A City Council member named Barron has held the seat serving East New York for two decades and is in pursuit of another four years, despite New York’s term limits law.
That’s because two married Barrons — current City Councilmember Inez Barron and Assemblymember Charles Barron — have traded off the seat, with Charles elected in 2001 and Inez in 2013. What’s more, Charles’ current job formerly belonged to Inez, who held the Assembly’s District 60 post from 2008 to 2013.
The Barrons of Brooklyn are known for iconoclastic political personas with roots in Black nationalism. If reelected to his former seat, Charles Barron, 70, could serve for another decade: a two-year term, followed by up to two more four-year terms after redistricting.
He joins Gale Brewer of Manhattan, James Gennaro and Tony Avella of Queens and Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn in running again for their old seats after taking a required minimum four-year break from their Council posts.
“If you want something new, you should stick with me,” Charles Barron told THE CITY. “Because we have a bunch of new ideas.”
But this time he’s facing well-funded opponents who say it’s time for the Barron dynasty to end.
One of those challengers, Nikki Lucas, has already conquered symbolic turf that once belonged to Charles Barron: Her campaign headquarters is located in the basement of a residence on Barbey Street that once served as Barron HQ.
The home’s owner, 80-year-old retired social worker Carlos Bristol, says he’s had enough of the Barrons. He told THE CITY that he switched his allegiance well before 2009, when he too challenged Barron for the Council seat, but lost.
“There’s a lot of things that we need that’s on the ground, and Barron is not bringing it to fruition,” Bristol said in an interview with THE CITY.
Briefcase vs. Baseball Bats
Back in the 1990s, a time when East New York still suffered ravages of the crack epidemic and boarded-up buildings were plentiful, Bristol said nobody was addressing the community’s needs.
Then he kept seeing Charles Barron at a nearby subway stop. Barron stood out, Bristol recalled, because he carried a briefcase while others in the neighborhood brandished “baseball bats.”
One day Bristol introduced himself to Barron and invited him to a local community board meeting. Barron, a skilled organizer, eventually convinced Bristol that he would be the man to bring about change.
“He sold me on it,” Bristol said. “I thought that he was going to do what he said he was going to do.”
Bristol said he encouraged Barron to run for the Council in the late 1990s. He gave funds to the Barron campaign in his first unsuccessful bid for office in 1997, and then again in 2001, when he won. During those years, Bristol also let Barron use the basement of his home for campaign meetings — free of charge.
Bristol said that Barron likes to surround himself with “yes” men and women. He added that if a community member experiences a tragedy, Barron is quick to pat them on the shoulder and present himself as an understanding leader, like a priest.
“He can do all that, so very good. But the follow-up is not there,” Bristol said. “Every time I talk and think about Baron I get nauseated.”
Barron said he’s delivered more than he’s pledged to the community.
“We went beyond fulfilling promises, and as for Carlos Bristol, I have nothing but positive, wonderful things to say about him,” Barron said, calling Bristol “the mayor of East New York.”
“I’m just totally perplexed,” he added. “And to this day, as to why he left us, I asked him on several occasions, ‘What is it?’ And to this day, I haven’t gotten an answer.”
Knocking ‘Machine Candidates’
Lucas told THE CITY that she not only hopes to topple the Barron dynasty in the June 22 primary but wants to close what she views as a loophole in term limits.
“The law is flawed,” Lucas said. “And at this point, we have to respect the legislation that’s put in place because that is what it is. But I think that we should, in all fairness, look to amend that law.”
“If the people didn’t want us in, they wouldn’t vote for us,” he said. “They have voted for us all these years because we produce. We are the most productive elected officials in the history of our community. Bar none.”
He pointed to his role in building new schools, funding student scholarships, renovating parks, creating jobs, opposing a proposal to open a Walmart and fighting gentrification, while remaining “unbossed” by the Brooklyn Democratic Party “machine.”
“If we weren’t in the seat, the machine would have allowed our community to be gentrified, like they doing in Bed Stuy, like they doing in Crown Heights, like they doing in Clinton Hill,” Barron said. “These are machine candidates, allowing for those districts to be gentrified.”
Barron added that the same Black elected leaders who complain about their communities being gentrified are the ones who let it happen in the first place.
“Once you align with the party, then you go along to get along,” Barron said. “And that’s how our communities around us, outside of us, have been gentrified.”
