dollar.  And here’s why.

Even the most decent candidates are tempted at some point to compromise their principles by doing something that is expedient and attractive to rather than what they know is right. After all, Adam and Eve who unlike his descendants had no evil in their genes, chose to steal some fruit, hide, and then lie about it. Because of greed, or covetousness or whatever.  So what chance is there that Hakeem, Yvette, Eric, and Jesse will be perfect?

The worst crime for a politician is not being caught lying or stealing or even being indicted.  The unforgivable sin is  LOSING.  Winning an election immediately erases the memory of wrongdoing. Few people(except me) remember or remind Marty Markowitz that he was indicted for felony charges of fraud and larceny, pleaded guilty in Court and was sentenced to pay a fine and perform community service.

Most candidates will do whatever they believe they need to do,  rather than what they know is right in order to get elected.  Sometimes it is telling lies about their achievements or background.  Sometimes it is by lying openly or secretly about their opponents. At other times it is betraying friends, or breaking agreements. And sometimes it is forming coalitions with individuals who have a history of dishonesty and sleaziness.

Ultimately that’s what “ Making a deal with the Devil”  all about.  In Brooklyn,  Satan has long discarded his horns, his tail, and his pitchfork.  And these days, he’s not even Black anymore.  In fact, he‘s really very much a White man and a Republican.   He knows that nobody running for office wants to be called a loser.   And especially if a candidate has lost before, when the deal is offered it is almost impossible to refuse.

The other fact is that we human beings tend to continue to do things that we know are wrong or self-destructive as long as they give us temporary satisfaction or what appears to be success.  And even if the consequences of our wrongdoing cause us a temporary discomfort or set-back we tend to forget quickly, and go on and on until we face complete disaster. It happens with gamblers, drug abusers, thieves, and also with politicians. I speak from personal knowledge.

When candidates first place winning above integrity, they have set foot on the slippery slope downwards and it is difficult to recover from the pull of that evil gravity.

That is why I would place only the minimum wager on Hakeem, Eric, Jesse, and Yvette. They may have made a compact with the Devil which  is difficult to break.

Yvette Clarke raises a special and additional  kind of concern. If betrayal, dishonesty greed and deceit are genetically inherited qualities, there is little hope that Yvette will rise to her potential for greatness.

There is no question that Una Clarke betrayed her mentor and her own  benefactor as well as the benefactor of her family.  She stabbed in the back a man who after having a quintuple by-pass, went out on the stump to carry her to a City Council victory. And then, about to have her political career ended by term limits,  Una suddenly discovered  that the man she admired and worked with for almost 20 years was a failure and a disaster. So she ran against him in one of the most abusive and nasty contests ever witnessed in Brooklyn.

Two years later, Yvette, who grew up as part of Major’s family, and whose career was aided by Major, followed in  the footsteps of her mother‘s betrayal.  Yvette didn’t engage in the lies and slander that her mother flung first against her City Council opponents and later against Major.  But she did practice deceit and double-dealing with candidates in 2004.  And that can be verified by several people involved.

And then there is the Caribbean-American thing.  Unquestionably, Yvette Clarke is now the star of the Caribbean-American community.  I have congratulated and praised her for a plucky performance.  However, those who know the history of  the rise of  political empowerment in the Caribbean American community will hardly list either of these Clarkes as pioneers or even participants.

A string of Caribbean American candidates ran for office between 1982 and 1991.  Their names have generally been forgotten, and I leave it to someone else to do that story.  They were all losers except Nick Perry who lost and lost, and finally fell into a newly created district.  They were all losers, but in running they aroused the interest of the growing Caribbean/American population. They urged this immigrant population to grow where they were planted. They convinced them to become involved in the politics of their own adopted country. They registered new voters. They helped non-citizens to get their citizenship.

A sour ethnocentric past president of Medgar Evers College  and friend of Al Vann used the term “tribalism’ to describe the attempts of Caribbean/Americans to compete in political contests.  And suddenly Una Clarke was sent out by the Vann Klan with that club to beat down Caribbean/Americans.  At meetings to discuss and support Caribbean/American candidates, Una Clarke would enter to announce that these candidates were guilty of tribalism.  “They should stand in line and wait their turn until they were called.”  And Una continued to be the enemy of Caribbean/American political empowerment until 1991. After protesting for a decade that she was not a politician and would never run for office, she threw her hat in the ring and was carried to victory on Major’s back.

And while Caribbean/American candidates continued to run and lose since 1991,  to the best of my knowledge, as City Councilperson Una Clarke never endorsed or worked for a single one of those candidates. And to the best of my knowledge, her daughter Yvette has followed in that pattern.  So as far as this writer is concerned, the only Caribbean/American empowerment the Clarke women have promoted in Central Brooklyn is their own self-empowerment.

Yvette Clarke is a smart, and articulate woman. I was impressed by her performance under pressure and against three strong men, two of them extremely intelligent and articulate. I am convinced that Yvette will be able to hold her own in Washington.

But if the statistics of Yvette’s past were put into a computer, and a request made for a prognosis, there would be no reason to expect an honorable or glorious outcome in the future. That requires Divine Intervention and separation from her mother.

With all this said, it seems the future seems to hold a nightmare. But here’s the flip side.

My dream is that a new group of elected officials in Central Brooklyn will think BIG  instead of SMALL.  It is clear that the old Meade Esposito/Howard Golden/ Jeff Feldman crew is set to take back Brooklyn.  Jeff Feldman has pretty much announced that goal. And because they can no longer select State Supreme judges behind closed doors, they must move quickly to implement strategies which will allow them to regain control of County-wide elections.  This will involve “cherry-picking”  a few Black and Latino elected officials to join with their solid block of White elected officials. 

Brooklyn at its best should be governed by a coalition of Blacks, Whites and Latinos. But that coalition can no longer be controlled and dominated by a small group of White powerbrokers.  And particularly a group that includes at least two Republican Democrats.

And finally, the failure to punish those who have desecrated and dishonored the Kings County Court will continue to trouble me.  If I have any strong belief, it is that the poor, the elderly, the feeble, children, widows and orphans, and those who need help must be protected.  The teachings of every Religion carry  strict sanctions for those who violate this rule.  A society at its best is formed, not for the purpose of exploitation and abuse of the weak by the powerful. On the contrary it is so that those who cannot protect themselves will not be cannibalized.  It is the Courts which provide this essential service in a society.  And when the Courts fail to perform this role, the society is no longer viable or useful.

Fiery preachers love to identify the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha as a divine indictment of homosexual activity.  In reality it is the ultimate example of what happens to a society where strangers, the homeless, the weak, the hungry, the tired can be abused with impunity. I read the attempt to rape the two male strangers not as an expression of sexual lust, but as the eagerness to inflict the ultimate abuse on the men, knowing that there would be no punishment for their crime.

At that point  a God, inclined to giving opportunity to reform made a determination that Sodom had passed the point at which it could be rehabilitated.  God ordered the city to be totally destroyed and cleansed by incandescent volcanic fire and heat.

Kings County Surrogate Court has been the scene of incredible abuse of Widows and Orphans.  There has been similar abuse of  the defenseless in other Courts. The abuse has been clearly revealed, but the perpetrators have not been punished, nor have their wrongful acts been brought to light. If the history of civilization is any example,  Brooklynites should be concerned.  I wouldn’t predict fire and brimstone.

But it’s not out of the question, is it?

On that note.  Good Bye and Good Luck.