Turning Up the Heat: A look at Mr. Rip Van Winkle (Al Vann)

The response to yesterday’s column has left me humbled, since I was really trying to make a point, and at the same time, to also atone for a mistake made by publicizing the illness of a friend. I further compounded that mistake by listing her phone number without her permission. Well she has accepted my apology, and she understands that it wasn’t done with any malicious intent. I see now that there are some people who do care about my postings; this was flattering once revealed, thus I have decided to spend the next few weeks turning up the heat, in hope of supplementing the point I was trying to make yesterday. Decisions about my future as a blogger, will be on hold for a while, and during that suspension, I will start naming names and taking no prisoners. However, I do reserve my concerns about this inchoate media-vehicle: political-blogging. I am still troubled.

Right now, I aim to hit my favorite targets: the somnambulant black elected officials of Brooklyn. So I will aim, shoot and duck (maybe). Here goes. Let’s see what the responses will look like. Later this week, I will hopefully tackle a few more controversies, so stay tuned.

Yesterday, New York City councilmember Al Vann, and his sidekick- State Assemblywoman Annette Robinson- held a summit amongst black-elected officials in Brooklyn, to discuss the 11th Congressional district. Their stated concern is that New York City councilmember David Yassky (white/Jewish) could win the seat in the upcoming elections, if all of his three black opponents stay in the race. Then last night, Mr. Van Winkle went on NY1 to debate the issues raised by his actions, against civil rights activist Michael Mayers. I was told that at one point, Al Vann even called his opponent a fool. How uncouth for an elected official. So now its open season on Vann, right here in this column. Let’s see how he and his sycophants handle the heat.

I didn’t see the debate and I am glad I didn’t. Al Vann, aka: Mr. Rip Van Winkle ought to be ashamed of himself. So too his riding-partner Annette Robinson. To even suggest that Yassky shouldn’t run is RACIST to the core. To use demographics to make his case for white exclusion is nothing but reverse racism. To call for blacks to vote along racial lines is tragic. AL Vann is still living in the seventies. Al Van is an anachronism. But there is more to this than meets the naked eye, let Uncle Rocky fill you in folks. Fasten your seatbelts, and buckle in good.

Ideally, people should vote for the candidate best qualified, experienced or befitting of a position. If not, then they should vote for the one with the character, integrity and intellectual development deserving of the post. If not, then maybe the candidate with the best vision for the district. But that is idealism talking. In actuality, people vote for a variety of reasons; race being one. It’s unfortunate but it is true. Some people vote on gender, some vote on looks. Some even vote for far more frivolous reasons. We haven’t evolved to a better place in terms of voting-rationale as yet; let’s hope that one day we do. When that day comes, we will all get better representation. I am sure.

The dishonesty about these arguments being advanced by the Vann–Winkle crew is buried in a dirty lil secret in Brooklyn’s politics: most black elected officials who were born in the USA are xenophobic. They don’t particularly care for political activists who were born in the West Indies, or who came from any Caribbean nation. Especially the ones who are a lil militant about their Caribbean-American nationalism. Especially the ones unafraid to speak out boldly and proudly of their heritage. As I write this, there are 42 district leaders among Brooklyn’s Democrats; not one is from the West Indies. Have you ever heard Vann or his cronies argue for empowerment for West Indians? After all, there are more West Indians living in Brooklyn, than any other ethnic or nationalistic group. Only one Caribbean-American (Earl Williams/40thAD), was born in Panama. Words like, aggressive, pushy, Johnny-come-lately, and such, are used derisively to describe Caribs. Sometimes-when things deteriorate-you may even hear: “coconuts”, “monkey-chasers” and/or “banana-boat people”. The latter terms are usually reserved for use as epithets. Then there is always talk about the jobs Caribs take from Afros.

Before the comment section of Room8 blows up later-once this is posted, let me edify, elaborate and clarify a bit. Whenever issues on immigration are raised in the good old USA, there is a deafening silence amongst Brooklyn’s black electeds who are USA– born. Major Owens has become a slight exception in this regard, and even here the suspicion is that Una Clarke (Jamaica-born) forced Major to re-discover the Caribs, when she challenged him in 2000. Owens was like Christopher Columbus, discovering mas-camps and steel-band yards, during the summer of 2000. Suddenly he was more Trinidadian than Marty Markowitz. He made more promises to the Caribbean-American community, than Kobe Bryant made to his wife after he was busted with that Colorado floozy.

