2002-02-02 / Columnists

From the G-Man

By Gary G. Toms
'Through It All, I Believed In You'

Hey people! This week, Far Rockaway lost one of its major representatives from the political arena, with the death of Assemblywoman Pauline Rhodd-Cummings. The news came as a bit of a shock to me, and I'm sure it did for many others as well. As a form of remembrance, The G-man is dedicating this column to the "Caribbean Queen."

It is well known that over the course of the nearly five years that I have been writing this column, I have not minced words about any given topic. The world of politics, and political representatives, has always been one of my favorite targets. Some would say that I have been merciless and unfair in my attacks against the representatives from the eastern and western section of Rockaway. Moreover, I have been accused of being too critical of Black representatives. If I have, it's because I feel they have to be held accountable and to a higher standard in their relationship with the Black community. The late Assemblywoman was one of those that I would challenge from time to time, and I did so, for the most part, because I truly believed in her.

It was during the early stages of the City Council race that the Assemblywoman and I came face to face for the first time. The Arverne Civic Association had hosted a debate between the candidates for the 31st district: David R. Hooks, Jr., Reverend Henrietta Fullard, Edward Lewis, and the man who would go on to win the election, James Sanders, Jr. During the debate, I was summoned by Cummings to step outside for a brief conversation. I remember thinking, "Oh man, it's on now! She's really going to let me have it for whatever I may have said about her in the past. That's okay. I'm ready. I can take it." Much to my surprise, she was very supportive and informed me that she would welcome a meeting with me anytime to discuss Rockaway issues, her record as a politician, life in general, and the people of the community. The political stalwart that I expected to go toe to toe with that evening was caring and sort of nurturing to me.

"Don't stop writing, whatever you do. You are truly making a difference, even though many people may not tell you that," she stated.

At that moment, it was my gut feeling that she was not being the typical politician. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and I saw truth and sincerity in her eyes when she spoke to me that evening, and I can still hear her words as I write this column.

Our paths would cross again, as I covered one of the last functions she would ever attend. About three or four months ago, she was presented with an award from the Jewish Community Council of The Rockaway Peninsula (JCCRP) by State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. As a show of respect and acknowledgement, I gave her a warm smile and waved my hand as I snapped the last photos that I would ever take of her. She made a brief appearance, and was then escorted from the event by someone who I believe was a family member. After she left, the room buzzed about how she did not look well. I chose to ignore the comments, and I flipped the conversation to the topic of how great she looked in her outfit. Why did I flip the script on them? I did it because I believe there are some things you just don't say, or gossip about, in a public forum.

In the days that followed, I spent a great deal of time thinking about the Assemblywoman, but I could never figure out why. I kept replaying that scene at the debate over and over again in my mind. It made me smile, but more importantly, it made me hopeful that we could somehow work together, on different levels, to make Far Rockaway a better place for those less fortunate.

I know she can hear me now, and I want to say something publicly to honor her memory. While the debate will forever rage about what she did or did not do for Rockaway, the fact of the matter is she probably did the best she could with what she had. That's all you can ask for. There is no way of knowing how any of us would perform in her position. Lord knows it could not have been easy, especially as an Afro-Caribbean woman.

Politics is all about the art of the deal, and I'm sure she made a few to "bring home the bacon" for the Rockaway community. All "pollys" make deals, and she should not be singled out for following the typical protocol practiced by her male counter-parts and/or colleagues. No matter how you cut it, the bottom line is…she tried.

Yes, she was the victim of my literary wrath from time to time, but it was never personal. Truth be told, I was in total awe and admiration of her, and in her ability to become such a staunch figure within the political structure.

The State Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, said it best in a press release issued shortly after her death.

"As the first woman of Caribbean descent ever elected to the state Assembly, Pauline Rhodd-Cummings was known among her colleagues as a warm and gracious individual."

When all is said and done, you must put the sometimes-dirty world of politics to the side, and face the fact that we are still human beings who deserve dignity and respect in death. With that said, I salute you Assemblywoman.

Pauline, I'm sorry we never got the opportunity to have that long-awaited conversation. I would've loved nothing more than to kick back, open up two big bottles of ginger beer, and chat up a storm about the civil rights movement, Calypso music and this great place called Rockaway. May your soul rest in peace, now and always.

See you next week.

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