Little Haiti, County Hubris and Politricks

By Simon Templar

Everyone knows that Brooklyn politics is both a cruel blood sport and gutter nasty. And here was everyone thinking that with a younger set of new political leaders espousing transparency, fairness and political decency, things would have changed at long last. Think again. The political cesspool now openly gaping and oozing the smelly, putrid bilge of political shenanigans in Brooklyn’s now-vacant 45th City Council District has all of the trappings of political treachery, hubris and fatally flawed race-only politics masquerading in a progressive cloak.

Right now the mainly Caribbean-American residents of the district are angry, confused, and alarmed at the degree to which local politicians and their enablers are taking them for granted, and trying to run a set of shameless hustles on them. So let’s start with some basic things that’s rendering the district apart and the bitterness looming over the “Special Election” that will be run to fill the seat made vacant by the victory of former City Councilmember Jumaane Williams in the recent New York City Public Advocate race.

The 45th council district covers the areas of East Flatbush, Flatbush, Flatlands, Marine Park, and Midwood. Approximately 188,000 people live in the district of which about 61 percent is a mix of African American and Caribbean American. Today, in 2019 the district has an 8 percent unemployment rate that is more than the city and state rates AND the borough. The majority of residents of the 45th District work in the private sector (75%), and the largest single employment sector is educational services, health care and social assistance, accounting for 38% of jobs. Median household income is just over $58,000. This is a working class district by any measurement.

The first controversy still swirls around the push by Haitian-American Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte to name that part of Brooklyn “Little Haiti.” Bichotte is the State Assembly representative for the 45nd Assembly District and has distinguished herself to date in aggressively and single-mindedly promoting mainly Haitian community issues while critics say she’s ignored those of the wider Caribbean immigrant community. There is some validity to this criticism now driven by the fact that she’s supporting Farrah Louis, a former staffer for City Councilmember Jumaane Williams as her candidate of choice to fill the 45nd Council District seat. The fact that Louis, a first generation Haitian-American, is largely unknown in the district and her public/civic resume is wafer thin at best has only strengthened the criticism of Bichotte of trying to literally carve out a “Haitian District’ in Central Brooklyn.

The fact is that there are only about 90,000 Haitians living in Brooklyn. They’re far and away outnumbered by the Jamaican, Guyanese and Trinidadian immigrant communities. Other critics add that a designation of “Little Caribbean” would have been far better and more inclusive given the history of non-Haitian Caribbean-Americans fighting for and on behalf of the issues that affect Haitians both here and back in the Caribbean region. This is race politics at its best they claim with some level of validity. For example, Caribbean-American leader and trailblazer Jamaica-born Una Clarke was one of the leaders at the forefront of the 1997 Abner Louima police brutality case. And it was Trinidadian attorneys Brian Figaroux and Carl Thomas who were the first on the case before Johnny Cochran.

Such conscious historical myopia and plain naked pandering to one’s “natural community,” is something that many present and former Caribbean-American leaders have struggled hard to avoid, and to uncompromisingly promote the ideal of “Caribbean inclusiveness” even when the Haitian community and population was very small, and had just few leaders. The segregationist, separatist politics of elevating one race and people over another in what New York’s first Black Mayor David Dinkins called “the Gorgeous Mosaic” naturally rubs many Caribbean immigrants and leaders the wrong way with good reason – it’s a recipe for our erstwhile political adversaries to divide and conquer.

Then there is the politics of the 45th District and the fact that any “Special Election” is quite literally the Kings County Democratic Party’s show. Conventional wisdom is that in a Special Election whoever the County and county leader (Frank Saddio) supports gets the seat. It’s the age old political corruption where an organization picks the voters’ candidate and leader rather than the other way around. So political alliances, demonstrative coziness, and toadying up to the County Leader are required “must do” activities if one wants to win a Special Election or become a judge. It’s a nuanced version of “pay to play” politics where a favored or favorite politician exchanges future favors to “buy the seat.”

Longtime member of the 60+ years old Thomas Jefferson Political Club, Jovia Radix, has been a political operative and staunch advocate for both the club and Democratic politics in Brooklyn for about 20 years now. You’d think that her candidacy for the 45th Council District would be an easy thing to support for the Kings County Democratic Party machine led by Frank Saddio who is also a top member of the TJ Club. And yes, from all reports he did bless her candidacy, gave her his endorsement and support.

Then dirty politics kicked in and presumably backroom deals were cut and, Hey, Presto! Saddio withdraws his endorsement and support for Jovia Radix and bestowed them on the unknown Farah Louis. So what could have prompted his 360 degree treacherous about turn? Well, no one’s talking or saying anything. But again, there is much speculation and the finger is pointed directly at Assemblywoman Bichotte and her penchant for political chicanery. But no matter what went down to prompt Saddio’s not unusual behavior the facts are undeniable: 1. He threw a loyal club and party member under the bus for something offered or given and 2. he committed an unpardonable act of political hubris in the process – “I’m the boss and I can do what I want; principle be damned.”

It is these kinds of dirty politricks that turn voters off and fuels, rancid to distrust of politicians of all stripes and hues. Small wonder that Bichotte’s 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn is one of the lowest of the low performing voter turnout areas historically, and for decades now, consistently voting in barely 10 percentile. Moreover, this chronic voter apathy in the district is today fueled and egged on by a deliberate race-tinged politics that inadvertledy or consciously divides the Caribbean immigrant community into “Haitians and/against the others “and sows simmering anger, distrust and confusion.

To what end?

Here are the candidates for the 45th Council District: Rickie L. Tulloch, Anthony Alexis, Anthony Beckford, Monique Chandler-Waterman, Louis Cespedes Fernadez, Farah Louis, Jovia Radix, Xamayla Rose, Jovia Radix and Adina Sash. 

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