Nikki Lucas secured the Democratic nomination in the special election for East New York’s 60th Assembly District seat, dealing a blow to the Barron dynasty which has dominated area politics for two decades.
Lucas, a local activist, former district leader, and longtime critic of the Barrons, was selected as the nominee for the Feb. 15 special election in a meeting of the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s County Committee in Starrett City on Sunday. In a “weighted” vote of County Committee’s members in the 60th District, Lucas handily beat her opponent Keron Alleyne, winning 13,882.5 weighted votes to Alleyne’s 1,953.75.
“We’ve got to do it differently, we’ve got to do it differently,” Lucas told County Committee members after the vote, referencing the 20-year Barron dominion of the area’s politics. “And I’m gonna take the time that I need to make sure that we communicate that message.”
Lucas argued that the Barrons’ high-minded, Black socialist politics had effectively done little for East New York, which remains one of the poorest and most resource-deprived communities in New York City. She maintained that the Barrons’ confrontational, lone-wolf style of politics had isolated the community and ripped it of resources and funds, and pitched herself instead as a partner and collaborator who would more effectively meet constituents’ needs.
“I’m about making partnerships,” Lucas said. “I’m not gonna agree with you all the time, I can’t agree with you all the time. But the one or two things that I can work with you, that’s what we’re gonna champion.”
A total of 167 county committee members were present at the vote either in-person or by proxy, the county party said. A spokesperson for Party Chair Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn said that the weighting is divvied up by election district, the tiny electoral units comprising just a few blocks, each of which sends delegates to County Committee. EDs with higher turnout in the last gubernatorial primary were assigned greater weight in the County Committee selection, said the spokesperson, Sabrina Rezzy.
“Lucas is an esteemed and dedicated activist in her community, whose platform of ‘change’ includes reforming the police, fighting homelessness, creating affordable housing, and ending gun violence,” Bichotte Hermelyn said in a statement. “We are pleased to have held a successful nominating meeting, and are confident that Nikki, as the Democratic Party candidate, will be a formidable contender in the special election.
The special election was called after the seat was vacated by Charles Barron, the iconoclastic socialist and former Black Panther who recently secured the area’s City Council seat, succeeding his wife Inez. Political observers expected Inez to seek the Assembly seat, fostering another seat switcheroo by the couple, but she instead decided to retire, leaving the seat wide open.
The selection became a proxy fight between the county party and chair, Bichotte Hermelyn, who was firmly but not formally in the Lucas camp, and the Barrons — long at odds with party leadership — who backed Alleyne, a former Assembly staffer for Charles.
Speaking with Brooklyn Paper last week, both Alleyne and Charles Barron were not particularly optimistic about Alleyne’s chances of gaining the Democratic nomination, and were in the process of shifting their strategy to running an independent campaign in the special. Alleyne did not respond to a request for comment regarding his current plans, but he all but confirmed that he would be running an independent campaign in the special election in his remarks before the County Committee.
“Our community cannot be duped by a process where there’s a handful of people here and call it democracy,” said Alleyne, who last week told Brooklyn Paper that the party was trying to make inroads against East New York’s “independence” from the Dems. “So I do look forward to the community members of our great community that will decide the future of our community. Today was just going through the process, to be quite honest with you. There was an understanding before we all walked in here. I don’t think this proves anything. Feb. 15, June primary, November, will decide the future of our community.”
Speaking at the meeting, Charles Barron also called the selection process a “sham” and compared the party leadership to those who attempted to silence Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.
“We know that this whole team here was with our opposition,” the councilmember said, pointing to Bichotte Hermelyn. “Anytime you be like Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, or Harriet Tubman or Sojourner Truth, they’re gonna speak out against you, they’re gonna team up on you. So we came here out of respect for the people that signed our petitions. We didn’t call a meeting, because we knew this would be the same results.”
“This is a sham,” Barron continued. “You’ll find out. Enjoy your ride.”
Lucas, in response, said that she and her supporters had simply outworked Alleyne and the Barrons.
“I’m not going to stand here and allow anybody to undermine the contribution of my neighbors, my voters, my residents, my friends, my family,” said Lucas, a 40-year resident of Starrett City. “They participated in the same process we did, we outworked them. How did we do the work? We organized our people, we educated our people. We knocked on doors, we did meetings.”
She said that she and her supporters had won the trust of County Committee members, who in turn had trusted her with their proxy votes. “They trusted us and authorized us to be their voice when they couldn’t be here,” she said. “You know why? Because we already educated them on the process.”
Lucas ran against Charles Barron in last year’s Council race, seeking to oust the Barrons after over a decade controlling both the Council and Assembly seats in the area. She outraised Barron and gained prominent backers, but came up short in the June 2021 primary.
She is much more likely to prevail in the Assembly special election, though, as being the Democratic nominee comes with inherent advantages in a district where 80 percent of registered voters are Democrats. And Alleyne doesn’t have anywhere near the name recognition in the district enjoyed by the Barrons, which in all likelihood would be necessary to stand a chance against the candidate with “Democratic” beside their name.
Responding to a remark made by Charles Barron that County Committee members had drank “Kool-Aid” from the county party, Lucas took the opportunity to directly compare Barron to Jim Jones, the infamous cult leader whose actions in Guyana led to the phrase’s inclusion in the popular lexicon.
“Jim Jones told what his truth was to the Guyanese people and fed them a bunch of Kool-Aid,” she said. “This is not a cult, this is a movement. This is a movement of individual independence, open minds. That’s what this is.”
Tony Melone, a spokesperson for the New Kings Democrats, a reformist political club, also criticized the process, noting that many County Committee members were appointed rather than elected. The group has established an initiative called “Rep Your Block” intended to encourage Brooklynites to run for County Committee.
“This shows why more people should run for County Committee — when those seats are empty, party leaders can appoint people who will rubber-stamp the Party Chair’s pick for an Assembly seat,” Melone said. “More active County Committee members can give residents more say in who represents them.”