10:33 am Jun. 26, 20121
When I emerged from the subway station at Nostrand and Fulton yesterday afternoon, I heard two men yelling about Charles Barron.
One had a bullhorn and was standing in front of a bodega plastered with Barron posters.
Another man stood across the street handing out fliers. He had a beard and a bright yellow shirt. Occasionally, he'd say, "We ain't electing no more spineless niggas."
I asked him how people responded to the message.
"It depends on their politics. People who, you know, have a very assertive personality, they like it. Those who are like mice, they don't. Here you go my brother, Charles Barron for Congress," he said, handing the flier to a passerby before returning to me.
"Some people have the character of mice and some have the character of lions," he said. "The lions like it."
He and the other volunteers stayed out there for another three hours.
Barron, an insurgent Democratic councilman, is running for retiring incumbent Ed Towns' congressional seat against Assembly Hakeem Jeffries, who has the backing of the governor, the Brooklyn Democratic organization, the Brooklyn reformers and The New York Times. Barron has some labor support, and Towns, and his volunteers.
Barron's campaign is run out of Sistas' Place, a restaurant on Nostrand Avenue, the biggest establishment on the block. Soft-jazz music wafted outside as campaign workers dressed in yellow politely but firmly told reporters they were not welcome inside.
The campaign website lists a different location as its official contact address: 394 Putnam Avenue, about half a block away, on a street lined with brownstone houses in varying degrees of restoration. (One had two wooden African masks on the front door. Another, across the street, had plywood covering every window.)
There's a large tree near 394 Putnam, covering the sidewalk in shade. Nearly every window in the house had a Barron sign in it. Nobody answered the door when I knocked and rang the bell.
In front of the house, I came across Tanisha Bell, 39, a dental biller who lives on the block and grew up in the neighborhood. She was talking to her sister, Keisha Bell, 43, who works in finance and has moved away, to Westchester.
They were both familiar with the congressional primary.
Keisha said if she still lived in the neighborhood, she'd probably vote for Hakeem Jeffries.
I asked why.
"Um, because Charles Barron is a nut," Tanisha answered.
Keisha laughed and said she agreed.
"His message resonates with people who feel like they're on the bottom and they have no voice," Keisha said. "And that's a good thing, for people to feel like they have a voice. But you have to make sure that that voice is telling you the reality."
Tanisha said Barron, "takes advantage of some of the things that go on in the neighborhood."
Both pointed to a recent protest Barron organized against the police after officers shot and killed an unarmed woman nearby. The sisters noted that the woman was not as innocent as Barron's rhetoric at the protest made it appear.
"You carjacked somebody," said Keisha.
Her sister added that the victim was "out on bail for attempted murder."
According to the Times, the 23-year-old victim who stole the car "at gunpoint" and "had an extensive criminal record" was out on bail for "kidnapping, attempted murder, possession of a loaded weapon and burglary."
Tanisha said the protest "wasn't the right thing and this was illustrative of him latching onto a lot of stuff that may or may not be appropriate."
The sisters don't disagree with some of Barron's criticisms: Police use excessive force, and the economic disadvantages of their neighborhood are due, in part, to race.
"But what bothers me is, he is one of those black leaders who does a disservice to black people because he blames everything on race," Keisha said. "And that woman who got killed is just a microcosm of that. Saying it was because of her race that she got shot down in the street, instead of [noting she had a] criminal record, and [was] in the act of committing a crime."
Keisha said Barron's "linear thinking does resonate with people" similar to "Tea Partiers' message about President Obama."
I walked by the restaurant on Nostrand and spoke to an older African-American woman who lived on the block but didn't want to speak on the record.
She said she noticed Hakeem Jeffries' campaign office, unlike Barron's, had some white volunteers, which she thought was encouraging.
She said she, too, was a Jeffries supporter, but said she thought the Times' endorsement of Jeffries could backfire, since some voters in the neighborhood would use it as a reason to vote for Barron.
When I asked why, she said that the paper was "the establishment."