Bichotte, Barrons in proxy battle for East New York Assembly seat

barron and bichotte
Charles Barron (left) and Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn (right).
File photos

The dynastic Barrons could see their East New York political dominion snatched away if a special election scheduled for next month goes the way of Brooklyn Democratic Party boss.

The State Assembly seat in East New York’s 60th District, which was held by Charles Barron from 2015 until last year, and also by his wife Inez for the preceding six years, is now open after Charles was reelected to his old Council seat, while Inez, having just finished two terms in the Council herself, decided to retire instead of seeking her former Assembly seat as she was widely expected to.

Gov. Kathy Hochul last week scheduled the special election for Feb. 15.

In the race to replace them, the Barrons have thrown their weight behind Keron Alleyne, a 31-year-old former Assembly staffer for Charles, who unsuccessfully challenged Roxanne Persaud for her Senate seat in 2020. Alleyne embraces both the Barrons and their politics, and they see him as a worthy successor.

“We have one of the best candidates to come along in a long time in Keron Alleyne,” Charles Barron told Brooklyn Paper by phone this week. “We are going to fight real hard to get him more known in the community, and I think that he has a great chance of winning.”

But he could be facing an uphill battle to win the seat: Brooklyn Democratic Party chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn is in the camp of Nikki Lucas, a critic of the Barrons who unsuccessfully challenged Charles in the Council race last year, and whom she believes has the strongest level of community support.

The Democratic nominee for the special elections is decided not in a competitive primary, but in the Democratic County Committee — the massive deliberative body composed of delegates representing just a few square blocks each. In the case of picking a nominee, only the County Committee members from that assembly district will have a say. 

The Barrons, who proudly call themselves radical Black socialists and have arguably never been in the good graces of the County Party, are the district leaders in the 60th, but they nonetheless may have a difficult time preserving their legacy through their chosen candidate.

“In this case, members of the 60th AD stand at the ready to cast their vote, and Nikki Lucas appears to be the frontrunner, having the advantage of name recognition as she comes off a heated race for City Council,” said Sabrina Rezzy, a spokesperson for Brooklyn Democratic Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, in a statement. “Lucas is a beloved activist in her community, who recently ran on a platform of ‘change’ which included reforming the police, fighting homelessness and creating affordable housing, and ending gun violence.”

County Committee’s 60th District members will select the nominee at an in-person meeting at the Brooklyn Sports Club in Starrett City on Sunday. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 1 pm; County Committee members from other Assembly districts are encouraged to join virtually, Rezzy said.

“We have never witnessed a more engaged and active county committee than the one that makes up today’s Brooklyn Democratic Party, led by chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn,” Rezzy noted.

The Barrons have been at the forefront of electoral politics in East New York for 20 years, having each served for a time in the local Council and Assembly seats, and swapping seats when term-limited out of the Council.

“The county has always been against Inez and I,” Charles Barron said. “I think that’s why the people in our district appreciate us and support us so much, because we’ve beaten the county over and over and over again. We’re independent and we speak truth to power.”

But their hold on the Assembly seat appears to be in jeopardy if the County Committee members in the 60th decide to go with Lucas, a local activist and founder of the People First Democratic Club. Lucas ran for Council chastising the Barrons as having created a political machine of their own, and being more interested in electoral self-preservation than in the wellbeing of their constituents. The Barrons, speaking with The City, retorted that Lucas was little more than an avatar of Bichotte Hermelyn and the Brooklyn Democratic machine.

Lucas significantly outraised Barron in the 2021 Council race both in public and private funds: Lucas brought in over $241,000 for the race, while Barron’s haul totaled a little under $196,000, including $30,000 in loans. Lucas brought in prestigious political consulting firms and won prominent backers, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and the United Federation of Teachers. Nonetheless, Barron came out victorious in a relatively close primary race, winning 47.5 percent of the vote to Lucas’ 36.6 percent in the first round of voting (Wilfredo Florentino won 10.1 percent and Gena Watson won 5 percent), and prevailed after three rounds of ranked-choice voting.

