Harlem Loses Its Clamp on Black Politics

June 27, 2011  |  

(Crain’s) — Rep. Charlie Rangel has been neutered. David Paterson’s tumultuous, short-lived governorship is history. And for the first time in 20 years, no blacks hold citywide or statewide elected office.  After a long and steady rise, black political power in New York is in retreat, and its traditional center of Harlem has been weakened.  “It’s been a tough time,” said Kevin Wardally, a Harlem-based Democratic operative. “But I do believe there are strong black leaders who will fill that void.”  Those leaders, however, are unlikely to hail from the longtime bedrock of New York’s—and the nation’s—black political establishment. Harlem’s challenges are deeper than Mr. Rangel’s ethics scandal and Mr. Paterson’s gubernatorial flameout. Upper Manhattan has a shrinking number of black voters, and its onetime farm team of elected officials is nearing retirement age.  As the Democratic dynasty that produced the city’s first black mayor—as well as the state’s first black comptroller and governor, and the dean of New York’s congressional delegation—crumbles, attention has turned to a cadre of upstarts in central Brooklyn.

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