Shirley Chisholm: ‘They will remember a 100-pound woman’

The tiny glittering black woman stood utterly at attention. She wore a suit of stiff brocade that fitted her shoulders so snugly it gave her a faintly military air. There was, in fact, something about her that suggested the Salvation Army. Perhaps it was only her stiff shoulders, or perhaps also her frequent references to the Lord. Then, too, she had a way of drawing herself up even straighter and stiffer in her moments of intensity, looking then totally charged with inspiration, a small quivering ramrod of righteousness.

“I’m here to tell you tonight, yes, I dare to say I’m going to run for the Presidency of the United States of America!” she uttered at the climactic center of her speech. When she said the word “dare,” she fairly squinted with indignation, and, propelled along now by her own anger, she told her audience she was out to prove to the public “that other kinds of people can steer the ship of state besides the white men …”

“Regardless of the outcome,” she continued, more slowly now for emphasis, “they will have to remember that a little 100-pound woman, Shirley Chisholm, shook things up!”

The small and hyper-tense black Congresswoman from Brooklyn was speaking to some 1300 of her supporters in a ballroom of the Americana Hotel three weeks ago. The occasion was the first fund-raising dinner for her Presidential campaign, and she had drawn to it just about everyone of importance in Brooklyn and Manhattan politics, including John Lindsay. A night of glory for her, the dinner raised some $60,000 and demonstrated her considerable drawing power in this city.

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But before another week was out, her still unofficial candidacy would appear to be shaking up Shirley Chisholm every bit as much as it was shaking up the male politicians she so longed to unnerve. For she went at the end of the week to a conference of black elected officials at Washington’s Sheraton-Park Hotel, where she was made to feel only barely welcome. The few female politicians in attendance did react warmly to her, but the black male congressmen, who appeared to be calling all the shots, were almost openly contemptuous of her.

Thursday evening (November 18) a cocktail party for the visiting black politicians was held in a large room in the Rayburn building on Capitol Hill. It was a gathering of black celebrities, who, like their white counterparts at such affairs, basked in the smiles of pretty girls, looked around to see who else of importance was present, and generally gave off that ineffable air of people who have made it and know it. Success seems to break down all philosophical barriers at Washington cocktail parties, and on this evening, at least, success had gathered in the same room black men as disparately oriented as the Nixon and Kennedy officials who showed up at the first Kennedy Center party.

So Robert Lee Grant, the tall, handsome black Republican who was fired last summer from his HUD job for shooting his mouth off against Agnew, stood easily in the same room with General Chaffee James, the black Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense whose job it is to tell the Pentagon’s version of the news to the press. General James was the kind of man who could sound respectably militant on the color question (“I think there are two blacks we can do without, that first one and that only one”) and the next moment sound like General Turgeson on the subject of his son’s 400-plus bombing missions in Vietnam. If you circulated around the room and listened to the talk, you could become quickly disillusioned about the salvific powers of black skin in America­ — that is, if you were white and liberal and secretly convinced that the blacks just had to be better. They had suffered too much at our hands. But there wasn’t much of the halo effect of suffering floating around that room in the Rayburn building. And there was to be a notable absence of halos among conference members during the next two days, an atmospheric condition which you had to be able to sense in order to understand what was really going on between Shirley Chisholm and what has come to be known as the black political caucus.

Omens of Mrs. Chisholm’s problems were evident at the cocktail party. When cornered and asked about her, Congressman Lewis Stokes (the brother of Carl Stokes) shrugged his shoulders, laughed, and uttered mock groans. Congressman William Clay of Missouri said, “Who’s Shirley Chisholm? You don’t represent The Village Voice, you can’t represent The Village Voice!” And he, too, laughed. Mrs. Chisholm was to be dealt with by the cruelest of all insults — she was to be ignored.

She herself soon around at the party looking as if she was having a good time. She was wearing a more functional woolen suit this time, again with the square-shoulders of a Salvation Army uniform. Women approached her in an almost endless stream, some of them just shyly shaking her hand and walking away, the bolder of them saying things like “We have admired you from afar all the time.” A vice-president of the National Council of Negro Women told me Mrs. Chisholm was extremely popular with black women. And for the next two days she did have an extraordinary way of dividing every gathering of blacks quite neatly along strict sexual lines.

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Indeed if there had been a larger proportion of women among the 300-odd blacks who attended the conference that weekend. Mrs Chisholm might have gotten the the endorsement of the black political caucus. As matters stood, however, she was treated to chilly courtesies, being asked to sit on the dais at one luncheon to introduce a speaker, and being given the moderator’s seat on a panel discussion of childhood and early development.

The latter assignment royally peeved her, and she stood up in the first Friday morning session of the conference to let the assembled men know she couldn’t understand why she had been left off the important political panels when she was the only serious Presidential candidate among them.

“For over 21 years this has been a part of my life,” she said, quivering with rage. “They’re always plotting and planning for me, but Almighty God has burned me up… Shirley Chisholm is the highest elected black woman official and, for those of you who don’t know it, the Democratic National Committeewoman from the State of New York. You’d better wake up!”

Her outburst made the evening news and a New York Times headline the next day. It did little to change her status with the black male congressmen.

The conference itself produced little news, and though there were closed discussion sessions, nothing conclusive was decided beyond the vote to hold a black political convention sometime early next year. There were sessions on techniques for designing districts to preserve black Congressional seats, sessions which made the whole black caucus seem like a tardy and futile effort, for it was generally agreed that redistric­ting plans should be ready and presented to the courts by the end of the month, wherever legislatures were gerryman­dering blacks out of their seats. (But one reporter thought even court efforts would yield small gains for blacks, the courts themselves being frequently political provinces.)

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Thus the interesting drama of the conference was the unspoken game of tug-of-war between Shirley Chisholm and the center of the male congressmen’s group, which appeared to be somewhere close to wherever close to wherever the Stokes brothers hung out. Ever since the black Congressional caucus had been meeting with other black politicos and civil rights leaders (a series of meetings, regional and national, which began several weeks ago), reporters had been hearing rumors that the male congressmen had wanted to run Carl Stokes as the black Presidential candidate. But Julian Bond, who had attended some of the meetings, had told people he was for running locally popular blacks in each of their various states. And by Friday night of the Washington conference, Lewis Stokes was to say the same thing.

