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.”
In 2002, at a rally to call for slavery reparations, he said, “You know, some days I get so frustrated I just want to go up to the closest white person and say, ‘You can’t understand this, it’s a black thing,’ and then slap him, just for my mental health.” After the Sean Bell shooting in 2006, Barron threatened that “if we don’t get an indictment, there’s going to be an explosion. We’re not the only ones who can bleed. Maybe the rest of us need to get a shot off.”
Barron might be the only person on earth outside of Moammar Qaddafi’s immediate family who misses the former Libyan dictator: “[Americans], they don’t know that Qaddafi was our brother. People say ‘Didn’t he kill all those people?’ I say, ‘I don’t know anything. The man was a freedom fighter.’”
On Monday, June 11, a collection of Jewish New York Democrats called a press conference to denounce Barron’s candidacy. U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler said that Barron’s “support of dictators and terrorists . . . and support for delegitimizing Israel and comparing Israelis to Nazis is dangerous and abhorrent rhetoric that makes him unfit to serve in Congress.” Former New York mayor Ed Koch was blunter: “Charles Barron is — he can be very charming, but so can a snake. We have learned to live together in this city despite our different backgrounds, and his vile, vicious assailing of Israel is simply not acceptable.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization dedicated to protecting the human rights of Jews across the world, raises a key question regarding the ascension of Charles Barron: “Why has not the rest of the political community — right or left, Democrat or Republican, across the board, and not just the Jews — condemned this figure? The fact that any candidate with these views can get this far in the process is, to say the least, quite troubling.”
Where is the Congressional Black Caucus’s condemnation of Charles Barron as unrepresentative of their views? Why have the unions endorsed him despite his hateful rhetoric? Where is the Democratic-party leadership’s disavowal? If Barron wins his primary on June 26, he will most likely win the general election for this safe Democratic seat. It would be a disgraceful moment.
— Nathaniel Botwinick is an editorial intern at National Review Online.