BROOKLYN, N.Y. — This is not a big election year here, but on Sept.18 there were primaries for two state district judgeships and for the much more important County Surrogate judgeship. Usually the Brooklyn Democratic machine, which has been notoriously corrupt for decades, picks the Surrogate candidate and there is no contest.
The Surrogate judgeship is a big source of corrupt financing for the machine, because it appoints lawyers to administer estates and adoptions. Consequently, the judge handles hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fees and estate assets.
Recently a Surrogate was forced to resign for feeding $50 million in fees to a lawyer friend. The conviction of the County Democratic chairman, Clarence Norman, was connected to the Surrogate Court operation. This time Vito Lopez, the new County chairman from the same circles, put forward ShawnDya Simpson as the candidate.
For the first time in recent Brooklyn history, there was unity among the reform and progressive forces. They were united behind Diane Johnson, who received 60 percent of the vote. Both candidates were African American judges approved by the Bar Association. Johnson is the first African American Surrogate elected.
The forces that united to produce the victory included several progressive Black political figures — retired Congressman Major Owens, his son and former congressional candidate Chris Owens, Councilpersons Tish James and Charles Barron, and Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Roger Toussaint. Also involved were the three reform Democratic clubs, CBID, IND, and Lambda Independent Democrats.
In a scurrilous mailer, the machine candidate claimed to be the reformer and accused Johnson of being the candidate of the corrupt machine. The mailer carried a picture of a Black woman under indictment — not Johnson — giving the impression it was she. It also quoted from The New York Times endorsement of Simpson as the reformer that concluded by saying Johnson’s supporters were “disreputable political actors.”
The truth is there has been difficulty in bringing together the various Black progressive political leaders with one another and with the predominantly white Reform Democratic Clubs. In this case that unity was achieved, and given the preponderance of Democrats in the county, Judge Johnson will most likely be elected in the final on Nov. 6.
This, if sustained, could lead to greater victories in the mayoral, borough president and other elections.