Add one congressional district; subtract one assembly district: Is Nick Perry finally pulling out?


Rock Hermon Hackshaw

As far as I know Noah “Nick” Perry was never a math teacher-and I have known him for about 20 years. He is educated, resilient, crafty, and tenacious. Over the years he has also demonstrated some political ambition, and he has never been afraid to articulate it. Back in 1998, when I was leading an insurgent charge in Brooklyn, he and I almost came to blows at the Board of Elections on Adams Street. He was attempting to knock one of our guys off the ballot, and while overhearing his conversation, I found him to be abusive and threatening (verbally), thus we got into each other’s face- so to speak. Now this was uncharacteristic of Nick, since he is usually mild-mannered and does possess the desired decorum of an elected official, however he is Jamaican–born, and there is a tendency amongst most Jamaican men not to back-down when confronted, for fear of being labeled a “pussy”. Maybe that fear has kept Nick in the race for the 11th Congressional District all this time. Very few people think that he has a chance of winning, and even a third grade student knows, that when you run for congress from an assembly seat that you have held for 12 years, you must subtract your old seat. It’s simple arithmetic.

Well Nick and I never came to blows. Sure we jousted a bit, and we would always mess with each other- on election days especially- while supporting different candidates; but we never came to blows. Good for both of us I think. Then about a year later, attorney Edward Roberts took me to a fundraiser that Nick held. He pulled us both into a corner and said that we need to bury the hatchet, but not in each other’s back. That was when Nick told me that he was going to run for congress (11th) in the near future, and the last thing he wanted was for a fellow Caribbean-American political-activist to be fighting with him. So we kissed and made up so to speak; even though he would always take his digs at me, about the insurgent crew of “losers” that I lead in Brooklyn. All things considered, I see Nick as a friend. The first time I supported him was in 1988, when he ran against Rhoda Jacobs for the Assembly; back when contemporary Caribbean-American political empowerment was an embryo.

Then time went by, Nick seemed to shadow-box with that congressional seat. In 2000, Una Clarke challenged Major Owens. Nick Perry was blamed for putting out that infamous flyer showing Una and Rudolph Giuliani in mutual embrace. Some say it was the picture of that “hug” which won the election for Major. You see, Giuliani was despised in this district- amongst blacks and also amongst Caribs. It is also said that up to this day, Una has blamed Nick for her defeat, and she will never forgive him. The Carib News editorialized that Nick Perry “placed political ambition ahead of Caribbean-American political empowerment”. He was savaged by Una’s supporters. In some Caribbean-American circles, people have even suggested that her daughter (Yvette) is really running to block Nick from congress. They say Una is living vicariously through Yvette, with revenge in mind. Believe me when I say that Una has a long memory.

Perry has taken a beating in some quarters for supporting Major Owens over a fellow-Jamaican, but it was not the type of beating that could kill his ambition for congress. Una had failed to unite the Caribbean-American vote. Major had made serious inroads into her base. He prepared for her telegraphed-challenged by hiring Caribbean-American by the scores- figuratively speaking. He brought in people like Clyde Griffith, James Archibald and Horace Morancie. He reached out for political support from Maurice Gumbs and ‘Footnotes”. He went to the mas–camps and steel-pan yards, promising everything and the kitchen sink. Once there was a Carib-American event, Major or his minions were sure to be there. It was patronizing to say the least, but it worked. Of course what also didn’t surface, was the political-chasm between American-born and Caribbean-born blacks, in Brooklyn’s politics. This is one of those ‘dirty lil secrets’ that we all keep in the closet, the undertones of which surface from race to race, depending on the contestants.

Even though the 11th congressional district is Shirley Chisholm’s old seat- and many Caribs feel that it’s theirs/ given their numbers in this district – the chance of the only Caribbean-born runner in this race (Nick Perry) winning, is slim. This is what most pundits say. Some even say that “slim” is a generous term to use. One guy told me that he spoke to “Slim”, and was informed that Slim would be going on vacation, far away from Nick.

The pundits site for one thing, the fact that Yvette Clarke has a Caribbean-American identity and also a strong affiliation with this community, if only given that she is Una’s daughter. Anyone who has seen Yvette jumping in a carnival band knows that she is Carib to the bone; and in general, first generation Caribbean-Americans do tend to uphold the culture and embrace their roots. Nick and Yvette are dipping into the same well for support in this race. Plus- in Jerry Skurnik’s terms- she brings more EDs to the table than Nick does.

One issue that separates Nick from the other candidates is “gay marriage”. He is the only one who opposes it. This is a very religious community and his stance could be helpful to his cause. The impasse in congress over legislation to reform immigration laws and the current immigration imbroglio, can also help his cause, but the question remains, is he really running?

The last time I spoke to him, I was informed that he is 95% certain to go. Two candidates have already announced plans to run for his old seat (Wellington Sharpe and Abu Abu); the former is already hitting the doors campaigning. Wellington Sharpe (remember my ‘pussy’ analogy) is also Jamaican-born. He is rumbling that he doesn’t give a damn about Nick backing out from the congressional run. Meantime, Nick has declared to audiences all around town and countries, that he is doing this run. If he were to be the first Jamaican-born to be elected to the US congress, can’t you see an airport named in his honor back in Jamaica, West Indies?

Over the past month rumors have abound. Many of those rumors had Yvette pulling out and running for the 20th Senatorial district. Others said she was having financial difficulties. Some rumors had Nick pulling out and running for re-election to his old seat. One even had Nick and Yvette having a sit-down. I was tempted to do a column on these rumors. There seems to be a great big fear that too many blacks in this race will open the door for David Yassky to win. I have had elected officials tell me that blacks can ill-afford to lose a congressional seat, given that they account for less than 10% of the allotment. There are lots of conversations taking place about this race.

Then this morning my telephone rang, and I am now told that Nick Perry is going to withdraw from this congressional race.