How the Barrons have been shattering narratives for two decades
“The socialist left is on the rise, particularly in neighborhoods where Black and Latino residents are being gentrified out of existence” declared Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Jeffries, the fourth ranking House Democrat (and potential future speaker of the house), represents New York’s 8th Congressional District, which includes predominantly black neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and East New York. He is a fervent critic of New York City’s ascendant socialist left, frequently taking aim at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Justice Democrats, and the Democratic Socialists of America, as they continue to amass power and influence. Jeffries, future Mayor Eric Adams, and their political allies contend that socialism is only appealing to white gentrifiers, and that politicians who champion policies like defunding the police are out of touch with the city’s working class voters. These talking points are echoed by the New York Times and other national news outlets, especially in their post-mortem analysis of the 2021 Democratic Mayoral Primary. Much of this analysis lacks nuance and is overly simplistic.
Overlooked in these narratives are both Charles and Inez Barron, who have formed a socialist dynasty in the working class, predominantly black Brooklyn neighborhoods of East New York, with parts of Brownsville and Canarsie.
For this piece, I will profile one-half of this powerful couple: the self-proclaimed radical and “elected activist”, Charles Barron. I will examine his rise to power, detail his commitment to socialism and Black Power, and describe his appeal while considering his limitations. Lastly, I will look ahead at Barron’s future, while exploring how both Charles and Inez have shattered pervasive narratives around socialism, gentrification, and policing in New York City.
I give you Charles Barron of East New York, Brooklyn
“I will always be: Black. Radical. Revolutionary. I will always be a Socialist. Anti-Capitalist. Anti-Imperialist. I have been to Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, Evo Morales, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, the Black Panther Party – those are my heroes. I wanted to come to you to say ‘that’s who and what I am, and that’s what I will always be.”
Charles Barron stands tall with his commanding personality. He is always clean shaven, with thin white hair at the top of his head. He is charismatic, yet strong. Warm to his opponents, while still firm in his convictions. He leads with a smile, no matter the subject matter. Barron eagerly tells jokes, often poking fun at his colleagues, but not exempting himself from self-deprecation. His charisma and humor are used deftly to disarm folks. When disagreeing or criticizing a colleague, he assures them it is nothing personal, nor a lack of respect. Rather, his outspokenness is a product of his commitment to his values.
Despite his polarizing nature and seniority within New York politics, Barron is often defined to outsiders through cherry picked quotes by media and political adversaries, in an attempt to discredit the appeal and popularity shared by both him and Inez. His statements and policy positions are worth understanding, because they paint an image of the complex, unique individual who has often been a lonely voice at City Hall and in Albany.
“I am not a white man.” Barron refuses to wear a suit and tie, despite dress code requiring such attire in both the city council chamber and statehouse in Albany. Instead he wears his signature button-up Nehru jacket, popular in South Asia, to protest western cultural norms around dressing. He refuses to salute or recite the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of every meeting: “My momma said, ‘never pledge to a lie’. There’s racism in this country, and there’s no freedom and justice for all.” Barron has called Thomas Jefferson, whose statue is on display at City Hall, a “racist pedophile,” urging the Mayor to diversify the artwork in the council chamber: “When our Black and Latino children come here, they should see their heroes, not slave owners.” He is a supporter of reparations for the descendants of slaves, and has sponsored and passed bills in both the council and assembly creating reparations commissions, increasing black history in school curriculum, and renaming streets named after slave owners. However, Barron did not support gay marriage until the mid-2010’s. Barron has also drawn criticism for his fervent support of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, and his atrocious human rights record. Mugabe, despite mercilessly combining violence and fraud to rule for two decades, appealed to Barron because he returned land from colonizing British whites to Black farmers.
He is a vehement critic of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, saying that conditions in the Gaza Strip, as a result of Israel’s blockade, are akin to the holocaust. For these views, he has been branded an anti-semite by his opponents. He has visited the occupied territories multiple times, and, despite criticism for focusing on issues far from East New York, is always eager to connect injustice and oppression on a global scale to the everyday realities faced by his constituents.
Barron has been a consistent and constant critic of capitalism and gentrification, proudly determined to keep his neighborhood Black. When Walmart, notorious for low wages and mistreatment of workers, attempted to move into East New York, Barron decried them as a “roving plantation” – detailing their record of employee exploitation and their damage to local business: “There are no slaves in East New York. We will not be your slave workers.” Walmart never came.
