New York Congressional race pits ex-Black Panther vs. Obama-lite moderate

OPINION - There’s a big and bitter Congressional primary race brewing in New York that is typical of the political clashes between black candidates of late...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

There’s a big and bitter Congressional primary race brewing in New York, typical of the political clashes between black candidates of late.  And it’s happening in the 8th Congressional District in Brooklyn.

On the one hand, there is Charles Barron, New York City council member and a former Black Panther who has made controversial statements and, of all things, has been endorsed by David Duke.  More on that later.  And on the other hand, you have Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, the moderate, more establishment-friendly candidate who has the support of the corporate wing of the Democratic party, including a number of white members of the New York delegation such as Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Steve Israel and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

So far, Senator Chuck Schumer isn’t picking a horse in this race.

For those who don’t know New York: the district was redrawn with much of the territory of the former 10th Congressional district to form a new district that encompasses sections of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.  Primarily a black and Latino district, it includes some of Brooklyn’s poorest communities. But it also includes white and conservative Jewish communities that the two candidates must compete in for support.  Rep. Edolphus Towns, the incumbent, is retiring, while Nadler, who represented the old 8th district, is running in the new 10th district.

Barron is a politician with a social activist background, who is perceived by his constituents as fighting for the underdog on local issues facing black, poor and working people.  Consequently, he has received the support of the city’s largest public employees union, and Rep. Towns.  Over the years, Barron has drawn attention from comments he has made, including calling Muammar Gadhafi a hero, and African dictator Robert Mugabe a freedom fighter.

He called Thomas Jefferson a pedophile, vowed to never salute the U.S. flag, and once said he wanted to slap “the closest white person.”  And he angered Jewish leaders for calling Israel a terrorist state, and calling Gaza “a virtual death camp, the same kind of conditions the Nazis imposed on the Jews.”

“Sometimes my being assertive and speaking truth to power become reduced to controversial and defiant,” Barron said.  “I raise contradictions when I feel people who have suffered cause suffering to other people,” he added.

Now, the Israeli policy of occupation towards the Palestinian people is fair game, and there are many well-meaning people of conviction who criticize that nation’s government.  Further, black people who have known suffering might have something to add to the discussion of international human rights and problems in the Mideast.  But there is a problem when an African-American candidate with a black nationalist background receives praise and an endorsement from David Duke, a white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“In a race for Congress between an anti-Zionist black activist and a black activist who is a bought and paid for Zionist Uncle Tom, I’ll take the anti-Zionist any day,” Duke said in his confounding endorsement.

And yet, Barron is gaining momentum, because of his community ties, which resonates with his black voter base far more than Israel and other issues.

Meanwhile, Jeffries — who has raised more money, for what it’s worth — is known for building bridges across the political divide and reforms to the criminal justice system.  “Now is the time, given all that’s happening down in Washington, for serious legislators to go down to congress and execute upon the business of the people and put aside partisan bickering,” said Jeffries.

Barron has criticized his opponent for his support from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association while opposing the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” racial profiling policy, and for playing up the Israel issue for political gain.