5:12 pm Jun. 26, 2012
Gentrification has brought some change to Bed-Stuy, the heart of the congressional district in which Councilman Charles Barron is running in today's primary against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. But the area is still suffering from a variety of very serious problems that the winner will have to attempt to address: poverty, crime, unemployment.
These are the circumstances that argue for a candidate capable of expressing anger at the establishment that has done so little to ameliorate the situation, but also for a candidate capable of playing the political game skillfully enough to do something about it.
As Ben Smith points out, Barron has shown himself more than capable of fulfilling the former function, but he has almost gone out of his way to raise doubts about his interest in the latter.
It's actually been a staple of Barron's routine since well before this congressional bid that the system is biased against him and, by extension, his constituents. For example, he has in the past pointed out to me, correctly, that his Council district has fared poorly in terms of the discretionary funding it receives from the city, despite its profound needs.
But of course there is a connection between Barron's principled refusal to play ball with political leaders and the fact that those leaders then opt to dole out goodies to officials they can actually work with. Barron doesn't compromise, and he also doesn't bring home the bacon.
Jeffries, for better or worse, is in this sense Barron's opposite. He is absolutely the candidate of the Democratic establishment, with the backing of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez. (Barron says they're Jeffries' "daddies," and he doesn't mean it as a compliment.)
It's not news to many people in the heart of the district that Barron says things, and believes things, that place him on the political margins. The question they're answering today is whether they believe the district can afford to reside there, too.