Sharonnie Perry [photo] is a blend of activist and insider, and her allegiance is to her community, the place where she was raised, where she has worked and where she is now unemployed.
Her status among the unpaid gives her a curious mix of feelings these days, as more than half a dozen Bed-Stuy residents challenge long-time elected official Al Vann, hoping to take his seat on the City Council.
While Perry likes the idea of taking on the powerful and making them work hard for their constituents, she also feels there is some value in incumbency, particularly when the incumbent has the wherewithal to accomplish substantive things -- like following through on a new Business Improvement District being established in the community ("Now you're going to see upscale stores coming in," Perry says approvingly) and like seeing through the housing projects being developed by the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the Bridge Street Development Corporation and others, with Vann's backing.
"There are some major things on the table now pertaining to Bedford Stuyvesant," Perry says, "and we have to make sure that they happen."
It is not as likely these things will happen if any of the challengers win Bed-Stuy's Council seat, Perry says.
"From what I've looked at, there's nobody right now I see who's going to be able to do that," she says.
She has a cautionary note to sound at this point, however, and it is this:
That she likes and respects Tremaine Wright, the young lawyer who owns the Common Grounds cafe on Tompkins Avenue and who is one of the challengers.
Perry believes Wright, who has served on the local community board, stands out among the challengers for her history of active involvement in the community.
(Needless to say, other challengers would disagree vigorously with that, but we'll save their replies for another posting.)
"If I was to support anybody other than voting for Al Vann, it would be Tremaine Wright," Perry says.
"I think she's the most articulate . . . She has a head. She's not egotistical and she's a person who might be able to be groomed."
Perry once had -- and still, in fact, has -- ambitions for public office; but she's putting them on hold. She would likely have tossed her hat into the ring if, as many had hoped, Vann and other City Councilmembers were barred from running for another term. But Vann and a majority of the Council went along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and they overturned the two-term limits that voters had put into place.
So Vann is now able to run for a third term in the Council. (Vann goes back 35 years as an elective office holder, having won a seat in the State Assembly in 1974. He gave up that seat in 2001 in an apparent arrangement with then Councilmember Annette Robinson, who was prevented from seeking another four years by the term limits then in effect. Robinson then won the Assembly spot that Vann had relinquished.)
Sharonnie Perry has a long history in activism and working with elected officials. She was for a time Chairperson of Community Board 3 that covers Bed-Stuy. Perry says that several years ago she was fired from the staff of Congressman Ed Towns when it was perceived that she was planning to run for Al Vann's seat. She was not actually planning to do so, she says. (Perry says she does not blame Towns himself but staffers who were under pressure to get rid of her.)
Perry, who has had good relations with Assemblywoman Robinson, says that Congressman Towns actually has a strong staff that represents him well in community meetings.
Notably, perhaps, Perry says that Councilman Vann (like a number of other elected officials) is not as well represented at such gatherings.
In fact, a number of Bed-Stuy residents complain that Vann is not personally connected to them and does not get sufficiently involved in issues affecting them.
Here a bit of disclosure: I went (oh, more than forty years back) to the same grammar school as Sharonnie, and over the years I've come to admire the work she's done on behalf of the homeless and others in Brooklyn. These above views are, of course, her own.
Till next time.