A growing contingent of black district leaders and politically active people in Central Brooklyn are charging a disproportionately white “progressive” Democratic club with political gentrification.
The Williamsburg-based New Kings Democrats (NKD) have embarked on an initiative dubbed ‘Rep Your Block’ targeting communities of color, and usurping and undermining both the local Democratic Clubs and the local district leaders, according to several sources.
“Their (NKD) goal, aim and objective is to cause disruption and have us fighting against each other. It is a divide and conquer tactic used by these individuals, and the organization is 90 percent white. I see it as nothing more than community enslavement and political gentrification,” said Anthony Jones, the Democratic District Leader in 55th Assembly District representing Brownsville.
Jones said the NKD contacted him about a month ago saying they were coming into the district to recruit Democratic committee members with a tone that was more confrontational than collaborative.
“It was more like a threat to work with us or else,” said Jones. “They just said they were coming into the community and never said they even wanted to sit down and talk with me.”
Jones and other district leaders say the NKD real motive is to gain county committee members – there are several in each election district (ED) – and whom can vote in new rules and eventually take over the party from current Kings County Democratic Party Chair Frank Seddio.
The rub is that many of the local Democratic committee members are longtime neighborhood activists associated with the local political clubs and district leaders. Thus with the NKD coming in to run other people from the community against the current neighborhood leadership means many of these recruits are new arrivals to these increasingly gentrified neighborhoods.
“The New Kings Democrats are very organized and they want changes in the party. A lot of the changes they wanted to see happen have already happened so I’m not sure what they want,” said Cory Provost, the Democratic District Leader in the 58th Assembly District of East Flatbush. “But every district has a [political] club already and when they contacted me, I didn’t get the sense they wanted to partner with me. I got the sense we’re running people for county committee, and they want to run their people, and that’s how it goes.”
Provost said it is a valid viewpoint to call it political gentrification, especially if they are not trying to work with district leaders. “This can be problematic and they eventually can take over the district,” said Provost.
It’s also not lost on these local district leaders that while the majority of the people in the club are white and relatively new to Brooklyn, they chose a black president. “This is a classic strategy of these progressive groups,” said one district leader, who did not want to go on record least the club go after that person.
Initial calls from KCP to the NKD to discuss the initiative were rerouted to NKD member Angela LaScala-Gruenewald. However, after KCP asked for a reaction to some district leaders accusing the group of political gentrification, KCP was put in touch with NKD President Brandon West, who is black and from Northern New Jersey.
“This isn’t a strategy to try to carve up Brooklyn and take it over. We’re not trying to be antagonistic about it. We just want a full county committee,” said West, acknowledging that the initiative could leave the impression the club is taking away power from people of color in the neighborhood.
West also acknowledged that the club’s membership was disproportionately white and newcomers to Brooklyn, but that he himself as a person of color feels the topic of gentrification is really important and he doesn’t take this growing perception lightly.
“We’re a boroughwide organization and we want people running [for county committee] with a wide background of identities and politics and shared goals. We try to explain that bad government is bad politics and to improve our politics means including more people and voices in more spaces,” said West.
But to many, including Henry Butler, president of the Vanguard Independent Democratic Association (VIDA), one of the oldest and most powerful black political clubs located in Bedford-Stuyvesant, there is continued wariness of the NKD.
“Once again you have so-called white progressives who come into black and Latino communities and try to control the political infrastructure. They are supposed to be progressives and yet they are always coming to African-American and Latino communities as if they know what’s good and best for us,” said Butler.