Black Power Politics

A polemic and critique of Black American politics and movement toward sophisticated applications,

Location: New York, New York, United States

A veteran organizer in the “movement,” Gary James was a staff organizer in the borough of Queens for the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), from 1966 to 1971 under the leadership of the late Dr. George Wiley organization’s President. Gary James is a political analyst and free lance writer. He is the author of a book entitled ERACISM that will be released in the spring of 2007. The provocative "political faction" book highlights grassroots politics in New York from the late 1960s to the present. For a limited time the book can be accessed at his web site:

Saturday, November 13, 2004


By: Jim Higdon

A political hurricane circles Kenneth Jefferson. Yet in the storm’s eye, Jefferson, the Republican candidate to unseat Democratic incumbent Charles B. Rangel as New York’s Congressman for the 15th District, remains calm.
While Jefferson sat in an empty Windows Over Harlem, a restaurant located inside the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. office building on 125th Street, talking to a journalism student about his campaign against Rangel, his former Republican challenger, Keisha Morrisey, eliminated from the race by a last-minute petition challenge, was busy serving papers to 14 named defendants in a $500,000 lawsuit filed with the New York Supreme Court on August 27. While Jefferson is not named as a defendant in the suit, all 14 defendants are Republican Party functionaries and several are political supporters of Jefferson. The suit calls into question the legitimacy and legality of Jefferson’s campaign.
Jefferson, 48, sat in the back room of Windows Over Harlem in front of one of the restaurant’s many floor-to-ceiling windows at a table covered with a pink tablecloth. His light blue polo shirt was buttoned to the top, and he wore a well-trimmed mustache that complimented his salt-and-pepper hair. He spoke about his candidacy in broad strokes, highlighting his early involvement in the community as a child.
His parents were very active in the Harlem community, he said. His father, a minister in the Nation of Islam, “instilled in me a desire to help people.” Although, Jefferson pointed out that he is not currently a member of the Nation of Islam, “In 1975 when Elijah Muhammad passed, I went towards Orthodox Islam.”
When talking about his campaign specifically, Jefferson said he doesn’t “see it as running against Rangel.” But, that doesn’t mean Jefferson thinks he can’t win, saying of Rangel, “He’s not bulletproof, and that’s the point … He’s accountable to the community.”
Jefferson thinks of his campaign as “going up and raising some issues and concerns” such as housing and escalating rents, which he described as increasing “astronomically.” He wants to help the voters of the district “take control of their communities,” he said.
Yet despite Jefferson’s claims that he is running a serious campaign to challenge Rangel, his fundraising has yet to begin with less than 60 days until the general election. “That’s a real challenge for us,” Jefferson admitted. “I suspect as we get closer to the general election that support will be forthcoming from the state, county, and from the federal level.” But Jefferson has not completed the most basic preliminary fundraising requirements of running a Congressional campaign: filing with the Federal Election Commission. By contrast, Rangel has over $650,000 in cash as of August 25 for his campaign against Jefferson, according to the FEC.
Jefferson was recruited by leadership within the Harlem Republicans, including Claude Sharrieff-Frazier, President of the Harlem Republican Club; Will Brown, Jr. and Ronald Perry, both Republican Party district leaders. All three are named as defendants in Morrisey’s suit. Morrisey claims that the Harlem Republicans wanted to block her candidacy in order to present a non-candidate that wouldn’t run a serious campaign against Rangel, the Democratic incumbent. When they couldn’t find a Republican, Morrisey claims, they asked Jefferson, a Democrat, and Jefferson changed his party enrollment from Democratic to Republican.
To change party enrollment, a voter must change enrollment before a general election. The enrollment change takes effect only after the election, according to New York State Election Law 5-302 and 5-304. Jefferson admits to only having changed his registration “about six months ago.”
Therefore, Jefferson’s candidacy appears to be in violation of Section 6-120.2 of the New York State Election Law, which says that a nomination is not valid unless the nominee is an enrolled member of the party “at the time of filing of such certificate.”
When asked if it was unusual for a Democrat to change parties to run as a Republican, Jefferson said, “No. Look at Bloomberg.” However, looking at Bloomberg reveals a significant problem in Jefferson’s candidacy. Bloomberg changed his party enrollment in October of 2000 in preparation for his 2001 bid for mayor of New York, which was “the last possible moment allowed by New York election law,” according to the New Yorker. By his own admission, Jefferson’s candidacy is in violation of the law.
Consequently, the Harlem Republicans used Section 6-120.3 of the State Election Law to circumvent Jefferson’s belated Republican registration, which says, in effect, that a party can nominate a candidate that is not a member of that party, so long as a quorum is present, and that by a majority vote the party committee can authorize a candidate not enrolled in the party. It also clearly states that, “The certificate of authorization shall be signed and acknowledged by the presiding officer and the secretary of the meeting at which such authorization was given.”
In her lawsuit, Morrisey claims that the Republicans did not meet the qualifications set forth in 6-120.3. On the Certificate of Authorization filed on behalf of Jefferson’s candidacy, the roles of presiding officer and secretary were assumed by Ronald Perry and Will Brown, Jr., respectively. While both are district leaders in New York County, the suit claims they willfully misidentified themselves on the Certificate of Authorization and are not authorized to act in the capacity of presiding officer and secretary.
According to Morrisey, Gertrude Hess Parker is the secretary, and James Ortenzio, the county chairman, should be the presiding officer. Without these two officials present, there could not have been a quorum, according to the suit, which therefore invalidates Jefferson’s nomination.
“I want to make a difference,” Jefferson said. “I want people to think critically about how they vote.” But then, apparently in a slip of the tongue, he added, “If I really wanted to get elected, I would have stayed a Democrat.” Stepping away from that comment immediately, he clarified, “I’d have a better chance as a Democrat to beat Charlie Rangel” but changed parties “because of the principles.”


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