How Insurgent Chris Banks Toppled the Barrons’ Stronghold in East New York — For Now
Fifth time’s the charm for Banks, who has been running against the political couple for a decade.
The first time Chris Banks, a lifelong East New York resident, challenged the Barron political family, he was a 28-year-old working at an after-school program in the Pink Houses. It was 2012 and Banks had decided to run against Inez Barron, wife of Charles Barron, for the state’s 60th District Assembly seat.
“Her first year and a half she was just nowhere to be seen,” Banks told THE CITY. “We were getting absentee representation and I wanted to change that.”
He ran — and lost, by 598 votes out of 5,314 cast.
But Banks wasn’t deterred. Over the next decade he challenged the Barrons another four times in elections for Assembly and district leader seats, culminating in what appeared to be a victory over Charles Barron Tuesday evening for a City Council seat in District 42.
Unofficial election night results from the New York City Board of Elections had Banks up by 437 votes above Barron, of 5,958 ballots cast.
“This has been an ongoing journey to bring about new leadership in the East New York community,” Banks, 39, said in a conversation with THE CITY. “We knew it was just a matter of time that we would get the victory.”
While there are 417 outstanding absentee ballots yet to be counted, and 321 votes for a third candidate that could change the final tallies once ranked choice tabulations are performed, Barron conceded to his opponent Wednesday in an interview with the Daily News.
“They have won it,” he said. “I don’t think the ranked choice will change anything.”
Barron did not return a request from THE CITY for further comment.
The apparent loss was a stunning defeat for Barron, who’s represented East New York in some capacity almost uninterrupted since 2001, serving three four-year terms in the Council, followed by four two-year terms in the state Assembly.
An ‘Elected Revolutionary’
Charles Barron started his political life as an activist in Harlem’s Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and was later taken under the wing of the Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry, the founding chairman of the National Black United Front. Barron served as chief of staff in the organization, a Black nationalist advocacy group that pushed for reparations for the descendants of enslaved people and prison reform, among other issues.
He made it into the Council on his second try, winning a primary in 2001 against Daniel Wooten, the son of City Councilmember Priscilla Wooten, who had been term-limited out.
Barron made waves right away, calling Thomas Jefferson a “pedophile” and demanding the removal of his bust at City Hall, seeking its replacement by a statue of Malcolm X.
The next year, at an August march on Washington calling for reparations for Black Americans, Barron ruffled establishment feathers again.
“I’m so mad. I just might walk up to the nearest white man and say, ‘You don’t understand. This is a Black thing,’ and slap them just for my mental health.
“I am not a politician. I am an elected revolutionary,” he declared.
But over the years some residents of his district soured on his confrontational style, fearing it was a distraction from issues on the ground impacting his constituents.
“If he cared about reparations, he would make sure to take care of the people in his backyard,” said Pamela Lockley, the tenant association president of Linden Plaza, a towering 1,500-unit Mitchell-Lama housing complex between Linden Boulevard and Sutter Avenue.
Lockley, a Banks supporter, said when the complex faced lengthy elevator outages or when a shooting happened on their doorstep, it was Banks — who served on the community board and the local precinct council — not Barron, who showed up.
“He’s been doing the job,” she said. “We’ve been ready for new leadership for a long time.”
Barron’s defenders see it otherwise. Brother Paul Muhammad, who sits on local Community Board 5, pointed to affordable housing complexes Barron pushed for like the Ebenezer Plaza Project and Livonia Commons; the new schools that have been built in the district; and early support for non-police alternatives to tamping down on gun violence like the group Man Up!, as evidence that Barron has delivered for East New York residents.
“I’m very sad. You don’t need a new voice. You need a renewed respect for militancy,” Muhammad said. “I want the man that has proven he could fight for my community.”
He sees Barron’s ousting as the triumph of Brooklyn’s political establishment, which has long viewed the pol as a thorn in their side.
“This is more of a well-funded anti-Barron [campaign] more than it is pro somebody else,” he said.
Barron had certainly made political enemies over the years. Both Barrons have been willing to buck the Democratic Party line. In 2012 Charles ran against Democrat Hakeem Jeffries in the 8th Congressional District, which caused a frenzy among the political establishment when Barron seemed to gain traction in the race. (Jeffries has held that seat since then, presently serving as House Minority Leader.)
Beef between the two men has continued for years, with Jeffries’ senior advisor Andre Richardson calling Barron a “washed-up irrelevant hater,” and Barron returning the jab, calling Jeffries a “political animal opportunist.”
Jeffries has supported various challengers to Barron’s tenure, backing Banks in his various runs, as well as Nikki Lucas, who tried to wrest the Council seat from him in 2021.
Lucas won Inez Barron’s Assembly seat last year after she retired, beating a candidate the couple had picked to succeed her. It’s unclear if Charles Barron will seek to oust Lucas and attempt to reclaim his former Assembly seat when it’s up for election next year.
Banks said he got word in the final weeks of his campaign that Barron was making urgent appearances at local churches.
“His message was he was in a fight for his life and he needed their help,” Banks said.
Up until that point Barron had treated him with the same confident indifference he had on earlier occasions, sure he would cruise to victory again, Banks said.
“‘You’ve been rejected before, they’re gonna reject you again,’” Banks said Barron told him. “This time they rejected him.”