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A New Voice in Brooklyn

POSTED: August 07, 2009, 12:00 am

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Harlem may hold the sentimental title of the “Black Mecca” of New York City but statistics confirm that Brooklyn is the center of the Black universe in the Big Apple. With the borough that was once an independent city flexing its political and cultural muscle, Brooklyn has become hot property for young Black professionals, those native to the borough and some new, and a wide cross section of folks, many ex-Manhattanites, who are transforming the area as the heart and soul of New York City. Now it seems the boroughs politics is also showing signs of a transformation.

Brooklyn is the undisputed heart of “Black New York.” Blacks make up 36 percent of the borough of almost two and half million people, according to 2000 Census data. It is the city’s blackest borough and its population of 900,000 represents almost 40 percent of New York City’s Black population. The nation’s largest Black population is situated in the borough’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section and its surrounding neighborhoods. It is perhaps a fitting development since baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson once roamed the field at the former Brooklyn Dodgers’ old Ebbets Field, a site now dominated by a housing complex that is next to Medgar Evers College, an important and growing institution of higher learning that has a predominantly Black enrollment. In every conceivable way, with the exception of its top political leadership, the borough has become the epicenter of all things Black in New York City.

This year is an election year in the nation’s largest city and besides electing a mayor and members of the City Council voters will also choose five individuals to lead its boroughs. The office of Borough President, though left with little power after charter reform twenty years ago, remains an important bully pulpit in the city. The last Democratic mayor to occupy City Hall, and the first African American to do so, was David Dinkins, who had served as Manhattan Borough President prior to his election. The office in a borough like Brooklyn still provides an excellent platform for a smart and perceptive politician to make his or her mark and possibly put the person on the path to higher office.

Enter Eugene Myrick in the role of David slinging the rock toward Goliath, in this case the incumbent Borough President Marty Markowitz, an old hand in city politics and a shameless self-promoter. The upstart, who would appear to be a real long shot simply because he is taking on an entrenched incumbent, has nonetheless created a ripple and may be on his way to making waves. So much so that Markowitz is employing a tried and true New York City political tactic in trying to get his only opponent bounced off the ballot.

Myrick is a Brooklyn native, who graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in the borough and went on to receive an undergraduate degree in international relations from historically Black Shaw University in North Carolina. He returned to Brooklyn and began teaching at his old elementary school, P.S. 174. It was his experience in the classroom that he says heightened his awareness about how conditions had worsened in his community since his childhood. Myrick has made public education and affordable housing the centerpieces of his upstart campaign. He has not shied away from taking on the political establishment, saying, “If our politicians are not willing to do their jobs, then it’s time for us to take these jobs from them.” Myrick also has an entrepreneurial flair, something that fits within the emerging picture of Brooklyn. He and his wife, radio personality Kesha Monk, own Chocolate Brides Magazine and The Myricks have three daughters, twins Ayana and Zhada, age 14, and Briana, age 13.

There is no shortage of issues percolating in Brooklyn. Gentrification is in full effect in the borough and many lifelong residents are feeling the pinch of rising rents as they are priced out of the housing market. A project that includes a new arena for the NBA’s New Jersey Devils and a major commercial development is mired in controversy with some advocates complaining of its potential scale and impact on nearby neighborhoods. Economically, communities of color continue to struggle in Brooklyn despite the changing face of some neighborhoods. Overall, the per capita income in the borough is just under $17,000 and 25 percent of the population is below the poverty line, including 34 percent of residents under 18 years of age. One bright spot is Medgar Evers College in Bedford Stuyvesant, now undergoing an expansion of its campus, and the highly regarded Brooklyn Museum, a jewel of a cultural institution. While the power of the Borough President has its limits, the office does allow its holder to be an influential voice in determining the economic and cultural direction of the borough.

Even with all of the complexities of Brooklyn life, culturally the borough is where most of New York City, save the overpriced Manhattan, is heading. It makes perfect sense that the complexion of political leadership changes as the demographics of the borough evolve. Myrick has his hands full though. Change is never easy and rarely in New York City do incumbents fall on the first pass. Still, by all accounts he has shown a willingness to engage voters and a determination not to be deterred by odds that are not in his favor. If he can energize the Black vote in the borough he could make the race interesting. One thing that could swing votes in his favor is a strong showing by mayoral candidate, Comptroller William Thompson, who is gaining strength among Black voters according to recent polls. If Thompson increases Black voter turnout in Brooklyn, Myrick is likely to be the beneficiary if he can increase his name recognition over the next month. That point is likely not lost on Markowitz, who has been around long enough to not take anything for granted and will likely make every effort to knock Myrick off the ballot. This is a race worth watching if nothing more for it defining Brooklyn’s future politics.


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