On education, Barron is vocally opposed to charter schools because they divert much needed public funds away from public schools and screen their students for admission. For many children in East New York, public schooling is the only option, so Barron has committed to trying to enhance the general welfare of NYC’s public schools. Barron declared the SHSAT (the entrance exam, and sole barometer to gain admittance to NYC’s specialized high schools) a racist relic of segregation, because the public school system is 67% Black and Latino while, per the DOE, only 9% of students admitted to specialized high schools are Black or Latino.
He has even taken aim at President Obama. Dismayed at his Wall Street bailout, Barron graded the former president’s performance with an “F” while questioning him for not supporting Black Democrat Bill Thompson’s Mayoral bid against Republican Mike Bloomberg in 2009. Barron has lamented that Obama did not do enough for the Black community specifically, and that the landmark Affordable Care Act did not go far enough, as Barron has advocated for single payer healthcare for much of his adult life. He has also consistently criticized “pseudo faux progressive” Bill De Blasio.
While centering class in his political discourse, Barron routinely advocates for more political solidarity amongst Black and Latinos in the city: “It’s our time, we have waited long enough.” Long before the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, which spawned a nationwide reckoning with the role of policing in communities, the Barrons have been advocates for abolishing the police and investing more resources into communities and violence interrupter programs. In their work, the Barrons have looked to address the root problems that lead to crime, like economic anxiety and lack of mental health resources.
Charles and Inez are from a majority black working class neighborhood, with higher rates of crime and poverty. The fact that they still promote these views and have held them for decades does not fit many narratives about who should be in favor of defunding the NYPD.
The Barrons are old school. Unlike many new stars of the socialist left, Charles Barron does not have Twitter (Inez does, but rarely uses it) – instead, they focus more on Facebook, sharing posts and videos regularly, while promoting community events through flyers and word of mouth. Nor are the Barrons adept fundraisers, often winning despite being outraised by their opponents, a rarity in politics. They even lack a full time website, as their campaign website was immediately deactivated once the election was over.
Both Charles and Inez are consistently overlooked by folks outside their neighborhood, but have been remarkably consistent leaders for decades. They have championed some policy positions just recently adopted by the progressive left, in the wake of the Sanders 2016 campaign and Ocasio-Cortez’s triumph in 2018. Reducing the Barrons to a series of soundbites (mostly Charles) is a grave mistake, because it undermines their appeal, accomplishments, and consistency. One must examine their political history, as well as the history of East New York, to understand their unlikely success.
In the early 1960’s, East New York was a homogeneous white community composed of Polish, Irish, Italian, and German immigrants. By 1966, as the liberalism that led to the growth of New York’s middle class in the 40’s and 50’s contracted due to budget shortfalls, almost the entirety of East New York’s white population moved to the suburbs. Many opted to hire arsonists to burn their properties and collect insurance money. The burnt down, now vacant lots became the sites of rampant crime and drug use. By the late 60’s, East New York had transformed into a community that was 85% Black and Latino. The suburban exodus of the white population, which constituted a significant tax base, in conjunction with the prevailing racism of the time, resulted in the abandonment of municipal services in the neighborhood. In the 1970’s, with New York City experiencing its worst austerity crisis in history, conditions throughout the neighborhood only worsened. The 1980’s brought the cocaine epidemic to East New York and devastated working class communities of color, which coincided with crime peaking in the latter half of decade and into the early 90’s, which resulted in New York City eclipsing 2K murders annually. East New York gained a reputation as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city; known as the “killing fields”, exceeding 100 murders a year alone. The 75th police precinct became a haven of drugs, poverty, crime, and corruption. The residents of East New York were victims of a surge in police brutality during the Guliani years, at the behest of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s use of broken windows policing that disproportionately targeted minorities for quality of life offenses. Residents were neglected by their elected officials and deprived of access to many social services that were more widely available in wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. On the outside, East New York was deemed a ghetto composed of low income Blacks and Latinos, but from the inside, the legacy of marginalization was very clear.
