On Saturday, there was a not-so-secret secret meeting of leading Black politicos discussing what to do about gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo and his all-white ticket. Was it the equivalent of shifting deck chairs on the Titantic? Or bolting the barn door when the horse done bolted? The cliches abound, but the reality is, Black folk are asking, “What’s going on with our leadership?”
The National Action Network president, the Rev. Al Sharpton, said he called the meeting in order to hash out a united front in view of Attorney General Cuomo’s run for the governor’s office.
“Frankly, I think this kind of situation should have already happened,” said a slightly perturbed Sharpton. Noting that he is often out of town, the civil rights activist added, “I assumed local leaders were dealing with him. This should have been negotiated when we had more leverage, but now we’re going to make the best out of a bad situation.”
On Saturday, about 30 people met to ponder over the potential political dilemma of Cuomo heading the pack in an electoral season, which sees not one Black or Latino picked to run on a statewide slate.
“The recent Black leadership meeting regarding the all-white state Democratic slate is after the fact and too little too late!” said Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron, who decided to not attend the meeting. “Here we have a situation with a city with a majority Black and Brown population–and no one is running who represents our interests.”
The Cuomo-Robert Duffy (Rochester’s mayor) ticket presents a veritable political minefield, which observers say could effectively see Black folk losing recently won gains, with no elected official in place with a genuine investment or interest in progression or even the equitable distribution of resources and policies.
Saturday’s meeting, according to Sharpton, was an attempt to check that downward spiral before it begins. The minister told the Amsterdam News that Cuomo called him after hearing that members of the Black community were aggravated by the “lack of diversity” on his ticket. His pick of former Rochester Police Commissioner Duffy, an upstate white man, created a mini ripple.
Sharpton told Cuomo that he was very “anxious and concerned” about what the all-white ticket means: “After having a Black state comptroller in Carl McCall, a black lieutenant governor in David Paterson and then a Black governor, now we have an all-white statewide ticket. What does that mean for the Black and Brown empowerment process in the Black and Latino community? He said well, ‘I’m gonna have a diverse administration and I want to sit down and talk.’”
On Saturday, in order to discuss strategy and agenda, and trying to avoid what he called “a media circus,” Sharpton called a meeting of noted Black folks at an off-the-radar location at the Mt. Vernon church of the National Action Network’s chairman of the board: Rev. Frank Richardson.
In the room were politicos such as former state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, (whose run against Cuomo in 2002 created much consternation for the current attorney general), Mt. Vernon’s State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, the NAACP’s Hazel Dukes, State Sen. Malcolm Smith, Congressman Greg Meeks, Council Member Inez Dickens, Harlem’s State Sen. Bill Perkins and political operatives Bill Lynch (former deputy mayor) and Roberto Ramirez.
Sharpton told the AmNews, “We came out with four main points: We want a meeting with [Cuomo] about whether he and the party will put resources and energy behind maintaining control of the State Senate by the Democrats, because if they maintain control, then John Sampson will remain the majority leader; and we will have a Black person at the table for all decisions. All decisions go through the governor, the majority leader and the speaker. If the Republicans have the majority, we won’t have a voice.
“Secondly, we want to know who is going to be in his administration and in what position. What are the appointments going to look like across the board? Who is he going to appoint as the commissioners, the heads of agencies and authorities? What will happen to Paterson appointments?
“Thirdly, who is going to be on his transition team? And who is going to be our representative in the campaign?”
Sharpton added that the group was also seeking a meeting with Paterson. “He can make four-year appointments even before the next governor takes office, and he can grant some pardons. There are some things he can do for political prisoners and for cases such as John White.
“The third meeting we will be seeking in the next couple of weeks is with the Working Families Party. They may put up a candidate, and we want to see if we have some options there,” said Sharpton.
With Long Island Republican Rick Lazio the only declared opponent, it would appear that a presumptuous assumption is being pushed that Cuomo is a shoo-in for the November election.
With his father, Mario, the former governor, warning Andrew not to be cocky and overly confident in assuming that the seat is his, thoughts turn to how this sense of entitlement came to pass.
In recent months, the major media undermined Paterson, battering him daily with sensationalist headlines about the beleaguered Aqueduct deal and the stories about Paterson’s aide, who was allegedly involved in a domestic violence incident. The New York Times insinuated that they had a story so outrageous that Paterson would be forced to resign. That tabloid piece never materialized, but the damage was done.
There was no analysis of Cuomo for months, while there was a full frontal assault on the current governor. Knowledgeable political sources determined that Cuomo might have been the source of the innuendo that led to the salacious stories.
Back in February at the height of the tabloidesque hype, Paterson told the Amsterdam News regarding Cuomo: “I’m not going to blame or start any rumors about anyone else, when I have no more information than the people who started rumors about me. When I can prove it, I’ll talk about it. Other than that, I have nothing to say.”
The outcome, however, was that a campaigning Paterson suddenly announced that he was pulling out of the race. An undeclared Cuomo was crowned his successor, prior to any announcement that he was running and months before the actual election.
While so many Black leaders simply seemed to fall in line, there has been some opposition, however.
Perhaps the most vocal is Charles Barron. “Firstly, David Paterson should have stayed in the race and given Cuomo some opposition,” he told the AmNews. “Secondly, Black leaders should’ve put the heat on Cuomo and conditioned their support for him based on him picking a Black lieutenant governor.
“Thirdly, Paterson should have never selected Gillibrand for U.S. senator, but since he did, Black leadership should’ve run a candidate against her–she is beatable! Fourthly, Black leadership should’ve fielded a candidate for attorney general candidate. I believe Esmeralda Simmons of the Center for Law and Social Justice would’ve been an excellent choice. With five whites in the race, Esmeralda Simmons would’ve had a great chance of winning.”
Barron continued, “So one wonders what this after-the-fact Black leadership meeting was really all about. Was it to ask Cuomo for diversity in government?
“Perhaps we’ll get the top position on the governor’s staff. Maybe we’ll get some Black commissioners or some other deals will be cut with Black leadership. One thing we won’t get is Black power. It is time for Black leadership to protect the Black masses from the Cuomo types of this state and not be Black vote getters for Cuomo when he has made no commitment to our Black communities, our Black agenda or our Black empowerment.”
The AmNews reached out to Cuomo but was unable to get a response.
Is he trying to lay back unchallenged? Sharpton replied, “Well, we’ll see what happens with the Working Families Party.”
“Paterson should have told Cuomo that he wanted a Black person on the ticket, and I want the Senate preserved before I announce that I am not running,” said an attendee of Saturday’s meeting.
State Senator John Sampson told the AmNews, “The concerns of Black and Latino leadership about the lack of diversity on the gubernatorial and other state Democratic tickets are important and valid. New York State is a racial and ethnically diverse one, and our politics should reflect this social reality. However, I believe that there is an opportunity for constructive dialogue so that the new gubernatorial administration will be sensitive to this issue.
“However, important though diversity is, I believe that in the final analysis it is about picking the best possible candidates to contest these elections that would allow the Democratic Party to win in November.”