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, June 19, 2016

Meet Your New Councilperson. Let's hope.

The Q has made no bones about his dissatisfaction with current City Councilperson Mathieu Eugene of the 40th Council District. In 2013, the Q took off the gloves and went to bat for challenger Saundra Thomas, who came within spitting distance of the two-and-a-half term incumbent. (Sorry for all the mixed sporting metaphors - but politics is like that.) The lackadaisical, uninformed and generally incompetent pol "Dr." ME has been granted the very odd opportunity to run YET AGAIN in 2017, despite term limits, due to the strange happenstance of his first election having been a botched mid-term affair after Yvette Clarke went to Congress. Having been hand-groomed by the Clarkes (Una and Yvette) there was no reason to assume he would be as vastly under-qualified for the gig as he turned out to be. But ask anyone who's had to do business with him - the guy is a stuffed suit at best, a great harm to his district at worst, and privately a laughing stock of the Council. Just try Googling the guy. You'll note that he doesn't even bother to communicate with his constituents digitally, such is the regard and esteem he shows you. And we have no one to blame but ourselves, because we've voted him in three times already, in super-low-turnout primaries that in Democratic Brooklyn is all you need. 5K or 6K votes is all it takes in a District of nearly 180,000 people.

Enter Brian Cunningham, already announced, already putting together a great team, already talking like someone who has a clue and possessing the deep neighborhood love that's needed for the gig. I spent a couple hours with him last week crisscrossing the neighborhood and talking about what makes him the best possible candidate to send Eugene packing back to Canarsie. (Oops. That's right; he already lives there. ME doesn't even lay his head in the District at night.) Granted, other candidates may enter the race. But to the Q's ear, Cunningham's already capable of beating Eugene. A third or fourth challenger would make it harder. But then again, who's to say it wouldn't make it easier? The point is - Brian Cunningham is a decent, hard-working, smart, young, electable guy with friends around town (he was an aide to uber-competent State Senator Kevin Parker and pals with all the electeds), friends who might just be gutsy enough to blow off the machine-politics-as-usual and back a guy who might actually take this office seriously. Seriously.

Brian grew up on Linden Blvd, right near SUNY Downstate. Our tour began at the apartment building that his mom raised him in. He remembers it all fondly, a rambunctious kid playing with the dozens of others who called his block home, playing tree-milk-crate basketball and causing mischief. He has Jamaican roots, though you wouldn't know from his Americanized English accent, though he can easily tilt back to an Island brogue as he hugs and greets friends along our walk. Every time I've ever seen him, he's wearing a nice suit and shoes, so he'll definitely give the dandy Eugene a challenge in the debonair demeanor department. The suit stands out on the blocks of his childhood; but it's no mere show of success. Brian meets every eye head on, as if to say "we can all aspire to something if we work twice as hard." He's even been mistaken for a newcomer buppie a time or two, but it's all good. Yet another example of judging a book by its cover.

As we walked building by building, you can't help but note that pockets of the neighborhood are so Pan-Island you'd think you were strolling through the halls of a Caribbean U.N. And yet the children and grandchildren of West Indian immigrants become, to the greater society, part of the extraordinary diversity that myopic America calls Black Americans. Which is to say, from the Q's view, that mainstream white American doesn't really know shit from Shinola when it comes to Black. Most of white suburbia gets its image from rap videos, local TV news and racist Disney movies. Rich, middle, low, poor, PhD to junior high dropout, urban, rural, suburban, north, south, west, southwest, fat, skinny, wigged or natural or bald the black experience is the American experience and yet so often it's reduced to simplified demographics for marketing and polling purposes. And as multi-racial becomes ever-more ho-hum, the insistence on labels becomes more and more absurd, even as the profiling becomes even more pronounced. In the Trump age, or trumpage (note the lack of a capital T, as if he deserves one anyway), one sees a last stand for the insanity that is the census. I really believe that bit about it being a last stand, hopefully not as bloody as Orlando and Charleston, but I fear the worst. I don't think we're living a nirvana, nor will we ever. But there is a desperation to this political year that I've never experienced, on left and right. A sense from the right, a potentially toxic and violent sense, that there will never again be a pure white entitlement, that it will forevermore be mixed with resentment and fear and the need by some to defend it. Not just because now there's been a black president and a woman president (yes, calm down, there will be and it will soon be past tense) and queers of every variety in every echelon of power and prestige.  But because that entitlement is at its core unfair, just like the denying of the vote or marriage or a shot at the first rung on the ladder. Oh, the battle isn't over yet. But damned if the first shots haven't been fired. So many shots, in so many bizarre NRA-fueled outburst, that it no longer feels like isolated incidents. Especially given the backdrop of police on citizen violence, and growing protests, and Bern Feelin', and rent anxiety.

This is the first of what I'm sure will be many profiles on Mr. Cunningham, here and elsewhere. You can read more on his website, so I'll spare you the details now; consider this a formal introduction. But mark my words, his name will become more commonplace in the months to come. By all means, seek him out, talk to him, get to know him, ask him hard questions about anything you like. Because come September 2017, we're already assured to have ONE thoughtful and passionate candidate in the race. The choice, dear Flatbushians, will be up to you.

Your next Councilperson?


Anonymous said...

Check this out!

305 said...

Which building on Linden?

30-year resident of Flatbush said...

I share your low opinion of Mathieu Eugene, the do-nothingest council person we could have. I have a similarly low opinion of both Una and Yvette Clarke for dumping such a piece of crap on a neighborhood that desperately needs someone who can fight for ALL Flatbushers, not just the West Indian community. I have voted for whoever was up against him in the primary, to no avail so far. Thank you for covering this challenger. I wish him well.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

305: I'm gunshy after the Ta-nehisi debacle. All I said was he bought a house on Lincoln Road and isn't that awesome, and judging by the blowback you'd think I'd struck him with in the noggin' with numchucks. But it's the one with that great climbing tree in the front on the northside btw Nostrand and NY Ave.