Charles Barron grew up in a Lower East Side housing project before he joined the Harlem Branch of the Black Panther Party as a teenager in 1969. With the Panthers, he found his political footing, immersing himself in ideas of African leaders while reckoning with the toll of U.S. Imperialism: “Everybody I was against, America was for”. Barron’s political breakthrough came in the late 70’s, when he met activist Reverend Herbert Daughtry, one of the most influential Black leaders in city history, who chaired the National Black United Front. Barron made a strong first impression, eventually becoming his chief of staff, which provided him invaluable experience and exposure to city politics. In 1983, he moved to East New York, founding a leadership institute with his wife, Inez, where they taught negotiation, team-building, emotional intelligence, and leadership. Barron became an activist and community organizer, while supporting anticolonial movements in Africa and the Middle East. Barron connected these resistances to the everyday realities in his neighborhood back home. Throughout the next decade, Barron emerged as a leader in his community, standing out “because he carried a briefcase while others in the neighborhood brandished “baseball bats’.” In the mid 90’s, Barron furiously rallied his neighbors in opposition to the construction of a wood-burning incinerator. It worked, Barron helped organize the community, and the project was scrapped. A few years later, local city council member Priscilla Wooten approved two development projects in the neighborhood: a natural gas generator and a movie theater. Barron led protests against both projects, believing the community would be better served with a youth center or supermarket. Despite his best efforts, Barron lost. He credits that moment as spurring his decision to seize power from the inside. Soon after, Barron ran for City Council in the 42nd district.
Barron was determined to oust Wooten, his foil in the development battle. Wooten, despite her affiliation with the Democratic Party, supported the right-wing mayor, Republican Mayor Guliani. This was a dark period for Democratic politics throughout the city, as many Democratic elected officials, and large labor unions, once the backbone of the party, openly defected to the Republicans or stayed neutral. Barron accused Wooten of selling out her community. It became a theme of Barron’s politics to suggest other black leaders were “going along to get along”, a premise he resoundingly rejected. Barron made it clear that Black electeds need to prioritize Black people, because widespread appeal has its limitations in helping folks in his community. Barron lacked institutional support, but won the endorsement of David Dinkins, the city’s first Black mayor, who lost his reelection bid to Guliani in 1993, and the Reverend Al Sharpton, a notorious but controversial Civil Rights Activist. Barron intertwined a socialist message with his experiences working and living in the community. He won 40% of the vote, but lost to Wooten. Undeterred, Barron continued his work in East New York, gaining admiration throughout the district for his outspokenness and conviction. Four years later, with Wooten term limited, Barron won easily, energizing the district with his embrace of radical politics.
Barron joined the Council with clear momentum, the only openly socialist lawmaker in the body, he was determined to not compromise his values with anyone. When the Bloomberg administration proposed a $12 million cut to the City University of New York, Barron, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Higher Education, saved $10 million from that proposed cut. Barron, while clearly the radical in the room, won over respect from some of his colleagues, who admired his principled stances against poverty and austerity.
In 2002, Barron invited Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe to speak at City Hall to the council chamber, which most of the council members boycotted. Interestingly, Bill De Blasio, then a relatively unknown council member from Park Slope, did attend. He later expressed regret and apologized.
Barron’s first term might have been his most productive. He was fresh, and while his style is abrasive and unapologetic, he is charismatic and charming with a deep-rooted understanding of policy. Barron lets folks know his opposition is nothing personal, just rooted in principle.
He was re-elected to the council resoundingly in 2005. Barron, not one to be content, in the coming years launched three separate campaigns seeking higher office. In 2006, Barron ran for Congress in New York 8th Congressional District, primarying longtime congressman Ed Towns. Despite being at the apex of his popularity, Barron faced an uphill battle challenging Towns, who had been in office for 24 years at the time. Despite the backing of many local elected officials and labor unions, Barron came within striking distance, narrowly losing 45%-37% in a low turnout primary. Roger Green, a third Democrat, won 15% of the vote. It is plausible that, if Green did not run, Barron could have consolidated the Anti-Towns vote and would have been sent to Washington. Many insurgents experience greater success when primarying an opponent a second time, yet Barron chose not to challenge Towns again in 2008, a decision he may have come to regret.
