The scene surrounding primary elections in Brooklyn is no different than that fiery public speaker who gave out achievement awards at your elementary school graduation — it has huge implications, but stakeholders are too preoccupied and disengaged to realize how it can and will change their futures.
According to an informal NY Daily News’ survey, 61 out of 100 Brooklynites either did not know that there was a primary election coming up or did not plan on voting. In New York’s most heavily populated borough and the country’s 8th most populated county, that is a sad reality for the landscape of statewide and local politics. While we may often hear the lackluster explanation that people abstain from voting because they no longer trust government and/or its effectiveness, that excuse assumes that people are politically conscious enough of policies role in forming their surroundings to make an attentive decision not to vote. But the truth is that people, in fact, do not know when there is an election, who is their incumbent, what they have done and how it has affected their neighborhood.
The consequence of apathy in Brooklyn voting precincts is a micro-model of how legislatively complacent pols can occupy their seat for near eternity through a system that embraces cronyism and status quo. Unfortunately, whatever percentage of individually minded voters that are not caught in the rapture of community mobilizers who have more financial interest in elections than an NBA franchise owner had in his team during the lockout is that their voice is virtually nullified. The community figureheads of large hospitals, school districts, community centers, unions and even churches can pretty much command the state’s Assembly, Senate and congressional representatives with a simple endorsement that can be heard from the corners of Brooklyn on a bullhorn or read in popular local publications.
Cronyism threatens one of the most important local primaries in Brooklyn in a longtime. Today, 42nd district City Councilman Charles Barron of East New York faces off against 57th district Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries for soon-to-retire 14 term Congressman Ed Towns’ seat in a newly drawn 8th Congressional district. The East New York district has notoriously faced the City’s highest unemployment rates, personifies the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk wars and racial profiling, is always on the top of the hospital closings chopping block and is plagued by ex-offenders who return from upstate to meager reentry programs. Though these conditions were not stagnant, but have even worsened over the years, it only takes the support of the surviving health providers, job training centers and communication powerhouses to sway the polls and sustain their own existence with a few dollars of support (even over the course of a decade of subpar service).
What Brooklynites decide today can not only affect laws from the decriminalization of small possessions of marijuana to child health coverage, but also the amount of pork coming into our communities. That pork is entirely contingent upon how much of a reasonable or mad man is representing our district. If enough churches, unions and cohorts back Barron or Jeffries, we can either see East New York turn for the better or worst. If enough old time community leaders have mobilized communities to stick with old names and esoteric diplomacy for the sake of patting longtime public servants on the back, then we can lose the fresh ideas and energy that a less connected pol offers Brooklyn.
Get out and vote!