12:25 pm Dec. 9, 2011
Councilman Charles Barron is about to test the proposition that it is possible to win election to Congress by campaigning against a governor with a 70-percent approval rating.
Talking to me earlier this week about Andrew Cuomo's big overhaul of the state's tax code, Barron said, "It's one of them Ponzi schemes. He is something else. Why would we want to support something that brings less revenues in than the surcharge we had?"
Obviously, Barron, who has announced a primary challenge to longtime congressman Ed Towns and ran for governor last year on the Freedom Party's black-nationalist platform, wasn't ever going to run as an establishment candidate. (He also ran for Towns' seat in 2006, getting 37 percent of the vote in a three-way primary.)
Barron is nominally a Democrat, but he tends to operate on the Council as a one-man caucus. And as Cuomo has become the state's center of political gravity, Barron has consistently inveighed against nearly all of the governor's signature achievements.
Approval ratings change, but there is no public polling information I've seen to suggest that Cuomo-opposition will be any more of a winning proposition in the majority-black 10th congressional district anytime soon than it would be anywhere else.
The governor's once-complicated relationship with minority voters, owing to his run against Carl McCall in 2002, does not appear to be the problem it once was for him. An October Quinnipiac survey found that 70 percent of African-American voters view Cuomo favorably, along with 63 percent of Latino voters. As do 70 percent of voters with an annual income less than $50,000 dollars, which includes most of the people in the 10th. (That's exactly equal to the 70 percent of people who make more than $100,000 who view him favorably, or at least who did before his recent tax overhaul.)
But of course Barron, who considers Robert Mugabe and Muammar Khadafy to be heroic figures, has never been one to base his behavior on polls.
At his campaign announcement, he repeated his criticism of Cuomo for choosing an all-white campaign slate last year, and subsequently told Capital that, while he supports nearly all gay rights, he opposes the legalization of same-sex marriage that the governor helped shepherd through the legislature in June.
On Tuesday morning, despite not being a member of the Council's Finance Committee, Barron attended the committee's meeting, in order to express his displeasure with Cuomo's plan.
On Wednesday night, Barron's wife, Assemblywoman Inez Barron, became one of just two Democrats in the legislature to vote against the changes to the tax code. (The assemblywoman also voted against same-sex marriage.)
The governor's tax bill created a new bracket for the highest earners in New York, which amounts to slightly less than what they had previously paid under the "millionaire's tax" surcharge that Cuomo is allowing to expire. The new code lowers the tax rate for most middle-class families, but still leaves a projected budget deficit of about $2 billion.
"For us, the middle-class break is not going to do anything for middle-class people or poor working-class families, or black and Latino families," Barron said. "Because they're going to raise the tuition for your children, they're going to raise transit fare, your health care is going to be higher, all of that. So you're not getting no break for the middle class. This is a game. It's a scheme and it's nothing but politics. It's theater and it's going to bring pain to our people."
Barron had aggressively championed a millionaire's tax, as had one of his likely opponents, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who voted in favor of the tax overhaul.
Barron has previously criticized Jeffries for helping nominate lieutenant governor Bob Duffy at the Democratic convention, which sealed the all-white statewide slate, and has even called Cuomo one of Jeffries' "two daddies" (the other being Brooklyn Democratic chairman Vito Lopez).
But Jeffries said the tax bill, in particular, and the governor's broader efforts on behalf of minority voters, were likely to be well-received in Brooklyn.
"People in the neighborhoods that I currently represent have strongly supported the extensions of a millionaire's tax and increased progressivity in the tax code," Jeffries told me on Thursday afternoon. "We didn't get everything contained in the Assembly bill, but we have gotten approximately $2 billion in additional revenues, plus a tax cut for working families and middle class New Yorkers. That is a substantial victory."
Jeffries also cited a $50 million commitment the state made to job creation for at-risk inner-city youth, along with $25 million for summer employment, and a commitment to spend 20 percent of the state's $1 billion in new infrastructure money with minority- and female-owned businesses.
"I expect the governor will be credited substantially with having taken a significant step toward fulfilling his promise that he will have an activist urban agenda," said Jeffries. (The governor is set to appear in Brooklyn on Friday afternoon to promote the inner-city employment program.)
And the incumbent, Ed Towns, has specifically cited Cuomo as a validator of his own standing in the district.
"Look at, you know, the only person that the governor gave a high position to, in the minority community in Brooklyn, his last name was Towns," Towns told me last month, referencing his son Daryl's appointment as the state's housing commissioner.
Jeffries said he didn't expect the tax changes to be much of an issue in the congressional race. Barron himself said the vote itself wouldn't be the issue, but rather the rhetoric surrounding it.
"The big issue for me, no matter how they vote, is to raise the contradictions," Barron said. "Don't vote and play politics with the people. Don't vote and say this is a good thing and this is the best we could do, and start running Cuomo's line. So of course I'm going to raise it."