In 2010, Barron help organize the founding of “The Freedom Party” and ran on their ballot line for Governor of New York in the general election. Barron’s candidacy was in response to Andrew Cuomo’s selection as the Democratic nominee, who headlined an all white slate running on the Democratic Party ballot line, which included other premier positions: two US Senate Seats, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor and State Comptroller. Barron’s Freedom Party was black led, attempting to attract voters to form a coalition of minorities. The party platform centered on wealth redistribution, taxing the rich, reparations, universal Pre-K and tuition free public college, reparations, promoting clean and renewable energy, and ending police brutality. Despite a staunchly progressive platform, Barron faced long odds, as he was running a statewide race against both the Democrat and Republican parties. Unlike many protest vote candidates, Barron was commanding on the debate stage, well versed in a myriad of issues, not simply a one trick pony. He accused the Democratic Party of taking black voters for granted, urging the black community to extract more concessions for their continued consistent support. Barron drew upon the legacy of Andrew’s father, Mario, who had served three terms as New York’s Governor, saying that his father built more prisons than anyone in state history. In particular, Barron hammered Cuomo for embracing budget austerity, which enabled layoffs and reductions in social services that hurt black communities like East New York. Such criticisms would come true of the future Governor, as Cuomo’s austerity measures, like the closing of many public hospitals, deepened the devastation of Covid-19, especially in New York City’s Black and Latino neighborhoods. Despite his best efforts, Barron’s campaign never stood a chance, receiving just 24,560 votes (0.5%) of the nearly 5 million votes cast. Defeat withstanding, Barron’s foreshadowing of Cuomo’s failures should not be discounted.
Back in the Council, Barron, despite his popularity inside his district, struggled to coexist with other members while clashing with the conservative Bloomberg administration. In particular, Barron developed a contentious relationship with new Speaker Christine Quinn, the first woman and openly gay person to hold the position. Quinn represented the Lower West Side, a predominantly white and wealthy district, which was a far cry from Barron’s heavily Black, Latino, and low income East New York. Barron and Quinn never got along, as he was the only member to vote against her speakership candidacy in both 2006 and 2010. Barron wanted to rally members of the council’s BLAC(Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus) to vote for a person of color to become speaker. Barron’s efforts never gained traction and failed. The speaker has great control over allocating discretionary funds to council members for projects within their districts. Quinn’s funding allocations were never uniform, and many of her political allies received generous allocations, despite them residing in wealthier neighborhoods where the need for capital investment was less pronounced. Nonetheless, Quinn retaliated against Barron for his dissent, as he was routinely one of the council members who received the lowest allocation of discretionary funds every year, which further strained their relationship. When Barron tried to oppose Quinn again in 2010, he ran for speaker, after having his requests for other members to run turned down. Barron was humiliated, losing the vote 50-1, the lone vote for Barron being his own. To punish Barron for his lack of unity, Quinn stripped him of his position as chair of the Higher Education Committee. He has charged that Quinn’s actions against him were racist. Despite this, Barron did not amend his values or his flamboyance one bit, but as he was further isolated by his colleagues, his disillusionment grew. He stopped attending BLAC meetings, upset that he was abandoned during his fights with Quinn and that despite having a majority of people of color on the council, white leadership was being appeased. Many members spoke up for Barron privately, but feared retaliation for crossing Quinn.
