On that awful morning when the City Council real estate committee voted to accept the Rudin proposal to gut our hospital and make it into luxury condominiums, we had only one vote in our favor. This was from a handsome, slim, graying African America in a Nehru jacket whose name I learned later, Charles Barron.
That morning I said, “Who is this guy? Why is he doing this – he is from Brooklyn – why is he going against the council?” He even repeated from memory and then read bits of the argument our side had prepared.
I noticed that the chairman was impatient and cut him off several times, but I also sensed this was an oft repeated exchange. Charles Barron was and still is the official City Council contrarian. His will be the only no vote on almost any issue except those that were big when he was a Black Panther back in the eighties (he started with them when he was 18).
However, why I am writing this is because he is running for Congress and according to the Daily News this morning, big money is betting big money to defeat him. Barron even has Representative Jerrold Nadler and Ed Koch against him for his suggestion that after 40 years of occupation and settlement building, Israel are insincere in their willingness to let Palestine become a state; they, Koch and Nadler, call him an “anti Semite” and “racist.”
Barron became the blood enemy of Chris Quinn when he ran against her twice for Speaker and she took away his Chairmanship of the Education Committee. He spoke with pain in his eyes about it that day and told me that “they” had spoken to each of the City Council members on how they needed to vote for Rudin. There was sadness in his demeanor and I said to myself, “this is what happens to a radical when he gets gray hair.”
When I was a kid, we lived on 138nd street between Broadway and Amsterdam and in the summer months it was the main route for Lewisohn Stadium concert-goers coming up from the IRT Broadway subway. Nice Jewish ladies used to give us a quarter to hand out Communist literature and every once and a while the City College students, nearly all Jewish, would have a riot with Communist cause banners and police on horseback – exciting!
In High School, one of the girls in our circle of friends asked if we wanted to go down to Union Square to see the May Day parade. Her father was a Stalinist but her mother was a Trotskyite and they would be marching in separate contingents. We did and that night we all went to Broadway to collect money for Israel in the lobby of the theaters playing A Flag is Born – the story of the birth of Israel.
According to the news, Wall Street has given $700,000 to defeat Barron and he has only $50,000, mostly his own money. Yet he has heart, he has convinced himself he can win, he has about him the aura of victory.
In my brief chat with him standing outside the City Council hearing room,I came to like Charles Barron. Here he was opening old wounds to a complete stranger and revealing the nasty politics of City Council voting.
There is a role for the maverick, the man who has incinerated all his political bridges who knows nobody on the inside will give him a nickel but instead will fund his opponent.
I hope Charles Barron wins a seat in the United States House of Representatives because more and more we will need his one “no” vote.