In any case, Shirley Chisholm had definitely out-maneuvered her male colleagues, spoiling any chances for multiple black candidacies, locally based, and embarrassing them by making the rift between her camp and theirs very public. The whole point of their effort was to bring a solid bloc of united black delegates to the Democratic Convention, to bargain on plat-form issues of importance to their constituents. Perhaps as a result of their efforts, the National Democratic Committee chair­man, Larry O’Brien, had met with Congressman Charles Diggs (the leader of the black Congressional Caucus) and promised him blacks would get 20 per cent of the action in 1972 — whatever that meant. (The 20 per cent was a figure derived from the percentage of blacks who voted for Humphrey in ’68)  O’Brien later made some grand gestures to a group of female leaders (Mrs. Chisholm included), which may mean that by the time he is through dealing with factions, he’ll have promised away a good 200 per cent of “the action” before the convention. (A ‘youth caucus’ is expected to go begging to O’Brien in a few weeks.)

Throughout the conference, Mrs. Chisholm told people she had decided to run in response to the urgings of various individuals and groups. One source, an aide to a powerful New York Democrat, told me he thought she’d decided to run largely because she resented the way the male black leaders had ignored her in their initial efforts to build a national black political caucus. But she had been invited to a large meeting they held in Chicago several weeks ago, and she’d declined the invitation, sending a representative who asked the group to support her candidacy. Imamu Baraka (LeRoi Jones) is reported to have said, in response to this appeal, “Don’t women have race, too?”

When I asked her in Washington who some of the individuals and groups urging her to run were, she got quite indignant.

“I don’t have to reveal my strategy to you!” she snapped. “They’re groups of women, groups of young people, Chicanos. That’s all I want to say.” (She rattled off the same list of groups to a soft-spoken black student reporter.)

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What may really have decided her is something her most trusted political adviser discovered in Brooklyn before she ran for Congress in 1968: there were approximately 3000 more registered females than registered males in the black assembly districts of her Congressional district. Her ad­viser, an old statistician and experienced pol named Wesley Holder, told me he didn’t know whether this kind of sexual demography was the same nationally in black districts — but it may be an educated guess that it is.

There is no question about her appeal to black women. At a reception she held Friday night the weekend of the conference, one man approached her with a warm offer of help for her North Carolina campaign. “My wife is so impressed with you,” he said. He was not alone.

And she can turn on young crowds with her blazing, intense oratory. At the September voter registration rally in Pittsburgh where Lindsay was less than triumphant, she was interrupted by wild cheers and got a hearty standing ovation when she’d finished her talk.

These powers failed to move her black male colleagues, however, and during a reception she held for conference participants Friday evening, she was challenged on her dealings with them. Some of the questions put to her appeared to be drawing blood. She stood, surrounded by the admiring and the curious, answering their question and ultimately taking off into an impromptu speech.

Someone asked her a question about her strained relationship with the black male Congressional leaders.

“This is very, very distressing to me,” she said. “As of this moment the black elected officials have not really come up with their strategy. Meanwhile, people are moving, and the essence is time. This is politics! … In good conscience, I can’t hold back.”

She put in a special word of praise for Ronald Dellums, the freshman congressman from California (he was to make an unsuccessful bid for a Chisholm endorsement in a closed con­ference session later that evening), then she got angry again. Her body quivering, her voice fiercely lowered, she said, “How many of them assembled here do not already have a commitment someplace and still talking about a black thing?” She apparently wanted that to sound like more than a rhetorical question, but she never named a specific conference member who might be committed to another candidate.

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A man asked her whether it wasn’t true that she had been “initially asked to write the black agenda?”

“I don’t care to get involved in those details,” she answered quickly. “I was invited to the big meeting they had out in Illinois, but they knew I couldn’t go because I was in Texas and New Mexico collecting delegate votes … Because I am a woman, because I am black I’ve always had to do that work.”

“Was the caucus involved in your decision?” asked the same man.

“Not involved,” Mrs. Chisholm curtly replied. “Further question,” she said impatiently, turning her head away from the man. Then she appeared to think she ought to expand her answer. “My candidacy first developed from many, many people,” she said, asserting once again that she’d been urged to run by several groups six months ago.

After several additional questions, she warmed to the group and made her impromptu speech. She held her audience spellbound, skillfully alternating the rhythms and tones of her words, at the end looking truly possessed, with her arms drawn in, her eyes shut tight, and her voice deadly serious. She was moving and appealing; her feminism compellingly drew upon the sympathies of her almost solidly black audience, people who knew only too well the cruel pinches of discrimination. But there was a high strain about her, and a constant hint of paranoia. She sounded as if she knew she’d never capture the black caucus and as if this had been a great hope she was having trouble relinquishing.

“I can withstand the abuses, the insults,” she said passionately, “but I’m not gonna let anybody cover me up in a dirt hole.” Then, growing gentler, she said, “My brothers, if you can’t come along with me, I ain’t mad at you. But please, for God’s sake, you know my record. Don’t becloud the picture. Don’t lie!

“When people go out and say, Shirley Chisholm, she may become a captive of the women … and when you hear brothers saying you can’t talk with her, that’s because I’m a different breed of politician. I don’t wheel and deal morning, noon, and night. I am truly unbought and unbossed.”

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“Unbought and Unbossed” is the title of her autobiography. It’s a phrase that does not totally fit her politics. For her trusted ad­viser, Wesley Holder, is on a small scale a very competent political boss. He was borrowed from Brooklyn in 1958 to help J. Raymond Jones and Adam Clayton Powell win a difficult Harlem race. And Holder himself says proudly that “Shirls” makes no major decision without consulting him. Holder handles her Brooklyn office, dealing with most constituent problems and maintaining a policy of non-involvement in local controversies.

