Condoning NYC Dem’s Comments Only Deepens Divide Between Upstate, Downstate Residents

The New York state Assembly is venturing down a troublesome path.

As was reported last weekend by The Post-Journal, a debate over legislation that would change the way the state handles penalties for those on public assistance who miss required appointments turned contentious when Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, accused Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, of using racist language in Goodell’s opposition to the legislation because Goodell used the terminology “real world” or “real working world” to refer to those who are in the workforce.

Barron’s accusation isn’t necessarily surprising. A Google search shows dozens of instances over the years in which Barron has either called someone racist or criticized fellow elected officials for not speaking out quickly enough when allegations of racism have been levied. He has called Christopher Columbus a racist, has said the American flag is racist and called testing in New York City schools racist.

It is troubling, though, that Barron wasn’t rebuked publicly for his words. It’s difficult to understand how the acting speaker, Assemblyman Michael Blake, D-Bronx, told Barron to constrain his remarks to the legislation itself, but Blake was almost immediately overruled by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo and Assembly majority leader.

“Sometimes you have to create this kind of legislation to combat the attempts of others that are instituting a racist policy,” Peoples-Stokes said. “So, it wasn’t directed at a person or a member, it is about the content of the bill and its value in removing some of the dialogue that comes out of policy that is administered in a way that is not fair to all people of all races.”

The state Assembly’s rules specifically forbid attacks such as Barron’s, but Barron was allowed not only to attack Goodell’s language as racist, but the leader of the Assembly majority backed Barron while insinuating that there is value in attacking a fellow Assembly member’s language because a state policy was supposedly administered in a way that wasn’t fair to people of all races. On its face, it’s hard to see how the prior system that allowed Social Services departments to reduce someone’s public assistance benefits if they miss job training or other appointments is racist as long as the policy was being applied to all public assistance recipients regardless of their race or ethnicity.

Goodell would have preferred if the legislation put some onus on public assistance recipients to notify Social Services if they couldn’t make it to an appointment rather than put the onus on Social Services staff to reach out to the public assistance recipient. Employers don’t treat employees with such deference, why should the public assistance system do so? Goodell’s argument makes sense, as we opined earlier this week, in light of some of the complaints area employers have with the area’s workforce lacking in soft skills like showing up to work consistently.

Why is all of this troublesome?

New York state already faces constant calls for the state to be split because rural New Yorkers feel their voice is being drowned out in the state Capitol as decisions are being made. Whether it’s the SAFE Act, the recently passed Farm Laborers Fair Laborers Practices Act, reforms to public assistance or a host of other legislation driven by the needs and desires of New York City, rural New Yorkers increasingly feel the state doesn’t listen to them.

The incident between Barron and Goodell takes things a step further. The tenor of Barron’s attack on Goodell’s language — and Peoples-Stokes’ response to Barron’s comments– is just the latest signal to rural New Yorkers that the Assembly majority largely disregards the way they think. An assemblyman who articulated a position held by a majority of rural New Yorkers was shouted down for using alleged racist language — and the Assembly majority leader not only condoned the attack, but supported it.

In the end, condoning Barron’s comments only deepens the divide between upstate and downstate residents.