The other notable exception in terms of speaking-out on immigration issues is Charles Barron, who steadfastly speaks up on near everything. But then, Charles-despite his flaws- is cut from a different cloth, and this is why he is so much more popular than the others. He continually demonstrates that he has some “balls”. He speaks out on all issues of concern; sometimes he even speaks too much. When he learns to shut his mouth at times, he will be even more effective a representative of the people. Similarly, when he learns to demonstrate the same passion fighting for issues concerning ALL races and ethnicities-and not just those afflicting blacks mainly- then will he be fully embraced and respected by all.

When Maurice Gumbs challenged Marty Markowitz for the 20th Senate seat (1986 and 1988), where was Al Vann Winkle and his crew? After all, that district was even blacker than the one they are so concerned about now. In 1982, when the attorney Anthony Agard (Trinidad-born/like Gumbs, Ed Roberts and myself) challenged Rhoda Jacobs for the 42nd Assembly seat, where was Al Vann Winkle and his crew? After all, the district was less than 14% white, with over 75% black, and about two-thirds of the residents being Caribs. And where were they during the subsequent challenges to Ms. Jacobs, from islanders like James Connolly (Caymans), Nick Perry and Victor Trimmel (both Jamaicans-as far as I recollect); and even for the Haitians: Sam Nicolas, Zacary Lareche and Michelle Adolphe?

I knew they wouldn’t be there for me when I challenged Ms. Jacobs in 1998-given my track record attacking them all- and that was fine with me; but where were they when Ed Roberts challenged Rhoda (1992 and 1994)? After all, he supported Vann and company many times over the years. The answer is simple: Al Vann was asleep.

Just like the fable of Rip Van Winkle-a man, who fell asleep somewhere in upstate New York, for about 20 years or so-Al Vann, an educator and activist, was elected to the New York State Assembly, with a lot of promise and fanfare in the seventies; he then went upstate to Albany, and fell fast asleep for about the same amount of time as Rip Van Winkle did. Unbeknownst to Al, was the fact that many blacks in Brooklyn, were counting on him to use his so-called expertise in the area of education, to make things better. Their hopes were riding on him, but he didn’t deliver. The quality of public education is still the biggest concern amongst blacks in Brooklyn, long after Vann’s first term. What can he really say about his tenure in Albany, relative to education failures in New York City over the parallel years? Can he say anything? Has he said anything?

He spent more than twenty years in Albany, then woke up one day in 2000 and arrogantly decided that he will transfer to the New York City Council and become the Speaker. He couldn’t even beat out a corrupt felon (Angel Rodriguez) for the support of the Brooklyn delegation. He gave up all that seniority in Albany for what? He didn’t even get to chair a committee when he first came to the council. The only real support and encouragement he got came from Charles Barron, who pushed him for speaker like nobody’s business. And we all know that was a “black-thing”. That was during the latter part of 2001, and by the time 2004/2005 came around Vann didn’t even try again for the speakership, given that Gifford Miller was term-limited out. The rationale for that refusal was that if he had won, then Charles Barron would have become a “king-maker”. This was undesirable to Vann-Winkle, so he never even started, leaving Barron to go out on a limb for another black (Comry) - who not only duped Charles, but also blocked any minority challenger from emerging for Speaker. What a sorry lot. What a twisted web they weave. I will deal with Comry’s “sorry ass”, one of these days, in one of my columns here.

There is so much player-hating going on amongst black-electeds it isn’t even funny. A few weeks ago, the Black-Latino-Asian caucus of the New York City Council held a weekend retreat; there was limited media coverage. I am assuming that the gatekeepers of mass media deemed it a waste of time. It probably was. These 25 rocket-scientists (well, with maybe two or three exceptions), came up with the profound idea that they had to work together, in order to establish a legislative agenda. They also proposed to stick together to impact on some budget items. Wow!! Then they went out and had a grand ball. Party–time!! It took a whole weekend to come up with all this. What a waste of floating protoplasm.