There are some indications that Mrs. Chisholm is closely allied with the Lindsay camp, although one certainly couldn’t say that means she has been bought by Lindsay at this point. Lindsay was the chairman of her fund-raising affair at the Americana three weeks ago. And Mrs. Chisholm will, in turn, be a sponsor of a $25-a-head Barry Gottehrer testimonial dinner in mid-­December, which should raise money for Lindsay’s campaign. One Lindsay aide told me that the Mayor’s and Mrs. Chisholm’s organizations in Brooklyn were synonymous. (This aide also spoke highly of Holder, recalling the days during the 1969 mayoral race when Holder would get all the local Lindsay people holed up in his unventilated office, drinking straight bourbon. By the time such meetings were over, said the aide, “I’d agree to everything he said.”)

And Mrs. Chisholm is considered a pragmatist on Capitol Hill. She is reported to be quick­-witted and effective in committee meetings. Mrs. Chisholm made startling news, of course, when she first arrived at Congress and refused her appointment to the House Agriculture Committee. Since then, however, she repor­tedly made her peace with the House leadership. And though she now denies it, it is widely believed on Capitol Hill that she voted for Hale Boggs as majority leader in exchange for an appointment to the House Education and Labor Committee. That vote was done by secret ballot, so even Boggs’s people can’t prove she voted for him, but Washington reporters recall that she didn’t deny it at the time. (In Washington more recently, she angrily told me she had never voted for Boggs.)

Among reporters she is described as a politician who does not do her constituent homework. But she does so much public speaking that such criticism may just be clever speculation. She gets $1500 per speech, and her schedule during the week I followed her fortunes was so packed that her staff told me to interview her between sessions of the conference. (She was always too busy to stop for an interview with The Voice, although she found time for CBS.)

One reporter who is most critical of her — although reluctant to lash out at her in print — is Dick Oliver of the Daily News. In 1969, Oliver was assigned to look into the case of Lance Corporal Ronald V. Johnson, a black Marine who had been convicted for allegedly raping an Okinawan girl. Ultimately Oliver’s investigations got Johnson a new trial and he was acquitted, but along the way, Oliver and Johnson’s supporters found it difficult to get Shirley Chisholm interested in his case — ­though Johnson’s home was in her district.

In the fall of 1969 a Daily News political reporter approached Mrs. Chisholm at a news con­ference to ask her whether she’d seen the stories about Johnson. She told the reporter she was too busy to get involved.

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In early 1970, when Johnson was scheduled to have his second trial, his attorney began to fear he would be hit with a drug charge because the military authorities were so angry with him. The at­torney called Oliver who in turn called Mrs. Chisholm’s office. She was out of town, but her staff did give Oliver permission to say she was upset about Johnson’s predicament. And as Johnson’s case looked better and better, said Oliver, Mrs. Chisholm began to champion it more strongly. “When we needed her, we didn’t have her. But later on, when we didn’t need her, she was there,” Oliver said recently.

Now Mrs. Chisholm is thought of as a staunch defender of blacks in the military. She recently sent one of her aides to Germany to in­vestigate racial problems among American GIs there.

Shirley Chisholm is a mixed bag. She can be calculating and manipulative; she can sacrifice principle to expedience; she can be courageous and moving; she can be hysterical one moment, sharply, dazzling rational the next.

She has announced that she will enter the Florida, North Carolina, and California primaries, the last of which makes no sense for a black who wants to contribute delegates to a black caucus at the convention. Whoever wins the California primary takes all the delegates to the convention; thus California blacks would do better to ride on the slate of a strong black candidate.

At this point, Mrs. Chisholm’s candidacy is obviously troublesome to her black colleagues in Congress. And though reporters find her good copy, they can’t understand why she’s running. It may be sheer ego; it may be her tenacious feminism that has motivated her. But this is the reason I overheard her telling a cluster of black women at the conference: “After this is over, I’ve done my thing for America … This is my legacy for the folks. Somebody has to have the guts to show the others we can do it.” ❖


America Under Threat

The overheated media circus that is the annual State of the Union address isn’t one of those solemn traditions perverted by our current reality-show existence; rather, the whole affair has, for over a century now, been a largely cosmetic exercise in partisan bravado from both the president and the opposing party. Sweeping policies are confidently aired before they can hit the wall of political reality, and much of the speech ends up trafficking in platitudes that are only a marginal reflection of overall strategy.

Tuesday night’s State of the Union was no different — Donald Trump hammered mostly themes of immigration (bad), economic strengthening (good), trade deals (fair), and unity (far-fetched) during an eighty-minute address (third longest, with numbers one and two unsurprisingly held by Bill Clinton) — with the main innovation being that the traditional opposing-party rebuttal has multiplied.

In addition to the standard party up-and-comer Democratic response from Massachusetts representative Joe Kennedy III (yes, those Kennedys), there was an official Spanish-language response from newly elected Virginia delegate Elizabeth Guzmán, plus three unofficial responses: Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and former Maryland representative Donna Edwards, the latter speaking on behalf of the Working Families Party, with California representative Maxine Waters set to follow tonight on BET. As the nation eagerly awaits to see whether a Democratic wave can hit statehouses and Washington, D.C., this fall, the responses offer some clue as to what progressives inside and outside the party mainstream are planning as an alternative to Trumpism.

Joe Kennedy III

Like some of his boldfaced forebears, Kennedy delivered his speech in a halting cadence that lends itself well to heartfelt, soaring rhetoric. With his speech clocking in at about thirteen minutes, Kennedy seemed eager to connect to his listeners emotionally, noting early on that “many have spent the last year anxious, angry, afraid,” followed by a series of single-phrase despondent descriptions of the past year, such as “bullets tearing through our classrooms, concerts, and congregations.” His voice sometimes barely rising above a whisper, Kennedy explained that this isn’t a normal State of the Union response because this hasn’t been a normal year, or presidency, saying, “This administration isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us, they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection.”

Much of the speech was dedicated to the idea that the administration has created a “zero-sum game” that pits different kinds of Americans against one another. To this new era of extreme polarization and political tribalism, the Democratic answer is, apparently, simple: The Democrats “choose both.” Everyone wins, both corporations and workers, coal miners and single moms.

Kennedy closed out his speech by saying that “politicians can be cheered for the promises they make. Our country will be judged by the promises we keep.” The problem is, it’s not entirely clear which promises he’s committed to beyond some broad-strokes understandings. It’s important to have an “economy strong enough to boast record stock prices and brave enough to admit that top CEOs making 300 times their average worker is not right”? All right. So what are the Democrats going to do about it? Raise income taxes? Close the capital gains loophole? Nationalize every company and force the former CEOs to work the factory floor? It’s not clear.