In 2012, as he was approaching the end of his council term, Barron made one final push for higher office. Ed Towns, the Congressman for New York’s 8th district, whom Barron lost to in 2006, was retiring, setting up an election for his soon-to-be vacant seat. Barron was pitted against state assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries. Jeffries, a corporate lawyer with two advanced degrees, was considered a rising star in Democratic political circles with Obama-like potential as an orator, fundraiser and coalition builder (they even share a birthday). Jeffries, and his ascendant status, would prove to be a very difficult opponent for Barron. The clearest obstacle for Barron was the vast size and varying ethnic and racial composition of the congressional district. While the 8th congressional district did include familiar turf like East New York, Brownsville and Canarsie, it also included whiter neighborhoods, like Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and Marine Park. Many of these neighborhoods in the 8th district also have substantial Jewish populations, which were angered by Barron’s strong opposition to Israel. Ironically, white young professionals in gentrifying neighborhoods, like Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, whom Jeffries now routinely derides for their embrace of democratic socialism, supported his more moderate candidacy overwhelmingly. Jeffries was a prolific fundraiser, raising hundreds of thousands from hedge fund managers, wall street executives, charter school backers, police unions, and real estate developers. Such fundraising tactics are reviled by today’s progressive left, but at the time were commonplace. Jeffries used this to his advantage, outraising Barron 700K to 70K, a significant advantage that hindered Barron’s ability to reach each corner of the district. Perhaps most consequentially, Barron’s past controversial comments on foreign policy, specifically his vocal support of Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, and Fidel Castro, drew great attention to the race. Barron’s path to victory relied upon eking out a close win in a very low turnout primary, sneaking into Congress underneath the nose of the Democratic establishment. Barron, however, could never stay unnoticed, as his controversies, combined with Jeffries’ rising star created a media feeding frenzy, and a fundraising boon for Jeffries, who raised almost half his money from out of state donors. Barron was cast as a pariah, labeled an anti-semite, and branded a lost radical. In spite of all the factors outlined above, Barron gave Jeffries and his supporters a late scare, shocking the political establishment by nabbing the endorsement of Ed Towns, the outgoing congressman, and DC37, the city’s largest public employees union. Many political operatives feared that these two endorsements would propel Barron to a close victory. Quickly and swiftly, an all out assault was launched to stop Barron. In a devastating stretch leading up to the June 26th election, Barron’s momentum was undone. Fifteen days before the election, many prominent elected officials gathered to denounce Barron for his divisive views and endorse Jeffries, including former Mayor Ed Koch and Congressman Jerry Nadler. Jeffries also picked up endorsements from power broker congress members Joe Crowley and Yvette Clarke, who were determined to whip votes for Jeffries and stop Barron at all costs. Powerhouse unions like 1199 SEIU(healthcare workers), 32BJ (service workers), and the Hotel and Trades Council(AFL-CIO) threw their weight behind Jeffries’ bid, giving him access to hundreds of volunteers. In the rarest act of unity, all three of New York City’s major newspapers, The Times, The Daily News, and The Post published editorials endorsing Jeffries. Five days before the primary, David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK, released a video endorsing Barron, praising his anti-Israel views, while disparaging Jeffries with racial epithets. Barron rejected the toxic endorsement, but was humiliated, as the news was seized and circulated by Jeffries. In the closing days, a clear contrast was evident between the outspoken and unapologetic Barron, who expressed little remorse for alienating broad swaths of voters, and Jeffries, who was content to brand Barron as divisive, while presenting himself as a unifier working to ride a diverse coalition to victory. On election day, Barron was trounced, as Jeffries won 72% of the vote, to Barron’s 28%. Jeffries crushed Barron almost everywhere, doing especially well with white, jewish, and gentrifier voters, who were most fearful of Barron’s radicalism and foreign policy. Most devastatingly, in the election district encompassing Bradford Street(AD 60, ED 78), where the Barrons have called home since the early 80’s, Jeffries exceeded Barron’s vote total, 57 to 50. Barron’s failure in this race was the clearest definition of his shortcomings as a candidate, exemplifying the limits his brash style imposed on his candidacy.
Barron, after experiencing many political defeats, never changed his politics nor his style.
Yet there are two sides to his legacy.
Many feel Barron, with his defiant personality and unwillingness to compromise, does more harm than good for his community in East New York. They would point to Barron’s failed runs for higher office, citing that each campaign took away time from serving his constituents, while illustrating that Barron is incapable of attracting a coalition of support outside of his base, particularly alienating white and jewish voters. While Barron attracts and courts the press well, which helps widen his audience and platform, much of the media focuses on Barron’s controversies, largely ignoring his commitment to socialism and progressive policy agenda. When Barron is isolated and retaliated against by the council speaker, not only is his political standing compromised to a degree, but the residents of his district are unfairly punished, oftentimes with lackluster capital funds. If Barron alienates himself, it makes the plight of East New York residents all that much easier to ignore. Some of Barron’s constituents have placed the blame at his feet, deeming him a net negative. If Barron played the game and not his game, he would get along farther.
