Credit: Nayaba Arinde photo

“I am running as a candidate for speaker of New York City Council,” City Councilmember Inez Barron announced at a first day of Kwanzaa—Umoja—unity rally Tuesday night.

Standing next to her husband, rally co-host Assemblymember Charles Barron, and Viola Plummer, chair of the December 12th Movement, Barron made her announcement to a surprised, vociferous and excited audience in the large Black Jesus and Black art and newspaper-decorated community room downstairs in the historic House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn.

Assemblyman Barron declared, “It is time that we had a Black person as our City Council speaker. We cannot be such a large percentage in the city, yet continuously have white men determine who controls the City Council, the committees, the budget and what bills come to the floor. Black and Brown people are the majority in this city. We need to have control of what governs our lives.”

“Usually the paradigms are that the masters and the bosses and other entities have decided who can get the 26 votes and in the City Council to choose the speaker, and, everybody falls in line with that,” second-term Councilwoman Barron told the Amsterdam News. “Very few people don’t follow the dictates of the county bosses because they get ‘punished,’ meaning that they don’t get the plum chair assignments. They don’t get to be on the more elite committees, which is finance, land use, education, ethics rules. There is a hierarchy. It always happens this way. I am trying to get a paradigm shift. If you don’t support the speaker choice … you never get chairs.”

She added of her husband, “When Charles Barron offered his own name, they removed him as chair of higher education, even though they won and got 48 votes. It’s not politically savvy to not pull in someone that you consider your enemy, but they punish people as a deterrent.”

Last week, published reports announced that Manhattan Councilmember Corey Johnson had the votes to become the next City Council speaker, and Mayor Bill de Blasio threw his support behind him. “How can you say he has won before a single vote has been cast?” asked Assemblyman Baron.

Councilmembers Robert Cornegy and Jumaane Williams had not yet conceded that they were out of the half-dozen candidate race, while backroom conversations were said to going on.

As Plummer told the audience that they should spread the word and encourage their City Council members to vote for Councilmember Barron, Barron told the Amsterdam News, “We were trying to get behind the front runners to say that we got you … they were supposed to be here and make a pronouncement … but they’re not here. We needed to back a candidate who was willing to go all the way.”

The Amsterdam News reached out to several elected officials. Cornegy offered a “No” to a request for comment, but Williams said, “As I have been saying, these issues are beyond me or any particular candidacy. I’m glad that others are involved to help push the importance of elevating leaders of more color in powerful positions within government. I am particularly glad that women, whose voices are also too often marginalized, are confronting this issue head on.”

The paper also reached out to Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Public Advocate Tish James, Council Members Laurie Cumbo and Corey Johnson, but they did not respond.

Tuesday’s rally had initially been posted as a gathering to get behind candidate Councilmember Robert Cornegy, but Assemblyman Barron stated, “Although other candidates of color had previously declared their candidacy before Councilmember Inez Barron, as of this announcement, not one had unequivocally affirmed that he would remain as a candidate for speaker when the actual vote will be taken at the first stated meeting Jan. 3, 2018. Each of the other candidates was willing to accept other assignments, in lieu of the speakership.”

Assemblyman Barron declared, “It is our turn now! Black people have given the Democratic Party mass support over the decides on every level of government, and we have always watched our majority vote be taken for granted. White men have controlled the process for way too long.”

“This is God calling me to do this,” Councilmember Barron said of her Christmas weekend decision to run. “It’s a sacrifice, but this whole position is one about serving people.”

Councilwoman Barron touted her almost 40 years of experience in leadership and legislative roles, including education and local government. She told the engaged audience of her more-than-qualified resume: a teacher trainer, a district early childhood coordinator, an assistant principal, an elementary school principal, the executive assistant to the Community School Superintendent, within her 36-year career in the NYC Department of Education, and nine years as a legislator in the New York State Assembly and the New York City Council. She is presently the NYC Council chair of the Committee on Higher Education and co-vice chair of the New York City Council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. She holds a BA in physiology and an MA in reading/special education.

Barron told the Amsterdam News that with her faith as her guide, she has the “unwavering determination, intestinal fortitude and single-mindedness of purpose to be the candidate to become the first Black Speaker.”

More than aware of the time—less than a week before the Jan. 3, 2018, City Council member-only vote— and the missed almost 20 candidate forums, win-lose-or-draw, Barron emphasized that her candidacy is about taking a position for a righteous cause. She said, “There have been white men, a white woman, a Latina woman, but there has never been a Black speaker. We want to shake up the paradigm. It’s our turn now.”