Since his election in 2001, East Brooklyn Councilmember Charles Barron has prided himself as a contrarian in the City Council. From casting the sole “no” vote against the selection of Christine Quinn as speaker and continually voting down the city’s budget to bringing Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe for a visit, Barron says he has enjoyed “getting in trouble,” even though his opposing stance didn’t change outcomes. (He supported Quinn in one crucial battle: her 2008 bid to lift term limits to allow Mayor Bloomberg, and sitting council members, to run for a third term: “let the people decide,” as he said Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez did.) While he is leaving the City Council, Barron is preparing to take his wife Inez’s seat in the state Assembly, while Inez Barron takes over for Charles in the City Council.
What’s your advice for your wife?
She should surround herself with strong powerful people. Don’t trust folks who will take things back to opponents. I left her with a good staff. If you befriend people; befriend those you can trust.
You seem to be leaving your seat in good hands
She knows what’s going on. She’s a better researcher she will focus more on getting more legislation passed. She doesn’t have the adversarial relationship with the speaker because there’s a new speaker coming in. She’ll get more things done than I did.
What was one of your most memorable moments on the City Council?
I brought a president of an African country to city hall. That was a proud moment for me.
Everything I said: I am happy I said it, I said what I had to say. I just regret not working with the [Black, Latino and Asian] caucus.
If anything, what would you change?
One thing I would have done differently: I was very, very disappointed with the Black, Latino and Asian caucus and with them for being the new majority and not forcing the speaker and the mayor to pass a budget that prioritized those communities in particular. I criticized them for not picking one of themselves (as speaker). Why would you put Christine Quinn back in, if no black, Latino and Asian has ever been speaker?
Why did you invite Mugabe?
I wanted to bring Africa to City Hall. They bring Israel to City Hall; they bring Ireland to City Hall. For a little old council member from East New York, that’s a very proud moment. It was good that he had an opportunity. He has a history as a freedom fighter; he is now taking land back from whites. He’s not the despot and the monster that the media paints him out to be.
And what is your response to those who critiqued that decision?
Most of them don’t know the history. I say go do your research and let’s have a specific conversation.
Why did you vote against the speaker and run against her?
I ran out of protest. I voted against the last four five budgets in City Hall. I voted against development like Columbia University [expansion] that’s gentrifying Harlem. I was proud to stand up to the Speaker.
What’s your first order of business as an assemblyman?
I want to work on getting the Black, Latino and Asian caucus more meetings. They don’t meet enough. First work with them, then get the governor and the speaker of the assembly to respect us more.
This interview has been edited and condensed.