Elizabeth Guzmán

Unsurprisingly, Guzmán rooted her ten-minute response firmly in her own experiences as an immigrant elected during Virginia’s 2017 Democratic wave. As an avatar for the future of the party, the Peruvian American who started off as a poor single mom is a more natural fit than the white, male scion of a dynastic family, and she was comfortable in the role. “My experiences have been a testament to the incredible promise of this nation,” she said.

Yet this promise was the backdrop for a speech that amplified the darker themes touched on in Kennedy’s speech, with a greater tone of urgency and a sense of imminent danger to the American dream she had lived. “[Trump] threatens to drag our nation back to a shameful past, one in which our people were judged not by the quality of their character, but by the color of their skin and by their religious beliefs,” she said, accusing the president of “neglected our most fundamental American values.” Faced with the “presence of patriotic Dreamers” — many Democratic lawmakers invited undocumented immigrants to be their guests of honor — she said, Trump “presented his plan, which would fundamentally change the character of our country.”

The overall theme of Guzmán’s speech was one of looming regression, as the Trump administration tries to return to a time not only of open xenophobia and racial animus, but of robber barons and sharp inequality. She described how he “named a cabinet of multimillionaires who are only worried about using their posts to help the wealthy” and “mortgaged the future of our children” with a Republican tax scam. She ended in a more hopeful tenor, outlining a vague plan by Democrats to create “an additional 10 million high-paying, full-time jobs” for American workers, and exhorting her fellow Democrats to organize, protest, vote, and run for office to produce leaders “with stories like mine.” Mostly, though, the speech landed more as a stark warning about the current direction of the union than a road map for improving it.

Bernie Sanders

As expected, Bernie played all the hits for the fans at home. In a twenty-five-minute address delivered over social media — including a couple of minutes of technical issues during which the broadcast was interrupted — the senatorial socialist railed against wealth inequality and a collapsing social safety net in his characteristic Brooklyn-accented rasp. He pointed out that Trump had touted strong economic numbers during the State of the Union, but that these referred to the stock market and general unemployment rather than the pace of job creation, which had fallen, and wages, which hadn’t increased: “The rich continue to get much richer while millions of American workers are working two or three jobs just to keep their heads above water.”

Like Guzmán, Sanders responded directly to Trump’s words and actions, although in a much more freewheeling manner that seemed at least partially improvised. He fixated on the contrast between Trump’s past statements and his actions, saying he promised “health insurance for everybody with ‘much lower deductibles.’ That is what he promised.… But…he did exactly the opposite”; Sanders also threw a jab at his Republican counterparts, observing that “colleagues standing up and applauding how great it is that millions of Americans are going to lose their health insurance [is] not quite something that I understand.”

Sanders also targeted the Republican tax plan and Trump’s cabinet of “Wall Street billionaires.” As for the Trump administration’s immigration agenda, Sanders called the protection of Dreamers “one of the great moral issues facing our country” and said that a failure to act would be “unspeakable and a moral stain.” In addition, Sanders dedicated a good chunk of time to the things he felt Trump didn’t talk about, including climate change (“No, Mr. Trump, climate change is not a ‘hoax’ ”), campaign finance (“How can a president of the United States in the year 2018 not discuss the disastrous Citizens United?”), and Russian interference in elections (“How do you not talk about that, unless, perhaps, you have a very special relationship with Mr. Putin?”). He then switched gears to his oft-promised political revolution, with the administration’s sins prompting “a revitalization of American democracy with more and more people standing up and fighting back.” In all, it was a classic Bernie speech, red meat that will be read by fans as speaking refreshing truth to power, and by detractors as tired, useless proselytizing.

Donna Edwards

This was the response that hewed closest to a personal campaign speech, with Edwards introducing herself by making clear that she’s running for county executive in Maryland’s Prince George’s County. The Working Families Party’s purpose, in part, is to drag the Democratic Party, kicking and screaming, to the left, and her roughly twelve-minute address showcased that objective.

Much of Edwards’s speech came across as a less restrained Democratic response, leading with how the administration is “run by and for billionaires and promoting racist policies targeting people of color” and helmed by a man intent on “upending the rule of law, destroying institutions, and engaging in an unprecedented purge of the Department of Justice as special counsel Mueller closes in on him.” Edwards then cycled through a list of terrible decisions that the “bought-and-paid-for puppets in government” had made, including the tax plan, failure to fund the CHIP health program for over a hundred days, and the termination of DACA, while pitching the WFP’s ground organizing as a solution. “All across the nation, in communities and neighborhoods just like mine in Prince George’s County, the spirit of grassroots resistance and civic renewal burns bright,” she said, and pointed to victories like the election of Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner.

This was paired with dire admonitions about the Republicans’ future plans, such as using the ballooning deficit that their own tax plan created to “deliver so-called entitlement reform by any means necessary, [which] would fulfill a longtime dream of the far-right,” and handing infrastructure projects to “Wall Street banks and foreign investors.” Edwards also tied in her own experience, particularly her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a condition that can be extremely expensive without adequate health insurance. She wrapped up by outlining some WFP priorities, including universal healthcare, public financing for elections, policing of corporate crime, and a transition to a clean-energy economy, making it arguably the most specifics-heavy of the response speeches.


Elizabeth Guzmán’s powerful personal history, grave, concise delivery, and crisp admonitions about the changing face of the nation made hers the best response speech of the night. As Democrats ponder their strategy for the midterms — a golden opportunity that, if recent national party strategy is any indication, they’re moderately likely to horribly bungle — one of the thorniest conversations will involve to what extent they should pretend this is a normal election and we haven’t utterly gone through the looking glass. Guzmán’s honesty about the existential repercussions of our current political moment could provide a powerful argument in favor of a more clear-eyed and forceful approach.


As NYC Subways Melt Down, Only an Upstate Republican Dares Call Out Cuomo

Marc Molinaro, the Republican executive of Dutchess County, did yesterday what few elected officials in New York dare to do: call out Governor Andrew Cuomo for mishandling the MTA.

