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.
Harlem’s overall influence in black politics is waning. Harlem proper has not been a majority-black neighborhood for more than a decade. Only 26% of Mr. Rangel’s constituents are black. And Mr. Rangel has been a nonfactor in Washington since last fall, when he lost his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee and was censured by his colleagues.
“Here, I guess we’re a little more uncouth.”
Meanwhile, his seemingly endless tenure has created a logjam of aspiring politicians. “In Harlem, they’ve been waiting for that tap on the shoulder,” observed a Democratic operative from Brooklyn. “Here, I guess we’re a little more uncouth.”
Herman “Denny” Farrell has served Harlem in the Assembly since 1974, the same year Harlem Councilwoman Inez Dickens won her first election, as a Democratic state committee member. Mr. Farrell, 79, wanted to run for City Council and council speaker in 2009, but the term-limits extension kept those seats from opening. At 61, Ms. Dickens might get her shot at the speakership in 2013.
Manhattan Democratic Chairman Keith Wright, 56, continues to eye Mr. Rangel’s seat from Albany, where he has served in the Assembly for almost 20 years. State Sen. Bill Perkins, 61, another possible Rangel successor, has been in office since 1998.
“Bill Perkins and Keith Wright were Hakeem Jeffries and Karim Camara 10 years ago,” a Democratic consultant said. “There’s no place for young leaders to rise.”