The Rise of a New York City Demagogue
An anti-Semitic radical may win an open congressional seat.

Charles Barron, a city councilman of New York


Who is Charles Barron? He is a demagogue who could be joining the U.S. House next year as the representative of New York’s Eighth Congressional District. Departing Democratic congressman Ed Towns has endorsed Barron, now a city councilman of New York, as his successor, despite having derided Barron as a “bomb thrower” when he challenged Towns in a primary four years ago.

Along with Representative Towns’s endorsement, Barron has gained the backing of several important unions in New York City. District Council Locals 37 and 1707, along with their parent union, the American Federation of State, Country, and Municipal Employees, are supporting Barron’s candidacy, nominally because his primary opponent, Hakeem Jeffries, has endorsed charter schools.

According to Ester Fuchs, a professor of public affairs and political science at Columbia University, the unions have other motives for their support: “DC 37 is using their endorsement to scare the mayoral candidates in the next Democratic primary election. They want to move the front-runners away from the political center.”

Barron had a varied career before this run for Congress. He was a Black Panther, the secretary general of the African Peoples Christian Organization, and a community activist. He failed to win races for the mayoralty of New York City in 2005 and the governorship of New York in 2010. But now, with Towns’s endorsement and union support, he is a credible candidate for the House of Representatives.

The redrawing of New York’s Eighth Congressional district following the last census created an opening for Barron. Whole swaths of Brooklyn were connected into a peculiarly curved area composed of disparate neighborhoods. Professor Fuchs emphasizes that “nobody really knows who will turn out for this election. Normally, we have a model, but this district did not exist in the last election and there is no incumbent.” Furthermore, the June 26 primary falls on a date with few other elections, which will lead to lower turnout. This could help Barron, since, as Fuchs points out, he already “has a very strong following. He has people who have been part of his organization for a long time.” In an election with low turnout and voter confusion over redistricting, Barron’s dedicated band of followers could tilt the outcome in his favor.

Barron has a long history of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric. He joined the Gaza flotilla in May 2010 and fulminated against Israel afterward at a rally on the steps of New York’s city hall, saying, “You want to stop terrorism? The biggest terrorist in the world is the government of Israel.” He has also described Gaza as a “death camp” where Israel imposes “the same kind of conditions [as] the Nazis.” And in 2010 he even denied Israel’s right to exist: “You want to discuss Israel becoming a state in 1948 when it should not have?” 

Following the Crown Heights riots, in which a Jewish doctoral student, Yankel Rosenbaum, was brutally murdered by a mob, Barron said of the Jewish community in Brooklyn, “They only make up 20 percent of the population, but they’ve always walked these streets as if they owned them, and acted as if they were the only ones that mattered.”

Barron’s taste for the inflammatory was also evident during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, when he joined the protesters to proclaim that “Wall Street has a lot of greedy crooks that do not redistribute wealth to the people, to the neediest people in the city, and these are the kinds of demonstrations that will multiply across this nation. . . . Riots, what we call rebellions, are the voice, are the language of the unheard.”