“I’m sorry… what!? Subways overflow w/ commuters, riders trapped on cars, lives at risk… & the answer? Don’t blame NYS,” Molinaro tweeted. He was responding to the wildly disingenuous assertion from Cuomo’s office that New York City “owns the subway and is solely responsible for funding its capital plan.”

It was, for Cuomo, just another day of misdirection when it comes to the ongoing subway meltdown. The MTA, a state agency, runs and funds the subway system. (Technically, the city leases the subway to the state, but it is not “solely” responsible for capital costs.) Cuomo appoints the MTA’s chair and a plurality of its board members. No funding decisions are made without his explicit consent.

Molinaro tells the Voice he spoke up because “subway platforms are overwhelmed and overburdened, and clearly the state is being disingenuous and not transparent.”

Though Dutchess County is thirty miles north of the city, Molinaro notes that plenty of its residents commute to the city and use its subways. “It’s the state’s problem,” he says. “I have never heard a governor say they are not in charge of the MTA.”

Naysayers will point out Molinaro is mulling a bid for governor and could be trying to score early political points. Maybe so, but nothing he said is wrong. What’s remarkable is how silent New York City’s Democrats have been about the state government’s culpability, even as straphangers suffer.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has grown more assertive, but he has been trolled by Cuomo enough to keep his rage in check. He has expressed openness about the new MTA chair, Joe Lhota, and said he will proffer his own plan for the subways if Lhota doesn’t produce something adequate.

Other prominent city Democrats, though, have steered clear of even mild criticism of the governor. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office declined to comment on whether Cuomo was to blame for the subway’s failures. Public Advocate Letitia James declined to comment as well. Spokespersons for City Comptroller Scott Stringer and State Senator Jeff Klein — the Bronx leader of the Independent Democratic Conference — didn’t respond to requests for comment, while a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie replied, It’s more important to fix the subways than to assign blame. Speaker Heastie believes the governor is working very hard to address the issues with the subway system.” In their public statements about transit, they have all declined to criticize the governor directly.

Those close to Cuomo say he appreciates the severity of crippling subway delays. If Lhota asks for more resources, he’ll be willing to give him what he wants, they say.

But the subway system is failing every day in new and spectacular ways. Regular people are beginning to recognize how much the central crisis of Cuomo’s six-and-a-half-year tenure is overshadowing every single one of his accomplishments. As the New York City subway system all but ceases to function, repeatedly costing commuters their time, their jobs, and their sanity, Cuomo’s approval ratings are taking a serious hit. For a long time, many New Yorkers didn’t quite recognize the MTA, the state agency completely under Cuomo’s purview, runs their subway system. Now they seem to be waking up.

Not so for New York City’s Democratic political class, who remain silent at a time that cries out for finger-pointing. Laments about the MTA’s performance exclude mentions of the governor. Audits don’t bother to name him. Elected officials with their own plans for transportation salvation, with few exceptions, fail to note his central role.

The previous MTA chair, Tom Prendergast, was a Cuomo puppet, gleefully attacking the governor’s eternal rival de Blasio for not adequately funding the MTA’s capital plan. As a snowstorm approached the city in 2015, Cuomo unilaterally shut down the subway system. Already, the supposedly independent Lhota is proving he can play Cuomo’s whack-a–de Blasio game as well as any, calling the mayor “incendiary” for daring to suggest that people should be allowed to eat on the subway.

Why does any of this matter? Because absent a strong primary challenge next year to Cuomo’s re-election bid, his insidious obfuscation and misplaced transit priorities probably won’t be held to account. Cuomo can gloat without end about opening the wildly overbudget Second Avenue Subway on time and just a few months later claim he has no say over what the MTA does. As the subway’s nearly century-old signaling network breaks down and the MTA fails to formulate a plan to make the necessary upgrades before the 2050s, Cuomo is still enamored by money-sucking projects like a train from Willets Point to LaGuardia and slapping light shows on bridges.

Recently, Cuomo declared a meaningless “state of emergency” for the MTA and promised it a billion more dollars, which is far less than the system needs, and still hasn’t actually been budgeted for in any case. In six years as governor, Cuomo has never come close to investing the kind of resources needed to head off the transportation catastrophe New Yorkers know too intimately.

If city Democratic leaders shared Molinaro’s gumption and banded together to challenge Cuomo directly instead of hiding their discontent, lest the governor’s office call them up and scream into the phone, the governor would be forced to take mass transportation much more seriously. Cuomo respects power far more than kindness. Yet he has convinced a whole generation of elected officials that the consequences of coming at him are too dire to even contemplate.

What politicians don’t understand is that no voter will punish them for naming Cuomo as the culprit of this subway crisis. Cuomo is not God or Satan — he is a politician like any other, vulnerable to popular pressure, the whims of an electorate, and fickle circumstance. If they don’t want this fight, maybe they should find other lines of work.


I Don’t Trust “Real Democrats,” And Neither Should You

With Donald Trump in the White House and ICE agents lurking around New York City courthouses gearing up for body-snatching season, this might be a good moment to reflect on how we got here.

I got here when my pregnant mom rode into this country in the trunk of a car. A Colombian-born social worker who worked with Bolivian miners during a brutal dictatorship, she, like many others, wanted a better life. She came up through Central America until she paid “coyote” smugglers a few thousand dollars in exchange for the American dream. A few months later, she brought me to New York.

The first time I was stopped by a cop I was 12 years old. A few of us got patted down behind a basketball court. No one asked why. It’s part of life when you’re Black or Latino in New York.

As we got older, my friends and I started getting caught with nickel bags of weed. The stakes got higher (pardon the pun). When I was 19, a cop wrote me a $50 summons after I spit in the subway. He kept me there for 20 minutes, making me late for my soul-sucking, minimum wage job at CVS.

For my mom, who went from a professional career to cleaning houses in Manhattan, her constant fear was that immigration agents would kick in the door, Biggie-style. She was looking over her shoulder for ICE while I was looking over my shoulder for the NYPD.

