The protection of the First Amendment comes with responsibility.
Feb. 16, 2017, The New York Times published an article entitled “New York City Girds for Political Brawl Over Looming Speaker Vacancy.”
In the current climate of political uncertainty and agitation, the article’s underlying theme seemed to purport the most viable candidates are solely white males who represent Manhattan.
“Let us not dismiss the African-American Councilmembers who are serious about running for speaker,” stated Bertha Lewis, president of the Black Institute. “The speakership is not a province of white males who decide which elected officials are, or are not, legitimate candidates.”
The two Black male candidates, Councilmembers Robert E. Cornegy Jr. (D-36) and Jumaane Williams (D-45), were referred to as “political hopefuls” who “face a harder road …” The photograph of Williams in the article shows him in handcuffs being arrested at a protest near Trump Tower. Clearly, there were many other images of the two-term legislator that could have been used.
I searched for the integrity, balance and fairness in the article. In these dark political times, when some seek to keep us out of the political process, we will not allow that to happen.
The writers failed to note that the majority of the City Council are people of color, who represent the unassailably diverse communities of New York City.
Cornegy and Williams also represent the Borough of Brooklyn, which is not only where Mayor Bill de Blasio is from but also where the Public Advocate Letitia James is from. We question why Brooklyn, which has the largest number of registered voters at 1.5 million, approximately 400,000 more than Manhattan and approximately 300,000 more than Queens, would not be considered viable? To seemingly dismiss two highly credible city leaders is unrealistic and poor journalism, and it fails to include the great people who elected them to office.
When the media’s coverage is unbalanced, it can have serious policy implications for millions of New Yorkers. The speakership is a powerful position in New York City government. The reporting must be unbiased.
“One of the most important elections that will take place in the City of New York in 2017 will not be the citywide elections for mayor, comptroller, borough presidents, district attorneys or the public advocate,” noted Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. “It will be the election of the speaker for the New York City Council.”
Williams continued, “For the city to arrive at a truly diverse political balance in the key offices of mayor, New York City comptroller and City Council speaker, it is now time for a candidate who can bring about the political diversity that represents the African-American, Caribbean-American and outer borough balance, which is badly needed.”
The Times’ reporters cited the “Progressive Caucus,” which includes the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilmember Julissa Ferreras-Copeland of Queens, who is also vying for the seat. They wrote the Progressive Caucus, “… May not be as strong as it was last time, not least because many of its members are competing with each other to be speaker.”
The reporters failed to mention six out of the Progressive Caucus’ 19 members include their alleged “front-runners,” Councilmember Corey Johnson and Councilmember Mark D. Levine, both of Manhattan.
Furthermore, there is no mention that the majority of the votes will, in fact, come from a Council in which the majority of members are Black and Latino, who represent more votes outside of Manhattan. It should also be noted that the largest body of elected officials in New York State are members of the City Council’s Black, Latino/a and Asian Caucus, of which Cornegy is the co-chair.
“Attempts by the media or punditry to handicap the race for speaker are shortsighted,” stated Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough president. “In fact, they potentially act as a handicap to candidates of color representing underserved communities and the critical issues they face. I would expect the voices of Brooklyn, particularly those who have been historically excluded from the halls of leadership, to ring loudly and clearly in this race. The crisis playing out across our national political landscape demands such a response from our city.”
If selected, either Cornegy or Williams would be not only the first Black speaker, a historic achievement, but also the first speaker from Brooklyn. So we are conscious the run should not be slanted towards race.
As Councilmember Mark Treyger (D-47), co-chair of the Council’s Brooklyn Delegation who will cast his vote at the end of the year, eloquently noted in a DNAinfo story, “I want to see your full body of work. Have you gotten anything done?”
Cornegy has proved he is a trusted leader, not only among his constituents but also among his colleagues and other city leadership. He builds bridges among his colleagues and brings a unique perspective to the Council.
Since assuming office in 2014, Cornegy, who represents Bedford-Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights, has had seven pieces of legislation passed into law. During his freshman year, with the passing of Avonte’s Law, he made Council history because it was the fastest piece of legislation ever passed by any legislator and had the most signees of any bill in 2014. Avonte’s Law now makes it mandatory for all doors of NYC public school buildings to have alarms.
In 2016, a similar federal law (Kevin and Avonte’s Law) was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Chuck Schumer, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. In California, Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Chris Smith have introduced a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cornegy’s tenacity is now helping countless children across the nation.
His initiatives have reached far outside of his district to benefit all New Yorkers, including ensuring nursing mothers have access to private lactation rooms in governmental buildings.
As the chair of the Council’s Small Business Committee, he has traveled around our city and listened to the concerns of small-business owners. These conversations have led to the creation of Chamber on the Go, which is the state’s first mobile unit providing small businesses with critical assistance at their door. Since Cornegy has been in office, $3.54 billion of city contracts have been awarded to minority/ women-owned business enterprises and more than 4,500 M/WBEs have been certified, a record-breaking number for the city. He is a strong advocate for school gifted and talented programs throughout marginalized communities.
Those of us who buy and read The New York Times expect to see all communities represented in a fair and equitable fashion. We will be closely watching in the future to provide a more balanced approach.
The Rev. Jacques DeGraff is associate pastor of the Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, a member of the One Hundred Black Men of New York and is hailed as “one of the nation’s most articulate voices on national politics” by the African-American Chamber of Commerce.