Council Hails Yvette Clarke

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(Jubilant Council Members Kendall Stewart and Helen Foster congratulate Yvette Clarke, shown in middle).

The day after the primary election, a feeling of excitement pervaded the City Council meeting, largely due to the electoral victory of Council Member Yvette Clarke – soon to be Congresswoman Clarke, representing Brooklyn’s 11th Congressional District.

From the moment Clarke entered the Council Chamber, her colleagues began congratulating her, usually with a hug and occasionally with flowers, which the tired but very happy Clarke graciously accepted. Her well-wishers included Council Member David Yassky, who’d also run for the seat. Very courteously, he made his way over to Clarke and congratulated her as well.   

During the meeting Clarke concentrated on the matters at hand rather than on commenting on her victory. However, prior to the meeting she said that she realizes that this was an historic moment for the Caribbean American community. “Because of the work and sacrifices of so many who came before me, I stand here today on the collective shoulders of Caribbean Americans across this City,� she declared. “I am so gratified to have the opportunity to bring our unique issues and concerns to a larger stage, and I promise to be a staunch advocate for those issues in Congress.�   

Throughout her run, one of Yvette Clarke’s most dedicated supporters has been fellow Caribbean Council Member Kendall Stewart. In the meeting he used what was left of his voice – hoarse from completing his own successful run for District Leader – to publicly congratulate Clarke on her fine job in winning the seat. He also expressed his hope and intention that, as she goes to Washington, they will continue working together to serve their constituents.

There was one councilmember who could not hold back on stating for the record the importance of Clarke’s victory in the widest way. It was Council Member Al Vann, who, before being elected to the City Council, served in the New York State Legislature. As Chairman of the New York State Black & Puerto Rican Caucus, he led the US Supreme Court fight that prevented the racial gerrymandering of the New York City Council and led to increased “minority� representation on the Council. He also filed a lawsuit that forced the State Legislature to increase significantly the minority representation on the state and federal levels.

Vann’s remarks were in the context of the fact that a Black candidate beat back a challenge from a white competitor to win a seat created nearly four decades ago by the Voting Rights Act to increase minority representation in Congress. The seat was originally won in 1968 by Shirley Chisholm, the first Black Congresswoman.   

Vann began by noting that in his struggle for the empowerment of Black people, he has experienced a number of defining moments in his life, and “such a moment occurred yesterday.� He explained that a defining moment is a moment when the status of a people can be impacted – you can go forward, or there can be retrogression. “I'm happy to say that yesterday was a defining moment where people who believe in the empowerment of our people can feel good because of what occurred,� Vann asserted.

He went on to point out that it wasn’t about Yvette Clarke herself, though she and all those who participated in her run should be congratulated and should feel joy. “However, Clarke was the instrument,� Vann commented. “I know that Shirley Chisholm feels joy today, as does Fannie Lou Hamer, and I dare say that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, he who epitomizes the civil rights struggle of our people, is nodding too. This was not just an election; it was a defining moment, and I think that everyone who believes in justice and democracy should feel joy.�   

Vann ended by stating, “We needed to win it and we did win it. This will give people hope, show them that they have the right to be involved, because they will know that the things that are important to them can also be supported in this society.�   

Al Vann’s passionate remarks were met with applause by the entire council. In an interview following the City Council meeting, an upbeat Council Member Charles Barron commented on Clarke’s victory. Although he didn’t win his three-way race for the Congressional seat occupied by incumbent Ed Towns, he pulled off a remarkable victory in terms of numbers. It is a huge that Barron came in only eight percentage points behind the incumbent – only 3,000 votes short of victory. And that was with a campaign war chest of just over $109,000 as opposed to Towns’$1.1 million.   

Going along with the remarks already made by Council Member Vann, Barron said that the issue was never about a white man’s right to run. “The issue was always about the right of people of African ancestry to be equitably included in government,� he declared. “Yvette Clarke's victory protects that right and sends a strong message that our people are not going to allow our numbers to be reduced in the House of Representatives when they should be increasing. There are 435 members in the House and only 43 are Black.�

Barron also observed that along with racial balance, gender balance needs to be achieved as well. “I'm proud of women,� Barron concluded. “This is a very great day for women, who will have their voices heard, represented by such a dynamic individual as Yvette Clarke.�

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