Inez Barron, 75, cited her and her husband’s track record on bringing affordable housing to the majority Black communities within their district. She noted that the annual median income is $37,000.
“We are number one in the city in bringing in housing that is affordable to the current residents,” she said. “That’s been documented.”
Lucas lives in the vast Starrett City apartment development and hosts an online public affairs show called Voices of East New York. She said she often hears the Barrons touting their housing record but can’t square that with the fact that homeless shelter residents are likelier to have had their last prior address in East New York than in any other neighborhood.
“It’s not adding up when the homelessness rate is high,” Lucas said. “You know, it’s just about prioritizing, and we haven’t seen that done in over two decades.”
Lucas, who started a local political group called the People First Democratic Club, said the solution to the homeless crisis is creating additional housing and establishing programs to educate people on financial literacy and other fundamentals.
“There’s a number of different ways that we can work collectively, to not only allow people access to rentals and homeownership, but also to be able to sustain their apartments,” she said.
For Florentino’s part, he said he supports raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires through a progressive tax structure to fund housing for local homeless people, arguing that “housing is a human right” and elected officials aren’t doing enough to help.
“The fact that we are not doing more to ensure that those who are housing insecure have secure and safe and accessible, affordable housing is unconscionable,” he said.
Lucas is running a formidable campaign, outraising both Barron and Florentino.
As of the most recently reported figures through March 11, Lucas’ campaign has generated $220,622, raising $60,179 in private donations and receiving public matching funds. Barron generated $181,604, including $124,610 in private donations. Florentino has received $130,988, including $23,645 in private donations.
Using those funds, Lucas has enlisted the services of top political strategists from Build the Wave as well as Hamilton Campaign Network, a political consulting firm that boasts leading “groundbreaking historic races” for Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, state Attorney General Letitia James and U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-Bronx, Manhattan).
The firm was co-founded by Luis Miranda Jr., father of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote and starred in the award-winning Broadway musical “Hamiliton.” (Disclosure: Luis Miranda is on THE CITY’s Board of Directors.)
Lucas also won key endorsements, including from the U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and the United Federation of Teachers. Charles Barron noted that Lucas also got the backing of the Kings County Democratic Party, or what he calls the “Democratic machine” — including a donation from the party chair, Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn.
But Lucas hasn’t always had such good fortune in her political career.
In 2013, she ran for the Council seat but was defeated by Inez Barron. In the process, she ran afoul of the city Campaign Finance Board, which requested that she return $22,371 in public matching funds.
The board also issued $5,942 in penalties, including for failing to demonstrate that certain payments to workers served to further the campaign.
The total bill: $28,313. In 2015, the CFB sued Lucas in State Supreme Court to collect the money.
A spokesperson for the board, Matt Sollars, confirmed that Lucas’ case has been resolved, with debt paid by March 2020. She is receiving matching funds again in this election, records show. “Once the debt is paid off, the candidate may be eligible,” Sollars said.
Touting ‘Track Record’
Now, Bristol supports Lucas, with campaign finance records showing $800 in contributions as of March 11. He lets her campaign occupy his basement for free.
“She can bring us the dream that we were hoping for with Baron running,” he said. “Baron didn’t bring us the dream. He brought us a nightmare. And if you look at East New York now, you can see exactly what I’m talking about.”
Bristol points to gunshots, gangs, prostitution and trash as current neighborhood ills.
“It’s his prerogative to support whoever he pleases,” Barron retorted. “But Carlos is a decent human being. He has roots in the community. He’s genuinely concerned about the people in our community.”
Barron said he is not going to run a negative campaign but is going to tell members of the community “what we’ve done and ask for their continued support.”
Many supporters are extremely loyal to Barron. That includes Melinda Perkins, district manager of Brooklyn’s Community Board 5. She worked for Barron’s Council office for several years, first as a community liaison and then as his deputy chief of staff.
“Charles Barron is absolutely perfect to be reelected,” said Perkins, noting she was speaking in her personal capacity, not on the board’s behalf. “I say that with pride.”
“He should be reelected to the 42nd Council District. He understands the 42nd,” Perkins added. “He has been invested in it for years. And his track record proves that he has a love for this community that I’ve not seen across the city in a very long time. And I’m very proud to be a part of this community knowing that, you know, eventually he will represent us again.”