Facing racial backlash, presumed next Council speaker Corey Johnson reportedly assaulted Black man in 2013

By LOUIS FLORES

After it was announced that New York City Councilmember Corey Johnson (D-Cheslea) had secured the support from U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens) to become the presumed, next Council speaker, a backlash emerged from some minority leaders, who complained that senior Democratic Party political leaders in New York City were subjugating Black and Hispanic contenders in the Council speaker race, raising the spectre that local Democratic leaders were taking for granted the contribution by and role of minority communities in electing Democrats to public office. Such sentiments were expressed in a report published by The New York Times.

Despite the nominal outrage, the report in The New York Times noted how there has been a pattern to betrayals by past Council speakers of minority communities, who had supported past Council speakers, such as former Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea). Despite noting that former Council Speaker Quinn received support from Black leaders for her speakership campaign, the Times report failed to note how former Council Speaker Quinn never challenged the race-based policing tactics of the New York Police Department, criticism that has been similarly made of outgoing Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Spanish Harlem), who expanded policing after denying that race had any role in the race-based policing homicide of the late Eric Garner.

To some advocates for Government reform and accountability, the fact that U.S. Rep. Crowley would back a White Councilmember for Council speaker evidenced a political calculation that minority leaders would remain in lockstep behind the neoliberal priorities of the Democratic Party that elevate into leadership posts elected officials, who support policies and agendas that are friendly to the big business interests, which fund the Democratic Party. In New York, big business interests have supported heavy policing, largely based on racial lines, particularly since heavy policing supports the gentrification sought by big business interests, real estate developers, in particular.

Councilmember Johnson has faced criticism and accusations of conflicts of interest by Marni Halasa, a former Occupy Wall Street activist, who challenged Councilmember Johnson in the recent November general election. Ms. Halasa's campaign team published research and analysis, showing that Councilmember Johnson has been highly conflicted by the large amounts of campaign contributions he has received from big business interests, the real estate industry, in particular. "An analysis of my opponent’s campaign contributions shows that 70% of all of his campaign contributions were donations of $1,000 or more. Of those large donations, 68% came from individuals with ties to real estate, Wall Street, nightlife, and corporate philanthropy," according to one post on the Halasa campaign-backed Web site. Amongst the supporters from whom Councilmember Johnson's committee to reëlect accepted donations included members of the Rudin family, who profited from the controversial luxury condominium conversion of the former St. Vincent's Hospital. Ms. Halasa's campaign team included the publisher of Progress Queens.

Even though some minority leaders have expressed disappointment in the reported selection by U.S. Rep. Crowley of Councilmember Johnson to become the presumptive, next Council speaker, the same minority leaders have steered clear of a report published by The New York Post that then City Council candidate Johnson allegedly attacked Thomas Johnson, a Black man, during his 2013 campaign for City Council. Recent efforts to ask Mr. Johnson, the victim of the assault, to come forward with his story have been unsuccessful. According to information obtained by Progress Queens, Mr. Johnson has expressed fear of the culture of retaliation that runs rampant in City Hall and City Council that makes life difficult for whistle-blowers, Government reform activists, and for political firebrands. An effort by Progress Queens to reach for comment four of the five minority Council speaker candidates was unsuccessful. Erik Bottcher, chief of staff to Councilmember Johnson, did not immediately return a request for an interview.

Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, said in a statement to Progress Queens, that, "Media reports all suggest that U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley has the votes to put Council member Corey Johnson in the Speaker's chair in January. Some reports are focusing on the lack of diversity in the leadership of the City Council, but the Council and the Queens County Democratic Party organization have both been skillful at co-opting various underrepresented groups, including women, LGBT people, and people of color, to advance agendas that are not progressive and do not serve the interests of those underrepresented groups. Christine Quinn was the first openly gay or lesbian Council Speaker and did little for women or the LGBT community, and there is little reason to think that Corey Johnson would be any more progressive than Chris Quinn. But there is a fundamental problem when the Queens party boss (first Tom Manton and then Joe Crowley) can name the speaker of the New York City Council, as he has twice and now will for the third time, the sole exception being when Crowley's candidate for the speakership was edged out by Mayor Bill de Blasio's candidate, Melissa Mark-Viverito, four years ago."

In the past, Councilmember Johnson, who is openly gay and HIV+, has faced criticism over having worked for GFI Development Company, whose leadership have supported politicians with anti-gay rights agendas, according to a report published by The New York Post.

In the face of disappointment by at least some civic minority leaders, minority elected officials seem to be accepting of the racial bias that runs strong within the Democratic Party establishment in New York. For example, when one of the Council speaker candidates, Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham), succeeded in watering down police reform legislation known as the Right to Know Act, he was congratulated with a handshake by a rival Council speaker candidate, Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Canarsie), over the congeniality with which civil rights reform legislation was defeated.