NEW YORK (AP) — When New Yorkers this week picked Eric Adams as their next mayor and Alvin Bragg as their next Manhattan district attorney, they appointed two more black men to high office at a time when the city and The state was being headed. Historical numbers of black leaders.
It is a moment that African American officials say is a long time coming, made possible by the previous generation of trailblazers, who broke barriers due to immense prejudice and took the burden of being first.
US Representative Hakeem Jeffries, who is now one of a record seven black people representing New York in Congress, said the new mayor and prosecutor would be “transformative figures”.
“The rise of individuals like Eric Adams and Alvin Bragg follows a long tradition of leaders who emerged from the fiery furnace of the black experience in New York City, particularly in some of our toughest neighborhoods, committed to doing a great job. To be a public servant. Good deal for everyone,” said Jeffries.
Nearly 28 years after David Dinkins ended his single term as New York’s first black mayor, the halls of power in the city and state are filled with black leaders from the city or its suburbs, including three of the state’s most powerful politicians. : Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Assembly Speaker Carl Hasty and Letitia James, the state’s first black attorney general now running for governor.
Most of the city’s borough president is now black, as well as several top prosecutors, including both its appointed US attorney and its elected public advocate, Jumane Williams, who is also considering a gubernatorial run.
The change comes even as the number of black people living in New York City has declined by 4.5% since 2010 Even though the total population of the city increased.
According to the 2020 census, 20% of New Yorkers are black, 31% are non-Hispanic white, 28% are Hispanic and about 16% are Asian.
Bronx District Attorney Darcell Clark, who in 2015 became the state’s first African-American woman elected as a DA, said the historic wave of black leadership following the 2020 national racial count following the killing of George Floyd was long overdue. and is on time. in Minneapolis.
“I think the more we can have people who look like the people and communities we serve, the better. I don’t have to be the only one,” she said.
New York Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, who became the second black person to hold that role when appointed in September, recalled a recent political rally in Harlem of federal, state and local African American elected officials and candidates.
“There were young black boys and young black girls who were able to look at us and say, ‘Oh wow. That’s normal. I can do this. I can be mayor. I can be lieutenant governor. I can be a congressman.’ I am,” said Benjamin.
Many black politicians, including Adams and Bragg, drew on their own life stories during their campaign, in which they described direct experiences with inequality, racism, or unequal and brutal treatment from the criminal justice system.
Adams himself talked about being poor as a teenager and experiencing cruelty at the hands of the police before becoming a police officer. He became a captain and an outspoken activist, calling for injustice in the New York Police Department.
Bragg, a civil rights lawyer and former federal prosecutor, spoke of being held at gunpoint by both gangsters and police officers during his youth in Harlem.
A few days before being elected district attorney, he was interrogating New York City police officers as part of the judicial investigation into the 2014 police chokehold death of Eric Garner, whose “I can’t breathe” plea of Black Lives. The material movement became the cry of the rally.
Donovan Richards Jr., who last year became the first black person elected as president of the Queens borough, said that in the past, he and other black politicians were often told: “Don’t talk about your blackness. Don’t talk about where you are from.”
“Often we are told to stay away from who we are, to stay away from our stories, especially as black men. You need to smile a little more in your photos,” Richards said. “I think we have told fiction. has changed.”
New Yorkers on Tuesday chose an Afro-Caribbean of Dominican heritage, city council member Antonio Reynoso, to replace Adams as Brooklyn borough president. Across the city, city council member Vanessa Gibson became the first black woman elected Bronx city president.
Richards said there’s a huge burden involved with being the first — or even the second — person of color to hold an elected office.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “You don’t have to settle down and you can’t make mistakes.”
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. became the first African American to represent New York in Congress in 1945. Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress from any state in 1969. Both faced enormous challenges due to racism.
Even though the first African American leaders led the way, Richards said that he, Adams, Bragg and other black leaders still face prejudice and astral aggression even after winning top positions.
Richards said that when he first took office, he was stopped at the entrance of Borough Hall for several days in a row by a security guard asking him to see some identification. Richards explained that he was the city president.
“Then they say, ‘You’re the town president?’ I said yes. Get used to it,'” Richards recalled with a laugh.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed to this report.