2002-08-24 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

The mayor likes the members of the City Council to think that they have something of a say in governing this city. On paper, the city council has some shared powers with the mayor, but, in reality, the council does not have much power at all.

If you do not believe that, look at the latest budget "negotiation" between the mayor and council president Giff Miller. The mayor got exactly what he wanted and the council got virtually nothing of what it really wanted in the final budget.

In fact, the major thing that the council members do is rename streets after people who have died. For that, we pay the members a lot of money.

Another example. Follow the bouncing ball. Joe Addabbo is the head of the council’s Parks Committee. It is a prestigious job. Addabbo represents Rockaway. Rockaway has beaches. The beaches are considered to be parks. Rockaway residents have lots of trouble with the local police precinct because the park rules are very restrictive. One would think that the chair of the Parks Committee could wave his magic wand and get the rules changed so that they would no longer be very restrictive. He cannot do that. The Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe, who is appointed by the mayor, does not want to change the rules. He wants to make them even more restrictive to insure that nobody every gets hurt on the beach and therefore, nobody ever sues the city for having dangerous beaches. Will the rules be changed? Of course not, not in our lifetime and that is because the mayor and the parks commissioner have the power and Joe Addabbo does not.

What brings on this polemic is a city councilman named Charles Barron. Barron is an ex-Black Panther and that should tell you something about his agenda.

Barron sponsored a rally in Washington to demand reparations for "slavery and decades of discrimination."

Barron predicted that at least a million black people would show up at the rally. Officials estimated the crowd at between 2,000 and 3,000.

At that rally, Barron told the mostly-black crowd, "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, ‘you can’t understand this, it’s a black thing,’ and then slap him, just for my mental health."

This, from an elected official.

Can you imagine if a white city councilman had got up in front of a crowd and said, "I want to bring back slavery, and if a black person does not understand why, I’d slap him in the face, just for my mental health."

How long would the white councilman last if he had said that? About as long as it would take Al Sharpton to get to a microphone.

Barron added that, if he did not get reparations, he would storm the treasury department and take the money.

Of course, after Barron’s comments started a firestorm, he backtracked a bit.

Barron said that he was just using "Black hyperbole," and that he knew that white people would not get the joke because "that’s not how white people joke around."

Responding to a question on a radio show, Barron reportedly said, "I think that everybody there knew that (the comment) was what we call improvisation – oratorical improvisation and black hyperbole."

The radio host, who is white, asked Barron is he could make a similar comment about black people.

"No," Barron responded, "because that’s not the way that black people joke around."

We pay this man lots of money to rename streets and vilify white people.

We also pay him to take long trips to Zimbabwe, which is in Africa. There are few streets to rename in Africa, but Barron will soon lead a delegation of 12 council members to the African nation to "get to the truth about President Mugabe’s land-reforms."

I would have to question why a city council member who represents Brooklyn needs to find out much about land reform in Africa.

Jim Sanders, who represents part of Rockaway, has been closely tied to Barron and his reparations movement. I called this week and asked if he were going to Africa, because I wanted to find out how Mugabe’s plan to take land away from white farmers and give it to black farmers related to Rockaway. His representative, Mik Moore, told me that he had not yet made up his mind about the Africa trip, but that Sanders just got back from Israel, where Giff Miller led a delegation to "show support for Israel." I would rather they show support for keeping the planes from flying over Rockaway or support for teenagers who want to surf on Rockaway’s beaches.

Kathleen Brady is a noted historian. In a column that recently appeared in Newsday, she wrote, "Who does our city council serve? Citizens of New York City or foreign countries? Junketeering has long been a staple of politics, another way for our elected officials to run far afield and disgrace themselves… Even as we cater to foreign agendas and special interest groups, Gifford Miller, Charles Barron and their colleagues prove themselves to be poor servants of the people of New York City, the people who need them most."

We all know that Miller and his cohorts, including Sanders, went to Israel because it will translate into Jewish votes come the next election. Likewise, we know that Barron and his cohorts, Sanders included or not, are going to Zimbabwe not to find out about land use issues that translate to New York City, but to look for Black votes in the next election.

Brady is right, however. That is politics as usual, and right now this city needs exemplary politicians if it is to recover from September 11.

What we do not need is racist city council people of any stripe nor globe-trotting representatives who care more for votes than the people who cast them.


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