They will never get together as long as there is envy and jealousy in the room. They will never get together as long as most of them have their eyes on higher offices. They will never get together as long as they refuse to recognize the talented ones among them, and support those for leadership positions, not the ones beholding to party-bosses, and/or the cowardly ones engaging in political-fellatio on an everyday basis. They will never come together as long as many refuse to surrender their egos and ambitions, for the betterment of the overall black-Hispanic community.

NY City councilwoman Yvette Clarke once said that Al Vann was a hero to her-while she was growing up in Brooklyn-during the seventies and eighties. She claimed to have hung a poster of Vann in her bedroom. Now, with all this interest in the 11th Congressional, the question becomes this: are these USA-born blacks, intent on stopping Yvette Clarke, given her Caribbean-roots and connections? Who is trying to hang who?

The last time Vann showed up trying to influence or broker some race, it was the same 11th Congressional district (2000). His crew came in trying to stop Una Clarke from challenging Major Owens. Was it because she was Caribbean? You tell me.

If there is one thing we know about Una, is she has “gonads”. Una is no punk. I am sure she has one of those furry things, but she is not one. Those of us, who have gone up against her at some point of time or the other, still grudgingly admire her independence and her guts, no matter how many times she has pissed us off. And believe me when I say she has pissed off many within the West Indian community; especially when she went to work for Pataki, and also when she was cozy with Giuliani. Most of us Caribs don’t like Republicans too tough. Also, some of her reflexive utterings have disturbed some of us; so too some of her decisions. Una commands ambiguous feelings within her community, but at the end of the night, you will hear most Caribs say; “she one ah we”. In some corners, she is a hero; in other corners she is still well respected. It’s only in a few pockets of her West Indian community that she isn’t totally liked, but it doesn’t mean that they won’t vote for her or her daughter (Yvette) in a heart beat. She and her mother are perceived as fighters; just like Charles Barron is, in some pockets of his African-American community. People in politics (and voters too) like fighters, or people they perceive as fighting for them or “a / the cause”.

So, is it because Yvette Clarke has been leading in the early polls that all this activity is taking place? Or is it not the Carib factor? The Vann-Winkle crew members are suggesting that it is all because they don’t want to see blacks lose a seat in Congress, especially when the number is already less than 10% of the total congressional membership. Should we give them the benefit of the doubt relative to their true motives?

Well, let’s go further. The 41st AD and the 59thAD (formerly 39th), have had black populations over the 40 percentile for decades, this somnambulant Vann-Winkle crew has never supported any organized challenge in these seats. In fact, on their watch they had allowed Senator Babboush (white), to represent an overwhelmingly black district (19th), for 18 years (until1996), even when the senator perennially had the worst attendance and voting record in Albany. Where were they then? Did they organize to defeat him? Where was the talk about black-empowerment? Was it because that district was also heavily Caribbean? Have these people-who are so vocal today-ever supported Caribbean-American political empowerment? You tell me. And if not, why not? Aren’t they now making a case for black-empowerment based on population count? So what about Caribs? Do they matter? All half a million of them in Brooklyn.

Let’s even go further; where were these sleep-walkers when Colin Moore (Guyana) challenged Susan Alter in 1991, for the 35th City Council district (over 75% black)? Nowhere. And what about Nick Perry? Did they support him when he was a perennial runner and loser? You tell me. And don’t forget Ernest Skinner, Ernest Emmanuel, Lola Pouissant, Jean Vernet, Carl Thomas, Abu Abu, Francisco Hall, and the countless other Caribs who ran, or tried to run for office, in virgin Brooklyn territory.

It is said that during the nineties, accommodations were made between black-electeds and the whites who represented majority-black districts. It is also said that there was some fear on the part of black elected officials, of facing down Tony Genovese (who protected Senator Babboush). Cowards and hypocrites, that’s what they are; a bunch of phonies.

What David Yassky’s candidacy has exposed is the weaknesses in the ranks of black-electeds in Brooklyn. There are fissures and cracks, and they will get deeper in time. The narcissistic Afros think that they own Brooklyn because they were born in the good old USA, and as such they hardly encourage political ideas from immigrants. Oh yes, they do march in the 3-million strong, September Labor Day West Indian Parade on Eastern Parkway; but that’s because they know and see the numbers. They do study census tracks. Plus, this is a recent phenomenon anyway.

