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Rodriguez, Jackson and Espaillat appear to bury the hatchet

Stephon Johnson | , Amsterdam News Staff | 5/25/2011, 9:23 a.m.

A spat between a group of uptown politicians seems to have resolved itself, after a bit of name-calling among the participants.

New York City Council Members Robert Jackson and Ydanis Rodriguez were involved in the tiff, and were joined in their disagreement by State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, for good measure.

Last month, there were reports that Jackson lost his cool at a zoning subcommittee meeting. Afterward, Jackson spoke to a New York Observer reporter, expressing his dismay at what he perceived his being labeled anti-Dominican by some at the meeting, including Rodriguez and Espaillat.

"You've got a problem, come say it to my face," said Jackson to the Observer. "Don't try to make me look racist against Dominicans. I have done more for Dominicans in Upper Manhattan than any of them combined."

The outburst from Jackson was a surprise because, while the councilman is known for speaking his mind, he is not particularly known for such outbursts.

Jackson's district (City Council District 7) has a significant Dominican population and, alongside with Rodriguez's, covers portions of Inwood and Washington Heights. Espaillat's district (Senate District 31) covers Washington Heights and Inwood as well.

Jackson was not available when the AmNews tried to reach him for comment, but a spokeswoman in his office gave the AmNews some of her time.

"I'm sure you can talk to Robert in detail at some point, but it's hard to catch him, to be honest," said the spokeswoman. "I think it all simmered around this Columbia [University] expansion, and there was some testimony given [at the meeting] and Robert lost his temper. He should not have lost his temper.

"Has there been subtle provocation? Maybe. What has happened is that the council members and the state senator have attended community meetings together and have tried to hammer out agreements with Columbia. It's not as if they're not speaking."

But while she attempted to minimize the situation, Jackson's spokeswoman did add an interesting anecdote that might be the crux of the reason for the blowup.

"I know for a fact that the state senator whose district this is in announced a community meeting that included a bunch of elected officials, but did not reach out to our people," she said. "It was sort of a dis. Whether it was a deliberate dis, I don't know. We can't speak for their office."

When the AmNews contacted Rodriguez, he discussed moving away from the brouhaha and working with Jackson for Black and Brown citizens of New York.

"I can talk to you about an important meeting that took place today where Jackson and I were both advocating for Columbia to build a sports center that not only will benefit the institution, but will benefit the community," he said. "For me, the most important thing that I look at here is working-class people among the Latino and African-American community...we are in the same boat.

"Unemployment, dropout rates from not only high school but community college. At this particular moment, I think it is our responsibility to use all of our energy to advocate and fit together so we can get as many resources as possible to build affordable housing, achieve a better quality of life and provide more jobs for the community."

Espaillat's chief of staff, Ibrahim Khan, was less conciliatory in a conversation with the AmNews. He said the conflict was strictly about policy and Jackson had tried to make it personal. "Sen. Espaillat disagreed with Councilman Jackson on policy and not personality," said Khan. "Columbia University has a little facility in Inwood and they were looking at expanding the facility. The senator, who lives across the street from this facility, felt like there wasn't enough input by this community and it looked like Jackson was pushing it forward."

Rodriguez warned about the dangers of being distracted by personality clashes between politicians who represent Black and Latino people.

"We have a long history in the city where our African-American brothers and sisters, along with Latinos, Asians and progressive whites, have been on the front lines," said Rodriguez. "We don't have the privilege to be distracted."