The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Big Man of Brooklyn Politics Is Back, Folks

This is no hyperbole, folks. Old news to many, this stuff is absolutely essential information for the informed voter in Central Brooklyn. And now I see the NY Post has picked up the next piece of the story.

His name is Clarence Norman, Jr. For those who don't know his name, well, I was in the same boat a few years ago. But to a longtime resident not knowing his name is like not knowing George Washington or Una Clarke. Una who you say? Gee whiz, do I have to explain EVERYthing? Let's start with Clarence Norman, who I just found out. through an anonymous source, is apparently an excellent dancer. That is besides the point, but it's a nice metaphor just the same.

After reading about how Clarence Norman, Jr. went to jail (Power thy name is Corruption), I was still pretty clueless. Pearl Miles, the longtime District Manager at Community Board 9, gave me the skinny on Norman. He'd been both NY State Assemblyman and head of the Kings County Democratic Party. As such, he had enormous powers to control who ran for what, and who became an elected official. The list of Brooklyn "who's whos" reads like a list of Norman's who's who's. There is nothing new to report about his trip to the dark can read the whole sordid story yourself. However, a line from the NY Times article on his conviction is worth repeating. First, the Brooklyn D.A. at the time, then Norman:

“We have exposed it for the evil that it is,” Mr. Hynes said. “Any political leader who engages in this kind of rank extortion, and think about it, any political leader who tries this, does so at her or his peril.”
For his part, Mr. Norman acknowledged that his political influence had ended. “I’m out of politics,” he said. “No politics for me, that’s in the past tense.”
Really now. That's what I started saying to myself when Mr. Norman started showing up almost religiously at CB9 meetings. That's what I started thinking when his name was invoked surrounding the very strange situation last year in which the nutty Dem Party perennial outsider candidate Guillermo Philpotts mysteriously "forgot" to sign his papers that would have made him a near-shoo-in candidate for Assemblyman to fill the shoes of insider Reverend Karim Camara.

The story started as an embarrassment for Brooklyn's Dem bigwigs (Adams/Hamilton etc), because they had planned on making longtime ally Shirley Patterson the nominee, but didn't have the votes at the Party meeting to make that happen. Apparently they'd forgotten to stock the committee with their allies. By all accounts Philpotts was THRILLED with the unexpected victory, and prepared to take his outsider status to the people, machine be damned. But something funny happened on the way to the Forum...

Philpotts missed his filing deadline. Some say that was not a simple mistake, that Norman & Adams and State Senator Jesse Hamilton made sure Philpotts didn't make it to the polls to collect his "gimme" ballot line. Did they intentionally mislead him? "Happen" not to tell him about the strict deadline? Or was it coercion? Only the no-longer-smoke-filled backrooms could tell you, if their walls could talk, and if those walls hadn't already been silenced by Norman et al and given cushy civil service jobs in return. Did Philpotts get cold feet and decid to opt out on his own? Not bloody likely. He was seen crying after he learned he'd screwed up. I couldn't believe that story didn't get more play than it did. Where was the follow-up with Guillermo? Shucks I suppose I should've called him. Actually, Milford and I led a debate, come to think of it. When Philpotts showed up I didn't know who the hell he was. I hadn't even heard the story yet. I could've asked him.

This, folks, is what happens to our Democratic system of government when we're not paying attention. And given the miserable numbers showing up at the polls on primary days, you, dear friends who don't vote, get precisely what you deserve. Miserable, corrupt, paternalistic, patronage-based undemocratic leadership. Or, when we're lucky, we get very good politicians whose sole motivation is "doing the right thing." Yes, when we're lucky. But you can also get lucky with a "good King." So why not just flip over to Monarchy? We could use the Gowanus as our moat.

As a result of the above insanity, four candidates ran for a State Assembly seat that should have been a shoe-in for the Democratic pick. Newcomer Diana Richardson swept into victory, since all the viable candidates had to run on third-party lines, meaning the Dem machine was disrupted. Come this fall, one might expect that someone, a Norman-Adams-Hamilton ally, will run against Diana, since she has yet to align herself "properly" and seems to have a mind of her own, god bless her. Will it be Demetrius Lawrence, faithful CB9 chair? Or someone else with the proper bonafides? In Part II of the saga, trust me, it gets even weirder.  But first, more about the Big Man.

Politics is often about loyalty. And resentments. And loyal resentments. And one-upmanship. And power that leads to bad decision-making. And maybe, as one racks up victories, it leads to a sense of entitlement, or of being above the standards the rest of us are held to. After longtime D.A. Charles Hynes put Norman away for wrongdoing, do you suppose Jr. came out of jail fully reformed and fully removed to the world he'd known his whole life? You'd think he'd have nowhere to go, but having bragged he'd "made" dozens of judges and politicians, a lot of people owed, and still owe him, favors. And his skills translated well into political consultancy. Clarence Norman, Jr. may have been humbled, but he sure as heck ain't gone.