Yet, even Barron’s harshest critics acknowledge he has delivered tangible results for his community. During his 12 years in the City Council, District 42 built more real affordable housing(“real” is determined by neighborhood income) than any of New York’s 51 other council districts. He helped build two $80 million dollar schools, equipped with computer and science labs, a resounding accomplishment of investment in public education. Most council members are given a few million to allocate to capital projects as they see fit. Many members choose to spread their investment, which, in reality, rarely moves the needle, but keeps the most folks happy. Barron instead chose to allocate his money collectively into a series of parks projects, turning vacant lots into sprawling playgrounds for children. Barron accomplished all this in spite of receiving the least capital budget money from Speaker Quinn, an example of vengeful city politics. Both Charles and Inez, have established a strong reputation for constituent services, the everyday matters that make a material difference in the lives of the district’s residents. On Thanksgiving, the Barron’s spent all day in their office, working with local authorities to help fix a gas leak and bring food to families forced to exit their homes. Moments like that leave lasting goodwill. Most impressive of all, Barron’s district was not gentrified one bit. Many Black residents of Brooklyn who have been displaced by gentrification, have moved to East New York. All the while housing stayed affordable, and both the Black and Hispanic populations grew (at the completion of Barron’s term, East New York was 95% Black or Latino).
While some take issue with Barron’s stubbornness or willingness to double down, many of Barron’s constituents value his consistency coupled with his courage to take on powerful interests. Barron’s bomb throwing resonates with voters, especially when folks feel as if their neighborhood is ignored, neglected and marginalized, as East New York has been for the last half a century. Additionally, his commitment to racial justice, in the form of curbing police brutality and investing heavily in social services, is deeply appealing to a community that is nearly ¾ Black with one of the lowest median incomes in the City. Barron’s presence, not just his longstanding ties to the neighborhood, helped lionize him as a fighter for the community. Reverend Daughtry said, “[Barron] expresses the anger, the frustration, the despair of the people he represents.”
At the conclusion of 2013, both Charles and Inez pulled off a “seat swap” – where Inez ran for Charles’ open City Council seat (due to term limits), won, then vacated her State Assembly seat, allowing Charles to run for Inez’s seat, which he won. The two have been serving in both New York City and Albany for the last 8 years. Charles swapped the City Council, a 51 seat unicameral legislature, tasked with serving as a check on the Mayor, for the State Assembly, a 150 seat body that is part of New York’s bicameral legislature (along with the State Senate), helping to serve as a check on the Governor.
Outside of East New York circles, the Barrons are often referenced for their “seat swapping”, as they are the only husband-wife duo in the state who have achieved such a feat. Together, they have represented both the 42nd City Council district and 60th Assembly district since 2008.
In 2021, with Inez term limited in the City Council, Charles ran for the 42nd district again, making use of a loophole where former Council members can bypass term limits by serving non-consecutively. With Charles aged 70, and Inez 75, this is likely to be the final seat swap in this illustrious dynasty.
Since Charles was last in the City Council, local politics have changed considerably.
Now, there are other Socialists in town.
2018 was the critical inflection point for socialism in New York City politics. The magnetic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stunningly dispatched Queens County Boss Joe Crowley. Julia Salazar, a self described Marxist, won her primary challenge to capture a State Senate seat in North Brooklyn. As outlined in the Introduction, many pundits and media members were eager to downplay the appeal of progressive insurgency, stating that these results were merely the byproduct of gentrifying neighborhoods. Whiter, more upwardly mobile, left leaning residents were moving in, and the political character of the neighborhood was changing. Nothing to see here. “We’re not scared of those nerds”, bravely proclaimed an anonymous political operative in a text to a media source.
A year later, many of those same detractors were validated, while many on the Left became increasingly optimistic about the future. Tiffany Cabán, a public defender backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and Ocasio-Cortez, surged late, coming within 55 votes of becoming Queens’ District Attorney, losing out to establishment-backed Melinda Katz. The borough was essentially split, with two strongholds emerging. Cabán won large margins in gentrifying Western Queens; Katz won Southeast Queens, a stronghold of Black homeowners. The narrative wars around Socialism and gentrification only grew more intense.
