Sharpton says Brooklyn congressional district needs an African-American Rep

Paint it black
Sharpton says Brooklyn congressional district needs an African-American rep
By REV. AL SHARPTON

Over the last weeks, much has been made about the African-American community's uproar over the race for the 11th Congressional District in Brooklyn. A City Council member, David Yassky, is one of four candidates running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Major Owens, who is retiring. Yassky, unlike his opponents or Rep. Owens, is white. The district, which includes Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush and Park Slope, is roughly 60% black.Despite some commentary to the contrary, it's crucial to note that our opposition to this candidacy is not borne out of personal disdain or reverse racism, but out of concern over the meager number of political offices that African-American, Latinos and Asians hold throughout New York — and a desire to hold onto as many posts as we can, lest our voice becomes even more marginalized.

To that end, I have made an appeal to the three black candidates in the race – State Sen. Carl Andrews, City Councilwoman Yvette Clarke and Chris Owens – to unite around a consensus candidate. I would hope that people could put their egos and personal ambitions aside for the empowerment of the people of the district.

The issue here is not whether the white candidate is good or bad. The issue is not whether he has the right to run. Nor is it whether he has exploited the fact that three black candidates could potentially split the black vote and send him to Washington. The issue, according to most African-American, Latino and Asian leaders, is that we cannot afford to lose another political seat when the lack of racially proportional representation in this city and state already bucks an encouraging trend throughout many urban landscapes around the country.

New York is known as the melting pot of the world, but that melting pot includes too few minority ingredients when it comes to our elected political leadership.

According to the 2004 American Community Survey performed by the U.S. Census, New York City is 44.9% white and 27% black. Yet: nThe New York City Council is more than half white.

nNearly all major office holders across the state — including the governor, New York City's mayor, the New York City Council speaker, state controller, both U.S. senators, Assembly speaker and senate majority leader — are white.

nNew York has never elected an African-American or Latino governor or senator, and in New York City's 200-plus-year history, an African-American has held the keys to City Hall for all off 1,460 days.

If a white candidate were to win the 11th District seat, the city's congressional delegation, which is now 31% black – roughly in line with the African-American population – would contract to 23% black. And the combined percentage of African-Americans and Latinos in the delegation would contract to just 38%. That's going backward, not forward.

Meanwhile, other cities and states have elected African-Americans and Latinos to an assortment of high-profile governmental positions. Last year, Antonio Villaraigosa became Los Angeles' first Latino mayor. Virginia has sent a black governor to the statehouse, and Illinois has twice sent an African-American to the U.S. Senate.

More than 40 years ago, Congress rightfully recognized that though African-Americans, Latinos and Asians had been granted the “right” to vote for decades, there was still rampant discrimination resulting in disenfranchisement for many in our community. Seeing the still-widespread white aversion to voting for African-American candidates, Washington redrew Congressional District lines to create more black-majority districts. One of those districts, once the 12th and now the 11th, encompasses Central Brooklyn.

Again, our problem is not with a single white candidate. If true racial equality existed within the confines of governmental representation, I and others among the African-American and Latino leadership might even consider a candidate in the 11th regardless of race.

Isn't it ironic that even conservatives scream for proportional representation in Iraq, but oppose proportional representation in New York? The assumption is that we don't have blacks qualified to represent the district that they are the majority of, or to govern the city that they inhabit.

Until we achieve that goal of equality, we must fight every day not only to increase our representation, but to hold onto the limited gains we've made until now.

Sharpton is the president of the National Action Network

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2 Responses to Sharpton says Brooklyn congressional district needs an African-American Rep

  1. […] But if the Times chose to ignore all this to focus on race, its not alone. On Friday, the Reverend Al Sharpton urged the three black contenders to unify around one candidate. I would hope that people could put their egos and personal ambitions aside for the empowerment of the people of the district. Sharpton wrote. He said he was not acting out of reverse racism but out of concern over the meager number of political offices that African-American, Latinos and Asians hold throughout New York and a desire to hold onto as many posts as we can, lest our voice becomes even more marginalized. […]

  2. Mandisa says:

    It’s interesting what happens when we ignore other underlying issues. It’s not as if a divide between Carribbean-Americans and African-Americans doesn’t already exist.

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