Black Leaders Must “Stop Ghetto Dictatorships”

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Kevin PowellI first want to say thank you to God for giving me an incredible opportunity to run as a Democrat for Congress in 2010. I am so profoundly in love with Brooklyn, New York, with the residents of Brooklyn, because I truly believe in one Brooklyn, and I believe that Brooklyn is America with its great diversity and creativity and magic. Be it Russians in Starrett City, or Chinese immigrants or Puerto Ricans in Williamsburg, or African Americans and West Indians in Canarsie, or my Jewish sisters and brothers in Boerum Hill, I cannot begin to tell you how spiritually and emotionally uplifting this 2010 journey has been for me as a human being and as a man. Thank you, Brooklyn, thank you.

Indeed, I am so glad to have run for Congress, as I believe deeply in public service, in helping people, all people, to help themselves. We did not win the election but we did win in the hearts and minds of many Brooklynites and New Yorkers in general, and folks across America. There has been such a great outpouring of positive and affirming messages via phone, email, Twitter, and Facebook, that it is very very humbling, to say the least. I am invigorated by this love and support from everyday Americans. For we know that together we can make our country the land of opportunity and access for all.

Second, I want to thank my campaign staff, paid and unpaid, the ones who stuck with us to the very end, did not quit or make excuses, did their work and beyond, because they too believe in the power and nobility of public service. And because they really believed in our Congressional campaign from start to finish. I love each and every one of you, and I know I would not have made it across the finish line without your individual and collective strength and determination.

Next, I must say thank you very much to all the donors, voters, and supporters (both public ones and the silent, invisible ones) who helped us along the way. Suffice to say you were godsends to our Congressional campaign. Thank you for believing in me, and for having the courage to invest in a new kind of leadership for Brooklyn, and for America. A leadership that is honest, transparent, about practical solutions, and that puts people first, always.

Additionally, I must say this to my opponent, Congressman Ed Towns, his team, and his supporters: You may have won this time but it is so clear to so many that the days of your reign here in Brooklyn are very close to over. You’ve never had to work so hard to hold on to your seat, you’ve never had your nearly three decades of lazy leadership exposed so much and to so many, and you can no longer be invisible, silent, or otherwise missing in action to the people of Brooklyn’s 10th Congressional district, nor to the American people.

Mr. Towns, we expect you to earn the salary and great benefits our taxpayer dollars cover, and we expect you to think very seriously about your legacy as a Congressman in these final years of your Congressional life. When you and I crossed paths Tuesday night, election night, at that polling site near Starrett City, it was the first and only time we’ve ever had a one-on-one conversation, and I have lived in this community, in your district, for 20 years. You avoided debating me in 2008 (as you have avoided debating all opponents since you were first elected in 1982), and you avoided debating me again this year. And that is fine. It is clear you do not really believe in the very democracy that many sacrificed their lives for to achieve, including those in places like North Carolina where you were born and where some of the great battles of the Civil Rights Movement occurred.

But what was most telling about our conversation, Mr. Towns, is that all you could say is that you had not attacked me as I attacked you, and that you did not know me. First, let me correct you, sir: your team was relentless in attacking me personally, in the media, in the social networks, including many times very disrespectfully coming on to my Facebook page with the personal insults. We never did that a single time to you or your team or family. Never. What we did do was talk about your record. I never stepped into your personal life the way you did mine, although I could have, as there is much there to discuss. But we decided to be bigger than that, to talk about ideas and what we can do to help Brooklyn. Not once during this campaign did you offer any real vision for the future of Brooklyn, sir.

Moreover, Congressman Towns, it is a two-way street: you have to begin to respect and acknowledge the leadership that is not just your son, or your daughter, or your daughter-in-law, or someone you’ve handpicked to be in your Brooklyn circle. As I have stated before, what is most troubling for me and many others in Brooklyn is that within Black Brooklyn (as is the case throughout Black America) we have something I call “ghetto dictatorships.” In other words, you may have had good intentions when you first got into office, Mr. Towns, for I do believe you are, at your core, a good and decent man. But somewhere along the way you lost your way and your Congressional seat has become more about power and influence for yourself than about everyday people. This is particularly disturbing when we look at the poorest and most underdeveloped parts of Brooklyn’s 10th Congressional district: for example, huge sections of East New York and Bedford-Stuyvesant (especially inside the many housing projects in the district). These people need jobs, affordable and decent housing, afterschool programs, quality schools, senior centers,, and they need it now, Congressman Towns. Your job, as an elected official with access to federal dollars and a network you’ve created with nearly three decades in Congress, is to figure out basic solutions for the most vulnerable in the district by all available means. Earn your salary, Congressman Towns, and create a legacy, for it is not too late to do so, if you really care and if you really try. If you do not, I and many others, locally and nationally, are going to very publicly hold you accountable every single time you fail to be a loud voice for the people of this district. I guarantee that.

So I end this statement by saying that I challenge you, Congressman Towns, and all Black elected officials in Brooklyn and across America, to cease participating in these ghetto dictatorships, to really look yourselves in the mirror and answer the question I asked you, Mr. Towns, which you could not answer on Tuesday night: What is your legacy going to be, what have you really done for the people of your district, not just for a handful of people lucky enough to have gotten a job or favor from you? That is the true mark of leadership, to touch as many lives as possible, to help as many people as possible to become self-empowered, with or without legislation, and in as many creative ways as possible. Anything less means we’ve done a grave disservice to whatever God we claim to believe in, a grave disservice to the history and the people that came before us, and a grave disservice to that sacred space we call public service.

Kevin Powell is an activist, writer, and an author of 10 books based in Brooklyn, NY. His email is kevin@kevinpowell.net

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