The dam broke in 2020. Central Brooklyn, known for its long standing African American and Afro-Carribean population, was the new battleground. Two Black socialists, Jabari Brisport, a public school teacher, and Phara Souffrant Forrest, a nurse, easily defeated two candidates endorsed by old foe Hakeem Jeffries, including his protégé, incumbent Walter Mosley. Jeffries was stunned, as both losses occurred on parts of his Congressional turf. Jeffries openly detests Socialist lawmakers and actively uses his political capital in an attempt to limit their influence, while frequently championing narratives linking socialism to gentrification, and vice versa. Per analysis from Matt Thomas (please check out his Substack, his work is phenomenal) – both Brisport and Souffrant Forrest won the majority of support in election districts where there was a Black majority. A year later, that trend continued. Thomas’ analysis of the City Council District 35 election (which overlaps with Brisport and Souffrant Forrest’s districts), showed that DSA candidate Michael Hollingsworth outperformed Jeffries’ endorsed Crystal Hudson in majority black election districts, but ultimately lost out in white majority ED’s. Such voter patterns contradict many of the “white gentrifier” narratives associated with voters who cast ballots for a socialist candidate.
Hollingsworth, a black tenant organizer, has challenged Jeffries to back up his claims, “I would love some of these people and the congress member to answer this question: Who allowed Black and Latino neighborhoods to become gentrified?” Hollingsworth raises a damning point, citing that Jeffries, who has represented Central Brooklyn at the state and Federal level for over 15 years, has contributed to some of the demographic shifts he now decries. Many on the Left criticize Jeffries and outgoing Council Member Laurie Cumbo (a close ally of Eric Adams) for their friendliness to Real Estate developers and their projects, which have raised the price of the neighborhood housing stock, allowing more upwardly mobile residents to move in, while displacing longtime residents.
Jeffries has been determined to vanquish the Barrons, who have consistently pitted themselves against him, especially on issues of real estate development and charter school expansion. Both Jeffries and Rodneyse Bichotte, Chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, are eager to see them replaced with politicians more friendly to their interests. Bichotte detests the Barrons, who refused to vote for her to become party chair, because they did not want a leader selected by “white power”.
In order to be re-elected to the City Council, Charles had to defeat Nikki Lucas, who enjoyed the support of Jeffries, Bichotte, the Teacher’s Union, Ed Towns and Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley. Jeffries, a master political power broker, made a backroom deal with Wiley, that in exchange for his 1st ranking endorsement, she would support his preferred City Council candidates, Crystal Hudson (District 35) and Nikki Lucas (District 42), as both were running against open socialists, Michael Hollingsworth and Charles Barron. Wiley’s support would be curious otherwise, as both Charles and Inez have been championing for decades many of the violence interrupter programs and police reforms that she touts in her speeches. Lucas, a lifelong resident of Spring Creek Towers, founded the “People First Democratic Club”, a podcast called “Voices of East New York”, in addition to serving on many local boards. Leading up to this election for the past decade, Lucas, along with Christopher Banks, have frequently launched bids to stop the Barron dynasty. While coming up short, they have generated momentum, coalescing voters with Barron fatigue. Lucas boasted a progressive platform, but avoided using socialist rhetoric and language, especially on issues of housing and policing.
Barron prevailed once more, securing 48% of the vote on the first ballot, compared to Lucas’ 37%. After multiple rounds of ranked choice voting, Barron finished with 54% – a convincing, but not dominant victory.
There is evidence that the Barrons’ dynasty is more vulnerable than it ever has been, yet still after 20 years, they have a tremendously loyal constituency.
In a few months, Inez will run for Charles’ seat in the State Assembly (which she used to hold too). As the least polarizing of the two, she should win fairly comfortably. In two years, Charles will be up for re-election, as the City Council will be redistricted.
Charles returns to a City Council vastly different from the one he left. The Barrons will have served the 42nd district through the vastly different administrations of Michael Bloomberg, Bill De Blasio, and Eric Adams.
Barron and Adams are poised to clash. This time though, Barron will be flanked by the most progressive/left leaning City Council in a generation. Two open socialists, Tiffany Cabán and Alexa Aviles will be joining him in the council chamber, as well as many others who are progressive/DSA aligned. Many progressives, will be eager to ally themselves with Barron on reform bills. I can foresee a scenario where members like Sandy Nurse, Rita Joseph, Shahana Hanif, Jennifer Gutiérrez, Lincoln Restler, Mercedes Narcisse, Chi Ossé (all from Brooklyn) will not only work with Barron, but also stand up for him. Other members from Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx, like Kristin Richardson Jordan, Christopher Marte, Julie Won, Felicia Singh, Shekar Krishnan, Pierina Sanchez, Marjorie Velazquez and Amanda Farías could provide support too. Barron is much less likely to be isolated by his colleagues, or targeted for retribution by the next Speaker, likely Carlina Rivera. Rivera, despite pro-real estate tendencies, might lack the mandate or will to censure Barron the way Christine Quinn did.
