Councilmember Darlene Mealy(#41): learning from a close political victory; unlike councilmember Dr. Kendall Stewart (#45).
To some elected officials, a win is a win, is a win, is a win: no matter how close. And then they move on to their next term in office, learning very little from victory and arrogantly paying no heed to the warning signs. Ostensibly, lame duck councilmember Dr. Kendall Stewart (#45), fell victim to this political mentality recently (more on that later).
It appears however, that NYC council member Darlene Mealy is somewhat different. She recently overcame spirited challenges from former councilwoman Tracey Boyland, Tulani Kinard (endorsed by both Al Sharpton and Charles Barron), and activist Anthony Herbert. For the sake of full disclosure, let me also state that Mrs. Kinard was also endorsed here by yours truly. I have known both Tulani and her husband (Stan) for many years now, and have worked with them on many political initiatives. They are both educators and activists (political and cultural) who have paid lots of dues in the continuing struggles of colored folks.
When the smoke cleared on election night, Ms. Darlene Mealy had edged out Tracey Boyland in a tight race, securing a victory which was surprising to many in Brownsville and Bedford-Stuyvesant; since she was perceived as one the most vulnerable incumbents in Brooklyn.
Mealy had brought in a heavy-hitter from up north (Jerry Williams), to run the campaign operation in this election cycle. Jerry Williams is a guy who has been winning political races since back in the days when he was a CUNY student. He comes out of that Roberto Ramirez, Ed Roberts, Dave Miller, Gary Tilzer, Tony Clouden crowd, back in the nostalgic day when afro-haired dashiki-wearing students were politically active on most CUNY campuses.
As black political operatives go, Mr. Williams is well known in political circles, having been involved in winning campaigns all over the state. What he picked up on the campaign trail was that the councilmember’s image had taken a beating during her first term in office. After the narrow victory, he stayed on as a political adviser to the councilwoman with the aim of making her an even more effective council member. It is obvious that between Williams and Mealy, they are very serious about their joint objective here. Ms. Mealy’s intention is to become a more effective politician and elected official.
In recent weeks, council woman Darlene Mealy has been reorganizing her staff, in preparation for her new four-year term in office, beginning 1st January, 2010. She is presently accepting resumes for potential staffers, and has reached out to elected officials, professionals, activists and the like, as she ambitiously moves to improve on her rookie tenure in office. Send in your resumes folks; she is still looking for new staffers as far as I know.
Ms. Mealy will be the first person to tell you that she didn’t come from a political background before being elected to the council. She wasn’t some elected official’s “chief of staff” -or even a low level staffer in an elected’s circle- who had been prepped to hold office. She came from grassroots organizing and community activism. She has a background in church outreach, youth development and block associations. She says that this political deficiency was a slight hindrance during her early years in office, but as time as gone by she is much better prepared now, to deal with the many day to day challenges entailed in her job. She is a committed public servant who has many ideas for improving the quality of life for residents of her district and this city. She seems to be genuine in her words. She appears to be committed to serving her constituents at a high quality. She is putting a lot of time and energy into her job. She is confident that at the end of the night and day, she will be seen as an effective elected official.
Relative to Dr. Kendall Stewart, word on the street is that he took his recent political losses to Jumanee Williams very hard. He recently had a heart attack while working in his Manhattan council office, which necessitated triple bypass surgery. He is now recuperating at home, and might be on his way out of politics. Let me use this column to wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Stewart is still the district leader (Dem) of the 58th Assembly district however, but it is expected that he will be challenged for that spot next year (Terry Hinds?). Ironically, at the same time, Stewart is being mentioned in some political circles as a possible challenger to Senator Kevin Parker (#21). I don’t think this will happen though, since Kendall’s good friend and political ally Wellington Sharpe, has already declared to challenge Parker, no matter what the outcome of Parker’s upcoming assault trial brings.
Back in 2001 when Stewart was first elected to the council, he appeared to be a cocky individual who felt invincible. After his faux pas about Haitian-Americans and their living standards etcetera, many of us (friends) warned him that he could be in political trouble. He ignored us all. Then he made more mistakes along the way, like supporting Pataki over Carl McCall for governor of New York State. He later made some other questionable endorsements along the way.
In 2003 he was challenged by three people, and only squeaked home ahead of journalist Sam Taitt. In 2005 he faced Taitt in a one on one and again squeaked home by about 200 votes. Then the whole scandal of his two staffers misappropriating city council funds blew up. After the indictments came down, some of us told Kendall that he has a lot of damage control to do. He appeared to be unperturbed.
Then last year he challenged Kevin Parker for the senate seat (#21) and only got about 14 percent of the total vote. It was an embarrassing and resounding defeat, serving as a portent of things to come in this year’s primary. And yet, whenever I encountered Kendall he was supremely confident that his victory was assured; it never ceased to amaze me.
On Labor Day, I remember telling both his wife and his chief of staff that he is in trouble -as they marched up Eastern Parkway in the city’s largest parade. They both seemed to agree; but not him. To Kendall, the crowded field guaranteed his re-election. He also totally underestimated the chances of Jumanee Williams in the primary, even after Jumanee had racked up endorsement after endorsement from unions, activists, prominent political organizations, newspapers and the like. I still don’t think Kendall has the number of the truck that hit him.
Then he decided to actively campaign in the general election (November) on the Independence Party line. He got over 3000 votes (not bad at all), but was still creamed by Jumanee by almost 5 to 1. Kendall ran a hard campaign, but it was too much, too little, too late. He had failed to read the tea leaves over the years. What a pity.
The bigger point to all this is that it is wiser to glean lessons from political victories, instead of waiting to learn from the eventual inevitable loss.
Stay tuned-in folks.