Now, though, Lucas may get the chance to knock the Barrons down a peg after all, if the County Committee vote goes her and Bichotte Hermelyn’s way. If Lucas is selected as the Democratic nominee, Alleyne could still run in the special election anyway; he told Brooklyn Paper that “we’re prepared to move forward to whatever path is set.” But that would be backbreaking work, as the Democratic nominee on the ballot would enjoy an enormous electoral advantage in a district where Democrats represent 80 percent of registered voters, including independents, according to state election data. And Alleyne would not enjoy the significant name recognition possessed by the Barrons.

It would also be complicated by the Omicron variant: if Alleyne is to run as an independent, he would need to gather 1,500 petition signatures, or, as he put it, more like 3,000 due to the inevitable signature challenges. Petitioning was suspended at the height of the pandemic in 2020, and thresholds lower, and in 2021, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill lowering thresholds but did not cancel petitioning altogether, as many candidates wanted. Now, with massive community spread of Omicron, Alleyne says requiring he go out and petition is irresponsible and harmful to public health.

“The governor is putting people’s lives at risk because the only way to gather petitions is hand to hand, person to person,” Alleyne said, noting that he has only until Tuesday to submit 1,500 valid petition signatures. “It’s really irresponsible.”

Rezzy noted that whoever is the Democratic nominee would also have to collect petition signatures.

Alleyne interpreted the County Party’s position as an attempt to break the district’s “independence” from the machine, symbolized by its 20-year embrace of the Barrons and their anti-establishment brand.

“Just understanding the political machine, that’s what they do. They handpick their candidates, and you know, that’s who they want,” Alleyne said. “Especially in a district like ours where it’s been so long independent, they’re trying to break into community independence.”

Barron agrees, positing that Bichotte Hermelyn may even be in cahoots with the governor and former party chairs to run him and his ilk out of town.

“We’re focusing on the unfairness of the governor, we wonder whether she’s working with county,” Barron said. “How could the governor do an executive order saying we should have a special election on Feb. 15 — she could’ve gone as far back as the 25th, by law — and we have 12 days from Jan. 6 to get 1,500 signatures.”

The councilmember noted that back at the height of COVID, he only had to collect 150 signatures for his June 2020 Assembly primary. “So how could she come up with 1,500 in 12 days?” he asked.

Lucas could not be reached for comment, and Rezzy did not respond to Barron’s speculation.

If Lucas has fundraised since losing the Council race, it does not yet appear in state campaign finance filings. Her biggest contributors in the Council race include Jeffries’ PAC, which gave $3,500; former Bronx Assemblymember Mike Blake’s PAC, which gave $1,250; and Seddio, who gave $500 through “Friends of Frank Seddio” and $500 from Abrams Fensterman, the law firm where he’s a partner.

As for Alleyne, his largest financial backers are the Barrons, who have contributed $2,300 to his campaigns since 2019.

New Councilmember Charles has already gotten press coverage as one of the few members to vote against Adrienne Adams for Speaker. The former Black Panther said at the time that Adams is “cut from the same political cloth” as Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams, promising police reform while delivering billions to the NYPD’s coffers. The Barrons had been calling for defunding and abolishing the NYPD, and investing in social services and violence interruption, for years before “Defund the Police” became a rallying cry during the 2020 George Floyd protests.

And after years of feeling like a lone wolf in his crusade for justice, it appears he now has a close ideological ally in Kristin Richardson Jordan, the new Harlem councilmember who also voted against Adams and professes similar Black socialist politics as Barron.

If Lucas prevails in winning the Democratic nomination and the special election, Alleyne says he still could contest the Democratic primary in June. Barron agreed, noting that they could contest the seat even beyond that.

“We’re going to go straight in, we’ve beaten the party before, we’ve beaten the machine before, and we’ll do it again,” Barron said. “We could win in the special, we could win in June, or thereafter, but inevitably we will win.”

This article has been updated to note that the Democratic nominee will be chosen in-person, not virtually as previously stated. The nominee will be selected by 60th District County Committee members at the Brooklyn Sports Club in Starrett City at 1 pm Sunday.