In 1994, the year of that first stop, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani rolled out Broken Windows. Vendors, squeegee men and the homeless got hit hardest. Giuliani, a Republican, was helped by an infusion of extra cops thanks to the Safe City Safe Streets program of his Democratic predecessor, David Dinkins. Nationally, a Democratic majority in congress pushed the 1994 Crime Bill to the desk of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who signed it into law.

In college, I read about the Broken Windows theory of policing. It made a ton of sense: I was the broken window, and cops were going to keep breaking me forever.

The policy brought cops down on our necks for every transgression or sign of “disorder,” hitting us with arrests and court dates. The ’94 crime bill added thousands of cops and prisons across America as the Clintons talked about “super-predators” and both sides of the aisle cheered.

Republicans and Democrats built the police state.

In 2014, Bill de Blasio, our first Democratic mayor since Dinkins, brought back Bratton and re-embraced Broken Windows. We protested, of course, confronting local politicians, all Democrats.

When Eric Garner was killed by a Staten Island cop, groups started organizing, in part, to end Broken Windows. We crashed Mayor de Blasio’s fundraisers and shut down the City Council in 2016 when they thought it was a good idea to add nearly 1,300 cops to the NYPD. Those extra cops, particularly the new anti-protest Strategic Response Group, now harass protesters who consistently honor the lives of those who’ve been killed by the police.

We’ve been at war with these Democrats for a few years. So when another group of protesters showed up outside a forum on Broken Windows this month to protest a Brooklyn State Senator, Jesse Hamilton, to tell him to get in line with establishment Democrats in Albany, you can imagine how hard my palm hit my face. The protesters, most of whom, though not all, were white, say a breakaway group of Democrats, known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), should realign with the party. Hamilton is one of them.

Anti-IDC protesters outside Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton's meeting <a href="/news/brooklyn-state-senators-broken-windows-meeting-hijacked-by-angry-protesters-we-dont-want-fake-democrats-9688638" target="_blank">in Sunset Park last week</a>.
Anti-IDC protesters outside Brooklyn State Senator Jesse Hamilton’s meeting in Sunset Park last week.

Let me just say that I don’t know Hamilton. Apparently, he’s taken on a position against Broken Windows, maybe to deflect from the criticism being thrown his way. I could be cynical about that, but I was much more annoyed with these protesters.

Everyone wants to be part of “the resistance” in the Trump era. Everyone’s a protester, even the mayor of New York City. The Democratic machine has the most to gain as they rebrand themselves. However, the fact that deportations had already been happening in our oh-so-liberal town under deporter-in-chief Barack Obama gets ignored. Similarly, the risks that constant police contact through Broken Windows imposes on immigrants is only now, under Trump, slowly being acknowledged.

And yet it seems no one wants to come to grips with the Democrats’ role in how we got here. So when this “No-IDC” mosh pit of liberal self-righteousness throws a tantrum because Democrats won’t act like “real” Democrats, I gotta ask: who are the “real” Democrats? De Blasio, the self proclaimed progressive standard-bearer of big city mayors? Hillary Clinton?

Are they Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Daniel Dromm in Queens? Dromm is leading some of the anti-IDC rallies in Jackson Heights and Menchaca is egging on the protesters in Sunset Park. They seem to be a significant part (dare I say “source”) of the anti-IDC rallies. Has anyone taken these two Democrats to task for voting for the extra cops last year and for supporting the mayor’s developer-friendly “affordable housing” scheme? For acting like, well, establishment sellout Democrats? Did any of the protesters know, or care, when Menchaca gave an award to one of Sunset Park’s most notorious cops?

Perhaps local Democrats are using the IDC drama to deflect from the fact that they have no answers for Broken Windows or that the IDNYC municipal identification program they voted for might actually help the federal government find and deport New Yorkers?

When IDC member and State Senator Jose Peralta, the focus of the rallies in Queens, was clamoring for the city and NYPD to clean up Roosevelt Avenue from the “dangerous characters” (code for Broken Windows enforcement) before he joined the IDC, did anyone care?

But it’s easier to play Democrats vs. Republicans than it is to tackle policing or gentrification. When you get down to it, quality-of-life policing and displacement benefits urban white liberals most of all.

A cop sweeps away that homeless person so that Sara can get from her loft to Starbucks undisturbed. The plainclothes officer will arrest that Black kid dancing on the train because what’s perfectly normal for some of us (b-boy-ing, selling loosies, loud music) is a nuisance to some of our more affluent neighbors. A rowdy Salsa block party in Williamsburg 20 years ago would’ve been perfectly normal. Today, it’s a 911 or 311 call waiting to happen.

Since their protest in Brooklyn, some anti-IDC protesters, perhaps sensing their privilege, have tried to straddle both sides. They say they can be against Broken Windows and also pressure rascally rebellious lawmakers to go back to being loyal Democrats. A Democratically-controlled Albany, they say, could pass the DREAM act or create more “Sanctuary Cities”, which are obviously so effective at protecting us. When Democrats are in power, the argument goes, they can pass bills that help us people of color.

Yeah, tell me how the Democratic party, the graveyard of social movements, will save me. Give me a break. The flavor of the IDC isn’t new. Whether you rail against the IDC or “blue dog” Democrats in Congress, striving for political order is just another example of liberals wanting to play fair.

If well-meaning white people want to help us, start by turning off MSNBC and grabbing a MetroCard to swipe in poor people so that we don’t get busted for fare-evasion, the top Broken Windows arrest. Take action. De Blasio says he can’t afford a subsidized-fare program for the poor, yet he and the council found the money for more cops.

Better yet, let’s have our white allies stage some protests at the ICE processing center on Varick street. Make a human wall. Shut it down. Wiggle those fingers, Occupy-style. Do whatever you want. Just don’t talk to me about “real” Democrats. We’re at war with both parties, the “real” Democrats included. People are being displaced and criminalized all around you. Keep your eyes on what matters.

Josmar Trujillo is an activist and writer based in Spanish Harlem. He organizes with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.


Cartoon: Top Democratic Presidential Contenders, 2020


Can Democrats Ever Matter Again?

If Hillary Clinton’s legacy, beyond becoming the first woman to capture a major party nomination, is now failing to keep Donald Trump out of the White House, she may at least be remembered for unintentionally spurring the rebirth of the Democratic Party.

