Remembering Al Vann Series
Alas, Al Vann and I part company – for a while...
In 1985, there was a mayoral race. At the time the respect for Assemblyman Al Vann had voted him the Chair of Coalition for a Just New York. It was a very, very impressive group. All of the black elected officials in the boroughs and the most prominent activists had voted for Al Vann as the leader. It was probably, at least from my recollection, that there had been such unity in the black community. There had always been tension between Harlem and Brooklyn. It was said that Harlem was the place of brains and Brooklyn was the borough of brawn. The elected officials in Harlem were seemingly, or styled themselves as more sophisticated than Brooklyn’s elected officials. Harlem was able to submerge their differences. Harlem played the history card to the maximum. Harlem, though much smaller than Brooklyn, even one section of Brooklyn, nevertheless was world known.
Brooklyn had its heroes, its accomplishments, but they paled into insignificance when compared to Harlem plus Brooklyn’s political battles were public. So, there was a lack of unity. Brooklyn had more black people in Bed-stuy than in Harlem. In terms of getting goods and services for their people, Harlem was able to get much more than Brooklyn. Brooklyn can boast the largest concentration of black people and particularly diversity than any city in the world, except for maybe a few African countries or even South American.
Finally in 1985, unity among leaders of African Ancestry had come at last and Al Vann without question was our leader. With the coming Mayoral race, our attention turned to electoral politics. We enjoined other issues, the City Schools Chancellor. We supported Dr. Thomas Minter for Chancellor, he lost. We would meet at the Union building in District #37.
On a particular night as we met, we were told that there would be a special announcement. Then we assembled and the meeting started. It wasn't long before a bombshell was dropped. I don’t recall who announced it. It might have been Bill Lynch; he had been a key organizer in the group and for the group. His connection to the Union made him an influential player in our group. At any event the bombshell, we would support Herman Badillo for Mayor. Al Vann for Brooklyn Borough President and Vernon Mason who had become famous as the activist lawyer along with Alton Maddox.
I remember whispering among our Brooklyn contingent, who were always supportive of Al Vann. Charles Barron, Al Green, Jitu Weusi, neither one of us were told of the political plan that was now expressed. Then, one of our members, out of the blue, Herman Danny Farrell stepped forward and indicated that he planned to run for the mayoral seat.
Well, an Ephesian uproar spread through the Union Hall. Herman Farrell was accused of blocking Badillo because Badillo had not supported Percy Sutton in his mayoral race in 1977. However, Herman Farrell said that he made up his mind to run. Eventually he and others who supported him had been accused of being anti-Latino. The group was asked to vote. I was asked to say a prayer and before I prayed, I made the plea, “whoever wins that we would be supportive” and then I prayed essentially that unity would prevail when the vote was over or whoever won the vote.
Well after the prayer. The voting took place and Herman Danny Farrell won the vote. It didn’t mean that everyone supported the vote. It didn’t mean that everybody would honor his/her word. What it meant was a serious crack in our unity. As I have stated Herman Farrell and most of us, at least the key leaders were accused of being anti-Latino in staging the coup. Herman Farrell, Congressman Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins, and Basil Paterson were given the derogatory name “the gang of four”. It is significant to note that as I have stated Bill Lynch who was a key organizer in our group was among the crowds who were calling us anti-Latino. And as we all know; Bill Lynch became David Dinkins campaign manager and Chief of Staff when Dinkins ran and became the first black Mayor of New York City.
I argued how could I be anti-Latino? I had supported Herman Badillo when he ran in 1969. I was a member of a group headed by former Senator Carl McCall and Bill Strickland. We called ourselves, Young Intellectual Democrats. We backed Herman Badillo for Mayor and Rev. Dr. William Jones, Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, who ran for Brooklyn Borough President that same year.
Of course, it was not anti-anybody. The fact of the matter was, Al Vann didn’t do his homework. Jitu told me that he had asked Vann the night before if he had counted his people, Al told him no. Which is true, because I came to the meeting as did others without being told what the plan was.
Moreover, I had prayed that we would have unity when the vote was counted. Some of us had to obey our word. Herman Farrell won the vote! Well, the election proceeded and all of our candidates lost. I stayed with Herman until the end. We became great friends until his decease. Our friendship continues with Al Taylor (District #71, Herman’s protégé. The fracture in the group was serious and the wounds were deep. The derogatory name, the gang of four and what happened that night in Union Hall and what happened for years to come, instead of unity there was disunity. The gang of four stigmatized Herman Farrell, Basil Paterson, Charlie Rangel, David Dinkins even until the present time. People still remember, particularly, those who were running for office. They believe that they would have won had the Latino and the Black communities were unified.
However, there was a significant degree of unity around the Jackson campaign for President. Al Vann still was considered the most powerful or influential elected official in New York. He became Chair of New York State Jackson’s campaign and of course when Dinkins ran for Mayor, Al Vann became a major supporter in his election. We were at a distance and then we reconnected in our search for a Mayoral candidate and Dinkins campaign was like old times.
This concludes our series on Remembering Al Vann.