The beginning of the end for Al Vann’s credibility came when he went against the spirit of the term-limits law, and switched seats with Annette Robinson (2001). This was cynicism to the bone, especially after the people had voted in referendum after referendum, to demonstrate that they absolutely wanted term-limits. It showed that Vann and company had total disdain for the people’s wishes. It showed they had stopped caring and were only concerned about their selfish narrow interests. Furthermore, Vann and Robinson have greedily held on to elected positions of District Leaders, rather than develop some younger talent in preparations for future leadership. It’s all rather shameful.

Some, who have followed his performance in the City Council, claims that Vann has retired on the job. They suggest that he is old and tired and ought to be permanently retired; but he won’t go away. He has become the toothache of true black-empowerment in Brooklyn, and he now shows up to inject his wisdom on the 11th Congressional race. If he thinks he is being helpful, then he is really deluded. To take a few words from Roger Toussaint (TWU/2002): “Al Vann needs to shut the fuck up”.

To further shore up my point about this political chasm between Afros and Caribs, let me take you back to the 42nd AD, and the year 1992. There were two blacks running against Ms. Rhoda Jacobs that year, one was Afro (Clarence Robinson) and the other was Carib (Ed Roberts). Suddenly, after all those years since Agard had run, the county-leader of the Democrats (Clarence Norman) finally shows up, trying to broker a situation whereby only one black would enter the race. Suddenly this seat, the population of which had been overwhelmingly black for ages, was in vogue. He suggested the District Leadership to Roberts, as an alternative/compensation for his withdrawal from the Assembly race, with promises that Robinson will get the support of the black and Latino caucus in Albany, for said seat. Where were they all those years? Noticeably, Norman didn’t offer the Carib, the lead role. The seat wasn’t being brokered out for Caribbean representation, but for an afro-American victory.

Let me state unequivocally here, that Clarence Robinson is a fine gentleman, and was exceptionally qualified for the post. He was a former school board member, whose wife (Mabel/a principal) was as active as he in the community. They both were (and still are) well respected and liked, in their parts of the woods. Roberts was advised by many of us, to take the deal. He didn’t. It was his prerogative. But you see the point, I hope.

When the Caribs (Una Clarke and Maurice Gumbs) ran against Afro-American Carl Andrews, for the City Council (40th) in 1991, in a heavily Caribbean district, the afros supported Carl. Only Major Owens supported Una, and that was as payback for all the years of her sycophancy. When the 20th SD opened up in 2002, did they support Frances Purcell (Grenada) for the vacancy? Especially after she had done so well as a rookie-runner in 2001. Nope; they went with Carl Andrews again, in another district laden with Caribs.

Let’s go farther. When Kevin Parker in 2002 ran against the Carib Omar Boucher, for the then newly created 21stSenatorial seat- doing this after the consensus process failed to yield him the winner- why didn’t the Vann Winkle crew pressure Parker to withdraw? Using the same rationale that they are using now, one black candidate would have greatly increased the chances for empowerment. Parker put the seat at risk, just as they are arguing today. And also in 2004, when Wellington Sharpe (Jamaican) challenged Parker, didn’t the afros rally around Parker? They circled the wagons and sniped at Sharpe from all sides. Again, in a district heavily Carib in population.

Let’s go further. The 43rd AD is heavily Caribbean-American, and yet they have never seen fit to support a Carib for even the district leadership there. That leadership position has had so many different male hands on it, well, more so than Paris Hilton’s body, but none Carib. Clarence had it a few times, Carl Andrews too. Then there was Mr. Boone from Medgar-Evers College, and also Moses “Musa’ Moore. Even James Davis had it once (he whipped Boone for it in 2000), and you saw how quickly Clarence chased him outa there.

So here we are today, in the year known as 2006, and Mr. Vann Winkle having been awaken-but now sleepwalking- tries to polarize the district, with a move totally inimical to his stated cause. What was strange about this summit was seeing Major Owens show up as part of the crew. And this is why I really question their motives. I have to wonder if this is a stop Una (oops Yvette) move? And if it isn’t, then they still have to explain their lousy record, as it relates to Caribbean-American empowerment.

By the way, I refuse to duck after taking this shot. As Bob Marley once sang: “who the cap fits, let them wear it”.

Stay tuned.