I say “unintentionally” because the Clinton regime and their loyalists undoubtedly dreamed of an endless reign of the Right Kind of Democrat, those who never strayed far from a milquetoast consensus serving fewer and fewer regular people. The culmination was supposed to be the glorious slaying of Trump, unleashing patronage for the thousands of professionals who had been queueing up for goodies since the sun set on the 1990s. Instead, the inner ring of Clinton cool — Huma Abedin, John Podesta, Jennifer Palmieri, Robby Mook, and Cheryl Mills, just to name a few — are exiles in the new order, and deservedly so. They failed spectacularly. Barack Obama, who enabled this coterie and steered Clinton to defeat, will have a lifetime to ask himself why he never learned the lessons of his first presidential campaign.

But the Trump presidency, as disastrous and chilling as it may be in the short term, could be a gift to progressives — if the damage he is about to do can be mitigated or negotiated away. Like an ungainly space rock snagged in a gravitational field and doomed to hurl Earthward, the second Clinton presidency was so inevitable that everyone forgot to ask why she was running and what she had to say to an anxious country. With artificial momentum for a Clinton campaign building since at least 2013, a generation of viable Democrats were forced to put their plans on hold out of deference to Obama’s anointed successor. Now that Clinton and her regime are officially a very large historical footnote, new Democrats can step forward, compete in a healthy and open Democratic primary and let the best candidate win.

I won’t handicap any odds or tell you who runs. That is a long four years away. A trio of new female senators in California, Illinois, and Nevada is a start. The next nominee should be under the age of sixty and free of baggage. Anyone with a net worth north of $1 million, a dubious foundation, or a history of supporting reckless military invasions needn’t apply.

The presidency, though, is beside the point. As of today, the Democratic Party is at its nadir. It controls virtually nothing. Beyond the White House, Republicans have Congress and most statehouses, where the real policy-making happens. Anyone who declared the Republican Party dead was disastrously wrong and should be less forgiven than those (like me) who doubted the electoral strength of Trump. The GOP will probably have a full four years to impose its will on the United States of America. Get ready.

What will emerge in the face of this Republican front is a party that may finally pay heed to its grassroots. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are already emerging as de facto leaders. Chuck Schumer, for years a Clintonian centrist, is backing Rep. Keith Ellison — a liberal who supported Sanders early and was laughed at for saying Trump could be president — to lead the Democratic National Committee. Bill de Blasio is unshackled from Hillary. The burden is gone. He burned his bridges with her and now it doesn’t matter. He is freer to criticize what progressives are doing nationally. After Sanders, Warren, and Schumer, there’s a huge vacuum of national leadership, and he can, in theory, assert himself.

The irony is that Trump may allow Democrats to gain back seats in Congress faster than if Clinton were in the White House. Midterms were a bloodbath for Obama, who showed little interest in party-building, and normally disengaged voters may see higher stakes for showing up in 2018. Democrats are set to lose ground in two years as they defend far more seats in the Senate than Republicans. But if Trump is halfway as erratic a businessman as he is a president, the next two years will not make it easy for Republicans running on the status quo. Obama as a foil is gone. Even state legislative races, with the right messaging, could be fertile ground for Democrats again. If Trump is a one-term president, the 2020s could look something like a renaissance. Remember, the Democrats captured the House in 2006 as George W. Bush’s presidency teetered toward ruin.

More importantly, a new generation of activists won’t leave the streets anytime soon. In 2011, touring Zuccotti Park, I naively believed the protests would continue once winter set in. Though the ideas of Occupy lived on, the movement itself fizzled. Trump, however, is a new and concrete threat, a person and not an idea. Organizing against him will be easy. Expect the resistance to be broader and more long-lasting than Occupy. The energy of Black Lives Matter, Occupy, and general revulsion towards Trump will coil together; new and powerful alliances will be formed. The 1960s will no longer be the golden age of activism.

The Democratic Party has all but burned to the ground. The rebuilding effort will be painful and necessary. If a better party doesn’t come out of it, at least one will emerge with an inkling of what its most disenfranchised constituents actually need.


DNC’s Game of Footsie With the Powerful is Disgusting

Donald Trump may be the celebrity presidential candidate, but the Democrats are the party of the celebrity.

Demi Lovato, Alicia Keys, Paul Simon, Sarah Silverman, and Lenny Kravitz are just some of the stars who spoke or performed at the convention this week in Philadelphia. Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon wandered into the media tent. Bryan Cranston narrated President Obama’s intro video last night and headlined a luncheon for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this afternoon, one more testament to the chest-pounding smugness swallowing up Philadelphia at the moment.

At the soirees underwritten by billionaire corporations like Uber and the various lobbyists who make up Washington’s permanent overclass, Democrats are allowed, once again, to try to have their cake and eat it too, to profess to be a party of the working poor and the marginalized while playing footsie with the nation’s most powerful people.

The Hillary Clinton–loving Breaking Bad star, wearing a gray suit and dark blue tie with a white cross pattern, stood at the head of an upstairs ballroom in the luxury Loews Hotel, temporary home of the New York delegation, and lit into Trump while offering occasional asides about how he quasi-heroically “led” the cast and crew of Malcolm in the Middle (Frankie Muniz was too young! Jane Kaczmarek didn’t want to do it!) and condescendingly admired, still, his Bernie Sanders–supporting brother.

In his rambling speech, Cranston said he would “love to play Donald Trump in a movie but I pray to God he’s not President Donald Trump.” This segued into several Trump impersonations of varying merit, with Cranston-as-Trump, in the booming Queens brogue we know far too well, telling the crowd that he has a very large brain.

“Do you know any adult that talks that way?” Cranston asked.

The audience of Democratic representatives and their hangers-on, nibbling on their grilled chicken, couscous, and croissants, lapped it up. “Self-righteous, blustery right-wingers” are the problem, Cranston said, and he reflected on how the man he played on Broadway, Lyndon Johnson, would probably revile Trump.

“Now, Mr. Trump is not wise but he’s also not stupid. He knows the truth isn’t as important as the perception of truth. You tell a lie enough over and over enough again and it starts to wear the clothes of the truth,” Cranston said. “He’s a master of the art of the manipulation of humankind.”

