“Sounds like a suicide mission.”
This was a common refrain I heard from most of Brooklyn’s political establishment when I ran as an insurgent for Congress earlier this year against Rep. Yvette Clarke. Yet in the June Democratic primary, I captured nearly 48% of the vote. The election foreshadowed the impending demise of the establishment’s broken political culture that is wildly out of step with the will and needs of the people. With the defeat of State Senators Martin Dilan and former IDC member Jesse Hamilton by insurgents last Thursday, there is no doubt we are sprinting toward a brave realignment of politics in Brooklyn.
For decades, Brooklyn’s political scene has been dominated by a series of warring fiefdoms spawned from family legacies or clubhouse insiders jockeying for influence from moneyed entities or out of sheer pettiness. Various houses like the Dilans of Bushwick, the Boylands of Brownsville, and the Clarkes of Flatbush once controlled their respective terrains with an almost imperial authority.
Using ‘divide and conquer’ tactics, they often appealed to ethnic ties and name recognition to maintain their grasp of power while neglecting to serve the public interest. This atmosphere gave oxygen to not only a false sense of electoral invincibility for most of the establishment, but also to the cynical political arrangements (i.e. IDC) that were a great detriment to working families throughout the borough. It’s an environment that could give life to Sen. Dilan’s absurd coziness with real estate interests and Rep. Clarke’s complete indifference to the basic duties of her job.
Now, we are at the advent of what could be a truly progressive and inclusive era in Brooklyn politics, initiated by a new generation of Brooklynites who see public service as actually doing the people’s business rather than clinging to a status conferred by public office. We still have a long way to go before we create a political culture that no longer takes the electorate for granted. But the recent Democratic primaries prove that reformers who challenge the status quo may not be wearing suicide vests after all.
“In The Trenches” is a bi-weekly column by Adem Bunkeddeko on politics, policy, culture, and occasionally – the random. A Crown Heights perspective.