Were you paying attention a year and half ago when the once unbeatable D.A. Hynes got sent packing by Ken Thompson? Talk about a shot heard 'round the borough. It was definitely an indication that the center of gravity had shifted. Suddenly we went from two old-style New York white guys strutting about - Hynes and longtime Borough President Marty Markowitz - to Thompson and Adams respectively. Yes, the Empire Struck Back. And make no mistake, Adams has his eye on Gracie Mansion. That's not speculation - he's announced already - for 2021. And if you're to bake the Big Big Apple Pie, you have to start getting the ingredients together. Norman is in a position to consult Adams et al all the way to the top. Some would say the plans are being laid. Those some would be correct. We are watching the grab for next Mayor unfold in slow motion.

As to the reality of the future for the Machine - Brooklyn may be getting whiter, but that's yet to manifest itself at the top of the ticket here in Central and East BK (Jumaane, Richardson, Eugene, Hamilton, Mealy, Cumbo, Adams, Parker, Williams, Clarke, Mosley, Barron and a dozen or so others, many of whom I have great respect for, others, not so much). In many ways, the longtime Machine is vulnerable, just note that once solidly old school nabes like Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope etc went new gentry (Levin, de Blasio, Lander et al). It's only natural to assume the same will happen in Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Ft. Greene, Flatbush, and then East Flatbush, the Machine has to up its game, and as always, it will center around the one cultural bastion generally off-limits to whites - the churches. Specifically, for the machine, it's primarily about The First Baptist Church of Crown Heights, on Eastern Parkway at Rogers. (Interestingly the home of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic community is 770 Easter Parkway near Kingston, just down the street. And they are the other "block" that is worth courting if you have designs on elected office.)

To understand how Norman got where he is/was, you have to understand that politics in Central Brooklyn is all about the Temples and Churches. This may be hard to grasp if you're, say, new to the neighborhood and religiously unaffiliated or generally Godless. But Clarence's father - the Sr. - was leader of First Baptist. It's spitting distance from the Bedford Union Armory, and that's not incidental, as the Church's Crown Heights Development Corporation made a play to develop the Armory. Not only is Norman, Jr. heavily invested in the church and its corporation, but that particular congregation is home to many current and past elected officials, and as a center of power, plays host to numerous luminaries when they visit the borough seeking support. In other words, every Sunday, many of the people who call the shots in your life are worshiping together with one eye on Jesus and the other on politics. I'm not being cynical here - we all do a version of this, trying to live up to our ideals in the moral and spiritual realms, while claiming our piece of the pie in the secular reality. Amiright or am I right?

Which gets me to the weirdness of this week, which I'll relate tomorrow after a night of sweet dreams about the wonderful Easter egg hunt we had on the Nethermead today. It really is a fantastic place to live, this Brooklyn, especially when I'm blithely ignorant to its politics.


MikeF said...

Anonymous said...

Well Q, how do we disrupt the machine-besides voting? Any clues?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Yes, Anon. Voting. But in order to vote well, you must be informed. Informed voting. That's the key. And perhaps with enough information, and the information getting to the most people, you vote the best folks in.

Other than that, I really don't have a clue. I'm not a member of First Baptist, I don't have a seat at the Kings County Democratic Party, and as of this last post, no one, I mean no one, is going to return my phone calls.

Alex said...

First Baptist and the Orthodox community are the reason why there is no police presence in PLG. They succeed in demanding resources because they are so well connected and vote as a block.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I think there's more to it. For instance, the 71st never hears any kind words from us. We rarely show up at their Precinct Council meetings, or drop by for a chat, or invite them to things. It shouldn't be just about relationships, but there is a new vibe out there from the new Brooklyn that expects the cops to get it right all the time without reaching back. I know that sounds all touchy-feely, but there are human relationships to maintain. I found it was a lot easier to get attention to issues when I made a point of getting to know Jack Lewis personally. By the time I was feeling better about things they switched him out for a new guy. And now yet another. But there's no question the police have more presence in South Crown Heights than Lefferts.

Alex said...

That isn't entirely true. We've done our best to engage with the 71st. The fact is that both religious institutions have paid employees whom they can charge with reaching out to the 71st. They have people whose whole job is to interface with the community, and they have oodles of volunteers who will help them do it. PLG does not have a paid, central organizer whose full time job is to advocate for our surrounds.

diak said...

As far as community relations, clearly the 71st and its new commander have their work cut out for them if this is any indication:

Alex said...

If he's anything like our last three commanders, this new guy will do nothing at all to improve anything. At absolute best he'll make a few empty promises and wait out his term as commander of what's possibly the worst precinct in Brooklyn.

Not only is the officers' treatment the mailman completely reprehensible, the fact that the officers do not have a friendly relationship with the mail carriers in their precinct speaks volumes. I don't think they could care less about the neighborhood if they tried. As long as the pastors and rabbis are happy, why change anything?

Anonymous said...

Charlie Hynes is one to talk about wrongdoing.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

True that. But the even more fascinating part of the story, to me, is that Hynes needed Norman's support in the first place in order to get the black votes he needed to become D.A. in the first place. Talk about a Law and Order episode. All you need is a murder, because you've got plenty of motive.