Cranston then went in for the awkward punchline: “I suggest perhaps that his next book be entitled The Art of the Nihil-ist.”

Next up, his Lyndon Johnson Southern drawl: “LBJ said, ‘It’s the price of leadership to do the thing you believe has to be done in the time it must be done.’ “

At length he bemoaned the “us” versus “them” mentality swallowing up politics and eroding bipartisanship. The actor hardly mentioned Clinton, preferring the low-hanging Trump fruit, which has been par for the course of this convention, as has the idea of beautiful and rich people occupying the Democratic tent.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, one of the politicians who introduced Cranston, said the “value” of celebrities are in their commitment to a cause. The anodyne point, and Cranston’s rightful Trump denunciations, are fine — but in their temporary unity against the noxious, tyrannical Trump, Democrats paper over an uncomfortable truth.

Cranston could tell Trump one-liners until the next Democratic convention if he wanted to. Can the party reach beyond the vague “middle class” to try to help the truly poor, the long-term unemployed, and the victims of globalization that Trump sings to? What can it do for the impoverished people of North Philadelphia, for example, who wouldn’t dream of attending a political convention because zero-sum presidential contests make no difference in their lives?

“I used to find him very entertaining, as you would a class clown,” Cranston said of Trump.

At some point, Democrats will have to talk about something other than the circus.


Christine Quinn’s Prime Real Estate: Millennium Partners/Friends of the High Line

As the days wind down to November 5–when New Yorkers will choose their first post-Bloomberg leader–the prospects for City Hall continue their mad dash for donors, seeking large contributions from New York’s most powerful elites. Spearheading that movement is City Council Speaker and Democratic frontrunner Christine Quinn; with the largest campaign treasure chest of any candidates thus far, she faces major criticism for her connections to the real estate industry. In this series, we’ll be spotlighting Quinn’s most prestigious bundlers in Big Development for the upcoming mayoral election.

Second on our list: Millennium Partners, a real estate developer with ties to Quinn’s largest handouts.

Millennium Partners, the nationwide developer of higher-income condos, pitches itself as as a main force behind “creating luxury residential experiences” and, more metaphysically, “driving the new urbanism.” Its New York properties include the Ritz-Carlton outside of Central Park, The Phillips Club in Lincoln Square, and a handful of sleek skyscrapers in Battery Park and the Upper West Side, many of which contain the ultramodern phrase “Millennium” in the name.

In terms of lobbying, Millennium has been a client of the City for years, seeking compensation from the Department of Buildings, the Economic Development Corporation and other governmental bodies. But luckily, one of the company’s partners has long been friends with an official that has the greatest power of the purse when it comes to discretionary spending in City Council.

Like Jay Kriegal of Related Companies–the subject of last week’s profile–Mario J. Palumbo Jr. acts as an intermediary for Quinn’s campaign, bundling together a total of $53,900 in donations from real estate figures. He’s also a partner at Millennium, in control of the company’s assets worth $2 billion. As the former board president of the LGBT Community Center, he’s settled in well to Quinn’s political career, landing him huge amounts of money in return for his other project:

A celebrity-studded campaign to turn a rusting elevated rail line into a glitzy West Side park has received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars through Council Speaker Christine Quinn. And she’s gotten a little something in return. Officials with Friends of the High Line–the top recipient of Quinn-controlled City Council pork–have given more than $50,000 to her campaigns since 1999, records show.

This is from a Daily News report titled “Christine Quinn gives your cash to West Side project–and gets campaign money” and published in late April of 2008. Five years later, we know this “rusting elevated rail line” as the nearly finished High Line–the beautiful above-ground park that runs up Tenth Avenue.

In addition to Millennium Partners, Palumbo is also a founding member, the treasurer and vice co-chair of Friends of the High Line, the group mostly responsible for the project’s development. For relation, Quinn still stands as an ex-officio member of the organization as well. Since that NYDN article’s publication, Friends of the High Line continues to receive thousands upon thousands of taxpayer dollars each year from City Council; in 2013, the group has a pending request of $75,000 in the works.

As mentioned in this series’s first part, Quinn is a natural target for the real estate companies – her legislative position provides her with treasure troves of discretionary funds, member items that have sparked controversy towards her use in, with some cases, intimidating fellow councilmembers. Albeit popular amongst residents and tourists now, the High Line still provides us with another example of how money has circulated between Quinn’s work as Speaker and, later, her campaign for City Hall, a position that could benefit the developers tenfold should she win.

Half a decade ago, the High Line was a project that was fought aggressively against by Quinn’s very own constituents; citizen groups saw the development as encroaching and wasteful. And, just like the Hudson Yards, Quinn was an integral part of approving the project anyway, funding Palumbo and the rest of Friends of the High Line with more than enough pork to go around. In her campaign filings, the rest of the staff there is bundled with other subsidiaries, ensuring that their money is in Quinn’s pockets come September and, hopefully for them, November.

The Voice has reached out to Millennium Partners, Friends of the High Line, and Christine Quinn’s mayoral campaign for comment. We’re waiting to hear back.


Democrats Worried About Other Democrats With Bloomberg’s $12M Ad Blitz

Yesterday, we reported on Mayor Bloomberg’s announcement to spend $12 million on a campaign set forth by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns to counter the NRA in battleground states. The move is the largest yet from Hizzoner to translate ideology into action on the topic of gun control and, in effect, will provide enough monetary fodder to keep up with the notorious Second Amendment group.

But this is probably the last reaction the mayor expected to see.

According to the Daily News, the blue side is up in arms over the ad blitz. As mentioned before, the commercials will air in states where senators are on the fence about the major gun control bill slithering through Congress. However, many of these targeted senators are Democrats. And not all of these Democrats (political lexicon: Blue Dogs) hail from regions that are fully on board with such a measure.

As much as we want to deny it, the midterm elections are next year. The Democrats will, once again, have to try their hardest to retain control of the Senate from the grasp of the Republicans. A vote for gun control could provide a fatal blow to some of these necessary elections. In other words, the Democrats are scared that the Mayor Bloomberg is threatening re-electability in the big picture.

Who knew Washington could be frightened by the mayor’s wealth, too?