Inspired in part by the efforts of The New Kings Democrats - the young, ambitious political club of which I am proud to call myself a member - many of you have reached out to The Optimist in recent weeks, asking how you can learn more about Brooklyn politics.
Thanks for asking. The reason that the Brooklyn Democratic party and so many of our elected officials are able to act unscrupulously or flat-out unethically is because of the general public's lack of knowledge about local politics.
Matt Cowherd and Rachel Lauter, a pair of truly civic-minded citizens, founded The New Kings Democrats with the laudable intent of educating their fellow voters and bringing transparency to a deplorable system of governance that thrives, like Dick Cheney, by lurking in the shadows.
In an article yesterday in the Gotham Gazette, Assemblymember Vito Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic Party leader, dismissed The New Kings' efforts, saying “I don’t have time to deal with people who are in constant conflict.”
I not quite sure how to address such rubbish, except to tell you that from the very first meeting of NKD that both the group's members and leadership were adamant that they didn't want to be the "anti-Vito club". These concerned citizens - young and old, Black, white and Latino - had come to participate in local government for the first time in their lives because they believed that their leaders would embrace their enthusiasm to make government better and more representative of the people. Most of them had never even heard of Vito Lopez in their lives!
But now we know who Vito is. He is a person who maintains that citizens who want to take an active role in their government are insurgents bent upon "constant conflict". This rhetoric is all too familiar. It reminds New Yorkers of how we were told after 9/11 that to question President Bush's rush to launch illegal wars was "unpatriotic".
America is a country that was founded upon the strength of dissenting voices. Our nation charges us to take the wildly broad diversity of our opinions and to compromise upon a concensus for the common good.
In America we don't call this "constant conflict", we call this "debate".
And the best way to have an intelligent debate is to know all the facts. So, without further introduction, let me give some food for thought to those of you hungry to chew on Brooklyn politics.
If you want to know what's going on, I suggest that you start every day by reading Liz Benjamin's column in The Daily News , as well as Azi Paybarah and Katharine Jose over at The New York Observer's Politicker. The advantage of these blogs is that they are written by journalists, not pundits, which means that the information they provide is generally not clouded by an agenda. I believe strongly in reading all of the posts, not just the ones that pertain to Brooklyn, because borough to borough, city politicians play the same game, and you can catch trends that will help you see the larger picture of New York City politics.
If you still haven't had your fill after these two columns, move on over to blogs like The Daily Gotham and Room Eight. Often you'll find a wealth of information here that is either more controversial or not adequately substantiated to qualify for the daily papers. But, beware, don't believe everything you read! These bloggers may be providing prejudiced, speculative, or just plainly inaccurate information.
How can you tell the difference between fact and fiction?
The more you know, the better you'll learn to question.
That last nugget of advice is for you, Vito.