Charles Barron and Eric Adams have politics antithetical to one another. Barron is a proud socialist, routinely railing against the ills of capitalism. Adams is a former Republican and landlord that owns three properties. Barron wants to abolish the police, Adams was a former cop who rejects any notion of “defund”. Adams receives large donations from Wall Street and both the charter school and real estate industries, all institutions that Barron vociferously decries. Adams is loyal to Bichotte and the Brooklyn Democratic machine, who have been looking to dispatch the Barrons for years. Adams blames gentrification on an influx of white socialists. Barron, a proud socialist for 50 years, blames politicians like Adams for encouraging massive real estate development.
Yet, what remains undeniable, is that the predominantly working class, Black and Latino community of East New York, despite this clear policy opposition, supported both men strongly on June 22nd, as they have for a long time.
What is more remarkable: that Eric Adams handily won a neighborhood that has been represented by Socialists for 20 years? Or that a Socialist won a neighborhood that overwhelmingly voted for Eric Adams?
Both are impressive. While simultaneously being the ultimate repudiation of the notion that politics is ideologically driven.
Context: Election districts are very small cutouts of larger districts. Each City Council district, State Assembly district, State Senate district, Congressional district etc. is made up of many small election districts.
In Barron’s home election district (AD 60, ED 78), Eric Adams won 105/147 votes. Maya Wiley was the next closest, with a meager 16. Throughout East New York, Adams crushed all other candidates. In almost every election district in the neighborhood, Adams won anywhere from 60% to 80% of the vote outright. Adams’ ability to completely shut out Wiley, Garcia and Yang in neighborhoods like East New York, was tantamount to his victory.
In every election district represented by both Charles and Inez, Eric Adams won the most votes.
Maya Wiley’s struggles in neighborhoods like East New York cost her the Mayoralty. That Charles Barron (Socialist), Eric Adams (Moderate), and Bill De Blasio (who did very well in East New York in 2013) all enjoyed sustained electoral success illustrates that there are many ideological paths to winning over voters in the neighborhood. Eric Adams, having been born in Brownsville, related to and courted voters in East New York, in a way Wiley, a wealthier Ditmas Park resident and MSNBC contributor, never could. Since the election, many attribute Wiley’s loss to her leftist ideology, pointing to her strong voter share in the gentrification belt spanning down Queens and Brooklyn, and lack of support elsewhere. Such “analysis” discounts the importance of messaging, and its ability to resonate with voters. De Blasio had the “tale of two cities” – still true to this day. Eric Adams has safe streets, law and order, and protecting black wealth. Charles Barron has positioned himself as a fighter against a broken system that has taken advantage of working class Blacks for too long. Wiley’s message did not resonate with those it needed to for her to win.
And that leaves Barron, right where we began. There is something poetic about him returning to the Council, exactly twenty years later. With the state of New York politics having changed so much, yet with his own personal politics still the same as always. Always loud and proud, Barron belongs in New York City – a place meant to capture his larger than life personality. While still being the most radical in the room, Barron will no longer be a lonely voice at City Hall. He will have allies, even friends. An unfamiliar role.
Barron has witnessed many narratives around socialist policies he has long fought for change over the last 20 years. For much of his career, Barron has been vocally advocating for tuition and debt free college, supporting Palestine, re-allocating NYPD funds to social services, universal childcare, a wealth tax, and single payer healthcare – all of which have become hallmark policies of the American Left. Now in the twilight of his career, Barron, and East New York, are poised to benefit from such a narrative shift.
Some of these changes are no surprise to Barron, who has been shifting narratives his whole life. Withstanding, this consistency should not be overlooked.
Even if you disagree with Barron, the goal of this piece is to tell his story through a lens which can help explain his politics. Charles Barron and his worldview are worth understanding. You should not overlook or underestimate him.
Hakeem Jeffries and his allies will be back to try and vanquish Barron soon.
Until that day comes, make the most of Charles Barron.
Source: Michael Lange
Michael Lange is a writer and political organizer based in New York City